Red Alert Red Alert! No one just Snaps!

by todaystrainingblog

Usually when I hear about an incident of workplace violence (WPV), there is always a talking head in the media, law enforcement, psychologists, and others who are glad to tell you, ‘They just snapped with no warning’. And then discuss how we can prevent these things and all in physical security.

Well let me tell you something about all of those people, even the ones I admire. THEY ARE WRONG! And granted they say those because they make excellent sound bites. But do we need good sound bites or the truth in this issue of importance to American business?

There are ALWAYS warning signs! And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s with their fists, pipe wrench, pencils or staplers, or knives and firearms! There will always be warning signs they are about to hurt someone. And whether they work for you or not, someone will notice the signs, and generally they will ignore them.

Do you remember the incident in Minneapolis on September 27, 2012? an incident occurred that debunks the ‘just snapped’ theory. Andrew Engeldinger Was in a termination meeting with his supervisors and the owner of Accent Signage Systems and opened fire in the meeting – which had been called at a time when he was not at work. He then calmly walked past numerous female employees on his way to the loading dock. When he got to the dock, he opened fire killing 3 more, including the UPS driver, and wounded 4. He then shot and killed himself.

There are numerous instances throughout the media, both local and national of WPV where the shooter either ignored or didn’t shoot people who were right in front of them. In several cases the shooter looked them straight in the eye and then walked by. In the case of ConEd of Southern California in December 2011, the shooter looked in the cubicles to ensure his intended victims were actually there before shooting. Sounds like both these guys just snapped, with no warning or pre-planning.

The Key
The key to all of this is whether or not we act upon these signs. My favorite saying that gets derided so often from others not in the WPV field is this; we can either choose to act upon the warning signs or ignore them. No, I’m not crazy or living in a world of fantasy.

We can choose to act upon the warning signs or ignore them. Which way we decide to act could determine whether or not someone will get hurt and die. And in reporting the warning signs there are several things that stand in the way of reporting them to a supervisor or manager.

The first one is ‘I don’t want to get involved’. This can be quite dangerous if it prevails in the workplace. And while it may be admirable that you don’t want to put your nose into someone else’s business, in this case it may not be a bad idea. And it is unfortunate but the culture of the business might also be encouraging this attitude as well.

So what are some of those excuses that people give for not reporting the warning signs to their supervisor, manager, human resources, or an anonymous tip line? They are many and varied and many times they can be comical. Here is a partial list of the ones I’ve heard in my 23 years in the field. And more importantly, how many of these ring true with a problem employee that you know?

• He was just going through a tough time
• He’ll come out of it
• He’s not that kind
• He would never do something like that.
• He’s not capable of doing that.
• He’s got problems, who doesn’t?
• I don’t want to get him in trouble.
• I don’t want to get involved.
• It’s not my problem
• Why should I care what happens to him?
• I hate this place, why should I warn them?
• This company needs a wake-up call anyway.
• They won’t listen to me.

Connecting the Dots
I stated above that no one just snaps. There are always the warning signs. Unfortunately, it’s as much the companies fault as well as employees fault that these signs are ignored. The reason for this is that, in addition, to the excuses above, no one can or is willing to ‘connect the dots’.

Connecting the dots is a simple exercise, especially when you know what to look for. And it’s up to the company to inform their employees what they need to look for and connecting those dots.

And it’s not just that simple either. Supervisors, managers, human resources, security, C-suite, & literally everyone needs to know not to brush off what an employee brings to them.

Some employees will cry wolf too many times and therefore not be credible when reporting such things. But even if they aren’t credible in all cases, it may be the one case that they are and an incident occurs. After that it’s all about cleaning up – the blood, brain material, broken machinery, lives, and the publicity. And of course after that is litigation and potential bankruptcy.

Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on workplace violence prevention and other security issues. With numerous interviews, a twice weekly blog, articles, and 2 books he has proven himself in the security field for more than 31 years, and 23 studying workplace violence issues.
He utilizes his years of field knowledge to give real life examples of incidents pulled from both his own experiences and the news headlines. Contact him at 480-251-5197 or through his Facebook page at Here you will see and read about other items related to security as well as WPV.