As a cleaning business owner, you have many responsibilities to your employees, from providing them with the proper training and equipment to offering a fair salary and benefits. Your team’s safety is also your concern. You have probably focused on slip, trip and fall incidents, along with other common employee injuries. But have you thought about protecting them from violence?
When I had three janitorial companies in Northern California from the 1970s into the 1990s, I do not remember any incidents of break-ins, thefts, shootings, or other crimes committed in the facilities we worked in—day or night. The only instructions I ever gave my custodial workers regarding personal safety on the job was to lock the doors once inside the building, lock them again when leaving, and turn the alarm back on.
As to these alarms, they were primitive by today’s standards. Typically, the entry door and maybe an exterior door were “armed,” but that was about it. No one would know if a window was left open unless my cleaning staff noticed it.
Assess your facility’s risk
Today, alarm systems are much more sophisticated, and facilities are more in-touch with building security. According to Oscar Villanueva, COO of TAL Global, a leading security consulting and risk assessment firm, “more commercial facilities have now had physical security and risk assessments conducted, which has helped improve safety and reduce crimes such as burglaries in commercial facilities.”
A physical security assessment examines a building’s access control systems, outdoor lighting systems, and surveillance cameras, Villanueva said. If improvement is necessary, the assessment will make suggestions.
A risk assessment goes further. “It is a process of identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risks to an organization or individuals in that organization,” says Villanueva.
“It is also used to determine the likelihood and impact of potential events, and to develop strategies to mitigate or eliminate those risks.”
The types of risks Villanueva is referring to could include natural events such as hurricanes and tornados. They could also include violence in the workplace, such as an active shooter in the facility.
If I were still in the cleaning business, active shooter/mass shooting incidents would be among my greatest concerns as the frequency of these events has risen significantly. According to Statista, there were 12 mass shootings in 2022, compared to five mass shootings in 2013. Statista defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities.
Consider your employees’ reactions
For many decades, the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have taught us that if an active shooter enters a facility, we should Run, Hide, Fight. Under this strategy, building inhabitants should:
- Run out of the building, if at all possible
- Find a place to hide if running is no longer reasonable
- As the last resort, fight to overcome the shooter.
This is a proven approach that has helped save lives over the years. However, we now realize this strategy has at least two shortcomings.
- It ignores the freezing component. “It is human and animal nature that when faced with a life-threatening situation, we freeze,” says Villanueva. “We gather our thoughts and wonder what we should do next. That can take several seconds to several minutes, just enough time to put us in greater danger.”
- It’s reactive. This approach is focused on reacting to an event when it happens. It does not include proactive steps to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place.
Many building managers are looking for a more proactive approach to teach building users, in-house and contract cleaning staff, and other vendors. One that appears promising is called Prepare, React, Recover (PRR).
“This approach pulls from the best of Run, Hide, Fight, but is proactive,” says Villanueva. “[It] focuses more on implementing steps to prevent an active shooting situation from ever happening in the first place.”
Try a new strategy
The “prepare” component could be as simple as ensuring all building doors—inside and out—are automatically locked 24/7. “With an access control system in place, the possibility of someone just walking into an office, school, or warehouse and starting to shoot is minimized if not eliminated,” Villanueva said.
In greater detail, the PRR approach involves the following tips.
- Understand what might happen in a violent situation.
- Assess the preparedness of an organization and identify where there are gaps.
- Conduct security assessments to identify physical security deficiencies and opportunities to correct them.
- Understand and recognize the precursors to workplace violence and active assailant situations.
- Develop policies and procedures, such as outlining how an incident will be handled and by whom.
- Create and implement a threat management team.
- Provide workplace violence, security, and situational awareness training for all employees and managers.
- Review the program annually and revise it as necessary.
- Ensure an active notification system is in place to use during an event.
- Take security measures to plan for personnel terminations and disciplinary actions.
- Act as liaison with first responders.
- Implement evacuation and lockdown procedures.
- Notify all employees promptly, using the predetermined notification system.
- Activate threat management team(s).
- Monitor the situation until conditions are safe.
Recovery after a violent incident is crucial. It starts with ensuring that anyone hurt during the attack receives prompt medical attention. It includes long-term psychological support. The recovery stage also involves:
- Conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and its causes
- Identifying any lessons learned or preventive measures that can be implemented in the future
- Providing ongoing communication and information to the affected individuals and their families
- Restoring the normal functioning of the affected organization and its operations as quickly as possible
Keep in mind that recovery and the rest of the steps involved in facility safety should include everyone in the facility—vendors, customers, and the professionals keeping it clean and healthy every night.