NEW YORK – At a four-hour meeting last month, Michelle Abdow's staffers had the chance to experience some of the sights, sounds and even smells they could encounter if someone invaded their office and began shooting.
Security experts and local law enforcement officers gave Abdow's 23 staffers active shooter training — explaining what could happen and what they could do to remain safe during a shooting at their company, public relations firm Market Mentors. The visitors acted out scenarios that helped staffers understand what a real shooting might be like.
"It was very intense, much more than most other training where people watch videos," said Abdow, whose company is based in Springfield, Mass. "But I surveyed everyone after, and there was not one negative comment. Everyone was grateful."
The shootings in public places in recent years have made many small-business owners and managers aware that they and their staffers need to be educated about workplace violence. They need to know not only how to improve their chances of survival but also how to recognize any warning signs, a possibility if the assailant is a current or former employee or is involved in a domestic dispute with an employee. Security consultants and human-resources providers said they are getting more inquiries and requests for training sessions following this month's shooting that killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart — than they did after previous mass shootings.
Engage PEO, a human-resources provider, began getting more calls from small businesses after the February 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staffers and wounded 17 others.
"It went from almost nothing to a regular occurrence," said Julie Cirillo, vice president of risk management at Hollywood, Fla.-based Engage PEO. The inquiries range from asking about security cameras to a request for active shooter training for their staffs.
The shootings were on Abdow's mind when she asked one of her clients, a company that provides active-shooter training, to come to her company.
The training opened with staffers listening to a recording of a 911 call made by employees when a former co-worker entered their workplace and began shooting. The trainers explained what the caller did right, and wrong, in reporting the incident.
The trainers also went over Abdow's premises and pointed out hiding places. The local sheriff's department, recognizing that the meeting was likely to be anxiety-provoking, brought a therapy dog to ease everyone's stress.
Consultants like Cirillo advise business owners that the assessment of threats should begin internally — most workplace shooters are disgruntled current or former employees or someone in a turbulent relationship with an employee. Bosses and employees should all be on the lookout for signs of trouble.
"We tell them to be aware of signs and symptoms of employees or spouses, even colleagues and co-workers, to be aware to take every complaint and issue seriously," Cirillo says.
But many times, employees are afraid to speak up.
"There needs to be some sort of way for employees to anonymously raise a red flag," said Heidi Wysocki, co-owner of First Defense Solutions, a security-training firm based in Plano, Texas. While large companies have anonymous hotlines, smaller companies might want to use an anonymous texting program, she said.
Owners who learn that a staffer is struggling with personal issues should offer the company's resources — for example, an Employee Assistance Program — or assist the employee in getting help. If a staffer is difficult, becomes moody or distant and the owner has any reason to fear violence, they should consult with a human resources provider or employment attorney.