How to Assess Municipal Threats

Start by putting the threats on a grid, with one bar being the likelihood of the exposure and the second being the potential severity of the risk.

At the 2017 PRIMA Annual Conference, a session discussed development of a municipal risk assessment program. The speakers were:
  • Dan Hurley – risk manager, City of Chesapeake, VA
  • Marilyn Rivers – director of risk and safety, City of Saratoga Springs, NY
A threat assessment is designed to determine vulnerabilities of employees to physical harm. Public employees are particularly vulnerable due to a variety of exposures. Understand Internal and External Threats When it comes to workplace violence, most people think this is primarily internal and involves a disgruntled co-worker. However, particularly with public entity employers, the main threats are external. Someone is disgruntled about something and acts out violently against the public entity employee. Domestic violence is also a significant source of workplace violence. The violence can spill into the workplace and affect not only the domestic partner but others around them. Among the public entity employees at greatest risk for violence are:
  • Public works/utility workers
  • Inspectors
  • Social workers
  • Home health aids
  • Animal control
  • Anyone handling money
  • Recreational staff
  • Emergency response
  • Law enforcement
  • Risk management
Any public situation that can be confrontational or stressful has the potential to escalate into violence. See also: IT Security: A Major Threat for Insurers   Identify Threats You should develop a threat committee to help assess potential threats for violence against your employees. Members of this should include:
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Social services
  • Human resources
  • Library
  • Public works
  • Public utilities
  • Recreation
  • Finance, risk and safety
  • City attorney
  • Code and licensing
  • Collective bargaining units
It can be challenging to bring all these different people together on the same committee as they have such a wide variety of experiences and interests. It is important that everyone feels they have a voice on the committee and that their views are heard. Each group on your committee has their own specific risk factors. For example, libraries are in a variety of neighborhoods. They are not heavily staffed, and they are open late into the evening. If there are homeless in the area, there is a tendency for them to look to libraries as a place of refuge. The leading cause of workplace homicide for women is domestic violence, with 32% of killings related to a domestic partner. Only 2% of men killed were due to domestic violence. This leads to the question of whether you should require your employees to notify you if they have a restraining order against another individual that would escalate the threat of violence. Prioritize Threats As threats are identified, the next step is to prioritize them. Start by putting the threats on a grid, with one bar being the likelihood of the exposure and the second being the potential severity of the risk. If you have threats that are high likelihood and high potential severity, those are your priorities. Potential priorities include:
  • Active shooter training
  • Emergency evacuation plans
  • Building security plans and building design for security
  • EAP
  • Work-alone procedures for both the office and field
  • See something, say something
  • Internet resource page
These priorities assist you in developing training and prevention programs to address your biggest risks. Active Shooter Training The standard now for active shooter response is RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. The first priority is to try and escape the situation. RUN Employees should be trained to think of what their escape path would be if faced with a shooter. People should have multiple options. You need an assembly point that is safe where employees can go and you can figure out who is missing. HIDE Train employees on places to hide. Can it be secured? Does it have good air circulation? An office with lots of cubicles can create very limited options both in terms of run and hide. FIGHT When you have no other options, be prepared to fight. Think of potential weapons you could use. Should you provide mace or tasers to certain employees who work alone and could be attacked? The stampede effect works best, as a shooter cannot target multiple targets at the same time. If one person attacks, others will usually join in. Announcing a police presence can also be useful, as many times active shooters kill themselves as police are closing in. Other Issues Building floor plans are a very important element of your active shooter program. You should provide building plans to local police and make sure those plans are updated as modifications are made to the building. See also: Protecting Institutions From Cyber Risk FEMA has online active shooter training programs that are very detailed and can be downloaded. Other Security Issues
  • Periodically do walk-around inspections of your secured locations to make sure they are properly secured. Too often, employees prop doors open, especially around loading docks, cafeteria rear doors and smoking areas. The easiest way into your secured building is usually the back.
  • Another area to check is the lighting around your building. Lights go out. Trees and bushes may grow to block lights or security cameras.
  • Keypad locks can be a problem, as you need to change the combination every time you have employee turnover. Card swipes are much better.
  • Police vehicles are a deterrent. Just parking their vehicles in a visible place aids in discouraging violence.
  • Open access counters are necessary for public access, but they sometimes lack a retreat barrier. Make sure you have cameras in the area and ample panic buttons for employees.
  • Having a security camera with a big screen facing outward can be a deterrent. People see themselves on camera, which can deescalate the situation, as they know they are being watched.
  • Safe rooms need to have the ability to withstand time. Perhaps have water available in case people have to shelter in place for an extended period.
  • Work-alone people are vulnerable not only to violence but a personal medical emergency or serious workplace injury. Have a way to track those people.

Mark Walls

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Mark Walls

Mark Walls is the vice president, client engagement, at Safety National.

He is also the founder of the Work Comp Analysis Group on LinkedIn, which is the largest discussion community dedicated to workers' compensation issues.


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