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A Coworker Pulls Out a Gun. Now What?

Giffords MemorialThe Tucson shooting emphasizes the fact that we're living in a world where 1) there are plenty of nutty people and 2) it is extremely easy for them to get their hands on a gun. According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 800 people are murdered at work every year, which comes out to more than three deaths every workday.

While most of those deaths are people in law enforcement, there's enough violence out there that it probably makes sense to have a plan for what you'll do... if it happens to you and your workplace. (Related post: Office Nut Cases: A Field Guide).

Unfortunately, much of the advice available on the web is downright ridiculous. For instance, one popular list actually suggests hiding in a bathroom by sitting on top of the toilet with your feet off the floor. That's great advice, as long as the shooter has never seen any of the thousands of movies where that stupid cliche actually works.

To find out what you should really do, BNET consulted two experts: Don Grimme of GHR Training Solutions, a firm that consults on workplace violence and Park Dietz, founder of The Threat Assessment Group, who is arguably the world's top expert on serious workplace violence. Here's a common-sense list based largely upon those conversations:

Before It Happens:

  • RULE #1: Beware of Nutcases. People who bring guns to work and shoot them at coworkers are, by definition, nuts, and in most cases, their nuttiness is going to be more than just a dislike of the boss. The profile of a workplace shooter is a loner with mental health issues, a previous history of violence or spousal abuse, and who talks about violence and shares violent fantasies. You should probably also look askance coworkers who have extreme political views and obsess about conspiracy theories.
  • RULE #2: Don't Ignore Threats. If a coworker threatens gun violence or to "get even" with somebody, you can't afford not to take the threat seriously. Sane people don't make threats like that, and the mere fact that the person made the threat is a sign that he's already on the express train to Crazy Town.
  • RULE #3: Tell Your Boss (Maybe). If there is nutty talk coming from a coworker, you theoretically owe it to your coworkers to tell somebody. If the company doesn't have a security department or an HR procedure, tell the highest ranking person you can find whom you trust. The key concept is here is you need to remain OUT OF THE PICTURE. You don't want to end up as "the guy who got me fired" when Mr. "pry my gun out of my cold dead hands" shows up for his exit interview with a Glock.
  • RULE #4: Hunker Down. Regardless of what you did in the previous step, make yourself scarce when it comes to dealing with the nutcase. Under no circumstances, should you become confrontational if the nutcase gets weird or blows up. Avoid him whenever possible. Talk to him as little as possible; eat your lunch elsewhere. Slip into the background. Oh, and if it plays out that the nutcase is going to blame you for ratting him out, get another job. Pronto.
  • RULE #5: Have a Plan. Your workplace may have a plan in place to deal with a workplace shooting. Ignore it. It's useless because 1) the nutcase with the gun probably knows the official plan, and 2) everybody will be running around like headless chickens. Have your own, very specific plan about what you're going to do, where you're going to go and how you're going to save yourself.
  • RULE #6: Know Your Surroundings. You need to know three things: 1) the quickest way out of the building, 2) the nearest room that can be locked or barricaded, 3) someplace nearby where you could hide. You need to know these three facts for your own office area, and every other office area where you spend any amount of time. It's your life, so take the time to be observant.
If It Happens:
  • STEP #1: Duck and Cover. It sounds obvious to do this, but when a shooting takes place some people just stand there trying to see what is happening. Believe it or not, sometimes idiots even head towards the sound of the shooting to see what's going on. Don't be an idiot. Get out of the way!
  • STEP #2: Gather Your Wits. Unless you are actively under fire or likely to be, take a couple seconds and take a deep breath. Assess the likely location of the shooter and then decide what to do, based upon your options, which is why you made a plan.
  • STEP #3: Get Away. If possible, get out of the building and then get as far away from the building as possible. The shooting is taking place at your office, so if you're not at your office (or just as stupidly, in the parking lot), you're in a lot less danger. As soon as you're far away, call 911.
  • STEP #4: Get Safer. If you can't get out of the building, go to the nearest room that can be locked from the inside and/or barricaded. Once inside, lock the door and/or barricade it. Then call 911. Do not open the door, even if somebody outside says they are the police. It could be the shooter.
  • STEP #5: Hide. If steps #3 and #4 aren't possible, hide someplace where you can't be seen. (That's the "hiding" part.) Be very, very quiet. Do NOT call 911 because it might make noise. Some idiots suggest calling 911 and then leaving the phone off the hook. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Be quiet. If you have to wait there 24 hours and end up with the mother of all cramps, who cares? You survived.
  • STEP #6: Become Less Threatening. If the shooter points the gun at you, raise your hands palm outwards and move slowly away. Research shows that this gesture makes you nonthreatening and thus less likely to be a target. Many websites and videos suggest ways to disarm the shooter. That's dumb. You are not the Batman. Do not try to be a hero.
  • STEP #7: RUN! If the shooter actively shoots at you, run away in a zigzag pattern. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to hit something that's moving like that. By contrast, if you run in a straight line, you're presenting an easy target that (from the perspective of the gun sight) is staying in one place. Keep zigging and zagging until you are far, far away.
  • STEP #8: Play Dead. If you're shot, lie down and play dead. With any luck, the shooter will not come over and finish you off.
  • STEP #9: Beware of the Police, Too. When law enforcement arrives, they may not know how many shooters are present and may mistake you for one. So when you see the police, put your hands up, palms outward, and move very slowly. You don't want your obituary to have a sentence in it that begins: "Ironically..."
The likelihood of any of this ever happening to you is, of course, relatively small. However, if there's some jerk at the office who's always talking crazy about government, brainwashing or whatever, you owe it to yourself to be ready.

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