CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii --
On Feb. 17 1988, Richard Farley, a former employee who had been fired more than two years prior, walked into Electromagnetic Systems Labs in Sunnyvale, Calif., with a shotgun and various other weapons and began to shoot everyone he saw.
His goal was to kill a former colleague who he stalked for more than four years and who had issued a restraining order against him. Before he gave himself up to the authorities, Farley killed seven employees and seriously injured four others.
To raise awareness and educate to help prevent a similar scenario from occurring, dozens of service members and employees assigned to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, attended one of two Violence in the Workplace security briefs Sept. 10 at the MarForPac headquarters building here.
“It’s a very real concern that expands beyond the workplace, it’s a problem in our society,” said Deborah R. Collins, executive director for the National Security Training Institute and a survivor of the 1988 ESL shooting. “If someone wants to hurt you, the workplace is an easy target because they know when and where you are going to be.”
According to her brief, on average, a workplace murder occurs every eight hours. There are more than two million victims of workplace violence a year and it’s the leading cause of death for women.
Working in numerous security positions throughout her career, Collins has investigated numerous cases and highlighted common trends in each case.
“One of the things we’ve discovered during our investigations is that someone always says, ‘I never thought it would happen here,’” Collins said. “The first step is combating the idea that it could never happen to us, because it can and it’s a very real threat.”
Workplace violence perpetrators, in most cases, send clear warning signs, which leaders are encouraged to look for, take very seriously and document.
Obsessive behaviors, such as stalking either in person or via texting, phone and internet are also signs of potentially violent employees.
Collins said it’s also important to note that if addressed early, violence can be prevented before things get out of hand.
“I had a supervisor come asking for help with an employee who would throw things to get people’s attention and would constantly yell at his subordinates,” Collins said. “The first thing I asked was, ‘Where’s your documentation?’ and he told me, ‘We don’t have any.’ They were hoping I could fix him in the few days that I was there.”
After pointing out that documentation of incidences should have begun long ago, Collins launched an investigation and found the accusations to be true, but rather than terminating employment, she counseled the perpetrator.
The man said he never knew that it bothered anybody, according to Collins.
“He told me it was how he was raised. He grew up in a home where people threw things at each other and yelled at each other all the time,” she said. “It was normal behavior to him. I called a couple weeks later to see if there was any progress and it turned out that the behavior had stopped. Sometimes they are just unaware that what they are doing is considered to be violent.”
Collins also pointed out that though the majority of issues are not reported due to fear of reprisal from the perpetrator, many of the cases reported are ignored or result in the reporter being blamed.
“(Farley’s stalking victim) went to human resources when the stalking began and they asked her, ‘What have you done to encourage this?’” Collins said. “She shut down and never looked for help within the company again.”
Collins suggests using an open-door policy to promote trust and ensure that if someone is having a personal problem, they will voice their concerns, vice suffer silently and allow violence to occur.
Another method for preventing a shooting-type occurrence is to tell the command if someone has made threatening gestures or statements and inform security as to their appearance and vehicle description so security can stop them before they enter the workplace.
Collins recounted a story where a woman had received death threats from her ex- husband. She reported them to her employers and security was given a description of the man and his vehicle. Within a couple days, security arrested the man as he was preparing to take a shotgun out his trunk in her office’s parking lot.
But what happens if prevention has failed and a shooter enters the work place?
“If someone is determined to get into a facility, they can and will,” Collins said. “You have two types of shooting situations; hostage takers and active shooters. You need to know what to do to protect yourself in each situation.”
During a hostage-taking scenario, Collins advises victims to let the shooter vent without judging them, do as they say and try to develop a rapport with them.
“The one time Richard Farley stopped was when a woman asked, ‘Richard how are you?’” Collins said. “She called him by his name. She humanized him. It was the only time he came out of his trance and said to her, ‘I think you should leave.’ He let her get up and walk out.”
When dealing with an active shooter scenario, such as the Columbine or Fort Hood shootings, the situation is entirely different. According to her presentation, most people lose critical moments because they hear gunfire but aren’t sure if it’s real. She advised her audience to assume the shots are real and immediately attempt to exit the facility. If exiting isn’t possible, the next best thing is to find a good hiding place and wait there until first responders arrive. The last resort is to confront the shooter and take him down as quickly as possible.
“There is no negotiating with these people, they have come in with the intent of taking as many lives as they possibly can,” said professionals in one of Collins’ video presentations. “If you find yourself face to face with them, you need to commit to doing whatever is necessary to survive, become aggressive, yell at them, attack them, throw things, what ever it takes to neutralize that threat.”
Collins advises victims to stay calm and cooperate with first responders, such as SWAT teams. Once they enter a facility, they are trained to neutralize the threat. Victims should have their hands in the air and provide information as to the location, description and the weapons carried by the shooter if possible.
According to personnel attending the event, the information proved to be invaluable.
“It was really good,” said Lance Cpl. Rebecca Knoll-Tseng, administrative clerk with Headquarters and Service Battalion, MarForPac. “I never really thought about the signs of violence in the work place. It was really good information everyone should know.”
“It opened my eyes to situations in the office that I wouldn’t have thought about,” said Lance Cpl. Rollianne Gawat, administrative clerk with HQSCV Bn. MarForPac, “All and all, I now know that workplace violence can happen anywhere at anytime.”
Collins concluded her presentation with some homework for her audience.
“Acknowledge people,” she said. “Call them by their names. The rudeness of our daily interactions is at least one of the causes of our societal problems, and never deprive someone of hope; it may be all they have.”