The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the primary provider of federal resources on the topics of workplace violence prevention and active shooter preparedness. Included among its guidance materials is an instructional video on prevention, preparedness and response in the event of an active assailant committing an act of targeted violence.

Despite its extensive resources, the organization is not immune from workplace violence. Within the last few years, the media has reported on the following incidents:

  • Two DHS immigration agents were involved in a shootout at a federal building. Citing multiple law enforcement sources, the Los Angeles Times said an immigration agent fired the initial shots at his supervisor during an unspecified dispute. The shooter was killed when a third agent drew his weapon and fired.
  • A DHS manager in charge of buying weapons and ammunition for the government is the author of an inflammatory website that uses gay slurs and advocates the mass murder of “whites” and the “ethnic cleansing” of “Uncle Tom race traitors,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. One of the manager’s former supervisors stated, “Everybody in the office is afraid of him,” and his co-workers are “afraid he will come in with a gun and someday go postal.”
  • An analyst in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis allegedly carried weapons into his government office building. Security officers found a folding knife with a 3-inch blade, two hand-held radios, pepper spray, an infrared camera and a set of handcuffs, among other items. The officers seized the knife and spray. Court documents filed by the federal government state that investigators had probable cause to believe he “was conspiring with another to commit workplace violence, and more particularly may have been conspiring or planning to commit violence against senior DHS officials in the building.”

In response to incidents like these, DHS leadership has taken a more proactive approach to following its own guidance.

Clear and Actionable Guidance to the DHS Workforce

On September 29, 2016, DHS Issued Directive 256-03, clearly establishing policies, responsibilities and requirements for preventing and addressing issues related to workplace violence. DHS is “committed to working with its employees to maintain a work environment free from violence, threats of violence, harassment, intimidation and other disruptive behavior.”

A July 11, 2006 memorandum signed by then DHS Secretary Chertoff outlined the Department of Homeland Security’s Workplace Violence Prevention Procedures that included appendices titled, “Preventing Workplace Violence,” “Types of Workplace Violence” and “Responses to Workplace Violence,” giving general guidance to identifying and managing potential workplace violence situations. The document also addresses domestic violence, suspicious package and bomb threat protocols for notifications and reporting. However, it does not describe workplace violence warning signs regarding individuals who may present a cause for concern.

Other related guidance can be found in the Office of Personnel Management’s “Dealing with Workplace Violence” and “Interagency Security Committee (ISC) Federal Workplace: A Guide for Prevention and Response.”

DHS Human Resource (HR) Directors were reminded to:

  • Provide information, support and assistance to managers and employees on the prevention of and response to workplace violence and workplace-related domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
  • Develop and communicate strategies and procedures to manage workplace violence incidents that occur, including clearly communicating (1) expectations of what employees are expected to do if they are involved in or witness an incident, (2) what resources are available for immediate and post-incident support, and (3) what recourse the employee has if anyone in their chain of command is involved and/or unresponsive.
  • Create and communicate plans and procedures to address workplace-related incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in order to minimize risk and maximize safety in the workplace for all involved.

5 Ways We Have Assisted DHS Agencies in their Workplace Violence Program and Policies

The Hillard Heintze Threat + Violence Risk Management team has assisted DHS agencies in developing their workplace violence prevention programs, using an operationally relevant five-step approach:

  • Workplace Violence Prevention Needs Assessment: We review and evaluate current strengths, capabilities and resources supporting the development of a workplace violence prevention program, as well as critical areas to develop and integrate. We also analyze key functions and departments such as Security, HR, Operations, Legal, employee assistance program and line management.
  • Employee Survey on Workplace Violence: To gather insight into the general work environment and employees’ experiences, training, awareness and feelings about the potential for incidents of workplace violence, we distribute an independent, anonymous survey electronically to all employees.
  • Workplace Violence Prevention Policy and Program Development: We provide clear, actionable guidance on areas ranging from the formation of a cross-functional multi-disciplinary team to core operational policies, practices, compliance, privacy and reporting issues.
  • Establishment of Threat Assessment Team(s): We provide assistance with the creation of multi-disciplinary behavioral threat assessment teams composed of internal representatives from HR, Security and Legal, as well as external specialists in law enforcement, mental health and targeted violence, among others. Additionally, we define roles and responsibilities for the team members.
  • Training of Key Stakeholders: We develop curriculum for the general workforce, managers and the Threat Assessment Team that addresses real-world risks and frequency of workplace violence. It focuses on awareness as a vital first line of defense and emphasizes reporting protocols.

I applaud DHS for its efforts and hope it continues to be proactive in efforts to prevent workplace violence. If we can help prevent one tragic incident from occurring, lives could be saved and loved ones will be spared from the devastating emotional impact that follows.

The risk of workplace violence is pervasive. It doesn't discriminate between C-suites or cubicles.
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