“See Something, Say Something” is a familiar national campaign to raise awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, as well as the importance of reporting suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement. Many businesses across a variety of sectors have adopted the campaign, modified it to fit their environment and culture, and stressed the “See Something, Say Something” message at work to their employees.

Rank-and-File Employees Represent Crucial Force Multipliers

Think of it this way: Your dedicated in-house security personnel represent less than 3 percent of your entire workforce. But if you can empower the other 97 percent at some level to act as eyes and ears, you gain a virtual army of preventers.

The successful adoption of a “See Something, Say Something” campaign in the workplace can promote workplace safety and security talk, raise awareness and empower the workforce. But in order to be effective, it must be tailored specifically to the workforce and defined in clear terms so everyone can understand it and use it effectively.

Going Beyond What the Eyes Can See

Everyday employees – the custodian, the mid-level accountant, the early arriving administrative assistant, the parking attendant in the deck, and, yes, even the intern down the hall – often know more about their workplace environment and the people in it than anyone else. These groups are often the first to become aware of changes in behavior, pattern and predilection. Unreported or unheeded co-worker insights have often been the belated footnote in the tragic aftermath of a workplace violence incident.

This awareness of the workplace environment is why my colleague Matt Doherty, the head of Hillard Heintze’s Threat + Violence Risk Management practice, opts for a slightly different phrasing: “Sense Something, Say Something.” He emphasizes that a potential threat may not be as explicit as an abandoned suitcase, but an intuitive feeling that something is “off.” Those who work in a workplace every day may be especially sensitive to even the slightest shifts in mood or otherwise indiscernible changes.

This expanded understanding and acknowledgment of the value of the workforce’s observations can serve as a valuable foundation for a “See Something, Say Something” campaign that goes beyond the cookie-cutter posters.

Five Ways to See, Sense and Say More

To ensure that a workplace safety “See Something Say Something” campaign achieves maximum traction, five key elements must be in place.

  1. DEFINITION: You must provide a clear, relevant definition of “see something” that is tailored specifically to your organization’s culture, operations and risk environment and described in terms of the most likely threats, vulnerabilities and consequences. Conducting a baseline risk assessment can aid in identifying such site threats. Whether it’s noting the precursors of workplace violence, gaps in access control due to tailgating or boxes stored in a stairwell that may impede emergency egress, employees should know what constitutes something suspicious or concerning. As suggested above, a definition that also accounts for “sensing” something – and defining that in more tailored terms – will likely encourage more reporting and prescribes a relationship of trust and mutual dependence among the workforce and security personnel.
  1. PROGRAM: Likewise, “say something” must be defined in such a way that employees know exactly how and to whom an observation or concern should be reported. Publicizing who to contact – whether internal to the organization or external – and how – whether by telephone helpline, text, intranet or email – are centerpieces of the campaign and also essential elements in a well-developed, holistic workplace violence prevention program. Access to these reporting mechanisms should be easy to achieve and easy to remember. Mnemonic acronyms or phrases can be very effective as well.
  1. COMMITMENT: You need to be organizationally prepared and committed to ensuring that every reported incident is followed up. If employees subscribe to the campaign, value its intent and invest in sustaining it, then their participation must be demonstrably engaged. Does that apply to the false alarms or the less than truly suspicious concerns? Yes, and, at a minimum, ensure that you share your appreciation with the employee for being concerned enough to report what they felt was a concern. Any lesser response could effectively silence the one voice that may help avert the next crisis.
  1. REPETITION: Continue to reinforce the campaign beyond the launch. The more frequently the campaign and its associated structure, processes and resources are presented, the more knowledgeable, comfortable and prepared employees will be in times of crisis.
  1. CHAMPIONSHIP: Executive leaders must re-affirm their support of the program and appreciation of the employees participating in it. They must be visible, vocal, positive and passionate in their support.

Security personnel face many challenges. An empowered and aware employee population is the force multiplier that ensures that security doesn’t face those challenges alone.

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