The days of an open-door policy with employees and visitors allowed to move freely about work premises are over, security experts say.
Today, office buildings are equipped with technology and personnel to carefully monitor who goes in and out of a workplace and spend more effort than ever before screening potential employees and looking for warning signs in current ones.
“Two decades ago, roughly around the time we had our first major school shooting, I don’t think offices were doing anything at all,” said John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute at the nonprofit National Safety Council. “It was only in the past two or three years, when we’ve seen a much bigger spate of events at office workplaces as well as factory floors, has there been a turn in attention to that.”
Workplace shootings take at least 300 lives a year, according to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, nearly 400 people died from bullet wounds at work, an increase of 83 shootings since 2015.
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So companies have focused much of their attention on tightening access through technology such as electronic badges and video surveillance, rather than bolstering security with gun-carrying guards, Dony said.
Twelve people were killed and at least four more were
wounded in a Virginia Beach shooting in June
The most secure buildings prevent a familiar lunch vendor from entering a work area, said Robert McCrie, deputy chairman of the Department of Security, Fire and Emergency Management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Some buildings have extended monitoring to the elevators, remotely controlling where a visitor can go.
McCrie envisions that technology advancing further. Casinos use video analytics to identify people who are banned from the premises, and retailers and offices eventually will too, he said.
For now, most offices use low-cost methods like discouraging employees from swiping in people without access badges, buying things that can be used as barricades in conference rooms and staging active-shooter drills to beef up security, Dony said.
The most effective tool against gun violence is recognizing signs that it might occur, McCrie said.
The memorial at building 11 at the Municipal Center for the victims of a mass
shooting that killed twelve in Virginia Beach, Va.
Research on mass workplace shootings — with three or more victims — has shown that shooters are often disgruntled employees who have been warned about their work performance or terminated from their job, have a poor relationship with co-workers, are prone to anger and have an affinity for guns, he said.
“People who have shot others are described as loners, individuals who could flare up over seemingly nothing,” McCrie said.
As the profile of a disgruntled, disengaged worker has become clearer, employers have adjusted their screening criteria accordingly, McCrie said. Social media has played an increasingly important role in weeding out problematic personalities.
“That’s the first line of defense,” he said. “Employers need to take time to make sure the individual they hire is a good fit in all ways.”