Even though the recent attack in San Bernadino turned out to be terrorism rather than a general disgruntled employee attack, it still prompts us to ask the question, "Is my office prepared for an attack?"

Now, this doesn't mean that you need to panic. Your chances of being injured or killed by terrorism or workplace violence are very low. Very low. Nevertheless, we prepare so if something does happen, we're ready and can react in the best way possible.

The Department of Homeland Security has a document on how to respond to an active shooter that you should check out. For instance, you have to decide whether to evacuate or hide out. (Evacuate if at all possible). Hide behind a door or heavy furniture and put your cell phone on silent. If you can, call 911. If you can't speak, just leave the line open and allow the operator to listen.

They also explain what a police response will likely look like. For instance, they say:

  • Officers usually arrive in teams of four (4)
  • Officers may wear regular patrol uniforms or external bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, and other tactical equipment
  • Officers may be armed with rifles, shotguns, handguns
  • Officers may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation
  • Officers may shout commands, and may push individuals to the ground for their safety

Knowing these things in advance can help lower the panic when help does arrive. The guide goes on to us how we should act once officers are on the scene:

  • Remain calm, and follow officers' instructions
  • Put down any items in your hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
  • Immediately raise hands and spread fingers
  • Keep hands visible at all times
  • Avoid making quick movements toward officers such as holding on to them for safety
  • Avoid pointing, screaming and/or yelling
  • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises

If you're the boss or HR, strongly consider holding a training session on how to react in such a situation. While it's rare, it does happen and could possible be avoided.

Can you lessen your chances of a workplace violence incident?

Absolutely. The San Bernadino incident was not a true workplace violence incident-it was terrorism pure and simple, and it's doubtful that the management could have prevented the incident. But, true workplace violence does happen and Violence Free, a global violence prevention firm based in Arizona, identified the organizational factors that can lead to workplace violence. They are:

1. A weak, misunderstood or non-existent policy against all forms of violence in the workplace

2. Failure to educate managers and supervisors in recognizing early warning signs or symptoms of impending violence and their responsibility to take action

3. No appropriate and safe mechanism for reporting violent or threatening behavior

4. Failure to take immediate action against those who have threatened or committed acts of workplace violence

5. Inadequate physical security

6. Negligence in the hiring, training, supervision, discipline and retention of employees

7. Lack of in-house employee support systems

Take the time to look at your own organization. Do you have an appropriate mechanism for reporting violent behavior? What do you do if someone brings up an incident? Brush it off? Lots of places do. After all, it couldn't happen here.

One other thing that I see a lot of is a lack of respect between management and employees. For instance, when someone is laid off do you have security stand over them as they pack up their desks? Do you say, "You can't collect your things, we'll go through them and decide what belongs to the company and what belongs to you"? Don't do this. There's rarely a reason to do this. It just succeeds in making the employee more embarrassed and angrier. Remember, your goal in terminating someone is not just to get that person out of your office, but to get that person to move on. Offer severance, outplacement support and appropriate references. There's no need to further anger someone.