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Workplace Violence Prevention News

Violence in our Communities

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

 Violence in our Communities
Are we focusing on the wrong thing?

By: Hector Alvarez

The issue of violence in our communities, schools and workplaces has received a significant amount of attention.  We all now share a sad new vocabulary; workplace violence, active shooter, mass shootings, mental health, threat assessment, run- hide- fight, universal backgrounds and gun rights, just to name a few.   Through it all a common sentiment seems to have developed that we must “do something.”   I have given numerous interviews, written articles and spoke to hundreds of people about the issue of violence.  However, I am becoming increasingly concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on how to respond to these threats.   As an example, the issue of “active shooter” response training has become a hot topic.  To be clear, this is very important training, just like showing people how to use a fire extinguisher… just in case.

Fire related deaths in commercial structures are extremely rare according to data provided through the National Fire Incident Reporting System.  However, unlike fire safety, there currently is not broad understanding or focus on developing systems, procedures and training for preventing violent incidents from occurring in the first place.  I’m not at all trying to draw a direct comparison between fire safety and violence prevention.  We have very mature and socially acceptable early warning and notification systems for fires.  What I’m suggesting is that we can and should develop similar systems for the early detection and prevention of violence. 
“Random” street violence can be difficult to detect and avoid because we don’t always have access to the warning signs.   However, this is usually not the case when it comes to violence in our schools, workplaces and community organizations.  It’s a widely held belief that the teenage shooters at Columbine High School had been on a path of violence for almost two years.   The Virginia Tech Shooter was on several peoples radars, as was the theater shooter in Aurora Colorado.  In fact, I would argue that in almost every case of workplace or school shootings there were warning signs that had they been brought forward, may have prevented the incident from ever occurring. 
In the strongest of terms I believe that violence prevention efforts need to receive more attention.  One of my recent clients believed they had a strong violence prevention program. When asked about the details of their program the COO stated “…we had a lawyer draft a policy prohibiting it.”   Imagine if the principal of your children’s school took this position towards fire safety, “we have a policy prohibiting fires.”  Would you accept that answer as enough?

There is a solution:

Violence prevention programs, whether in a school, business or community organization should be incorporated into existing and supported efforts.  As an example, schools routinely have fire safety inspections, maintenance procedures, building codes to follow and a strong understanding of fire hazards; why not include security considerations into these programs.  Most companies have Human Resource departments that already address a wide range of inappropriate behavior and receive regular training to make sure they understand the latest trends, laws and concepts.  Working together with other teams such as Legal and Security an organization can develop programs that can be sustained.   And therein lays the solution…developing effective prevention programs that can be sustained.  A dusty policy sitting on a shelf does absolutely no good; I don’t care how well it was written.  We cannot keep focusing on the last worst thing that happened and expect to prevent the next.
About the Author

Mr. Alvarez is a husband, father, coach and concerend member of our community.  He is also the founder of Alvarez Associates, a firm specializing in workplace violence prevention.    Having been both a security director for a major national critical infrastructure and a city police officer, he has built over 25 years of experience in the field of violence prevention. For 15 years he directed cutting edge security programs focused specifically on preventing and responding to "active shooters" in private sector environments.  He understands the challenges organizations and communities face addressing the threat of violence.  Hector has the privilege of working with organizations both corporate and community based to build safer communities through keynote speeches, workshops, security assessments, trainings and behavioral threat assessments. He has personally evaluated and managed hundreds of potentially violent situations, developed numerous violence prevention programs and trained thousands of employees and managers in workplace violence prevention. He has also witnessed the collapse of civil order first-hand as a responder to both the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
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