At the Frontline: Security management consultant Felix Nater

A look at how businesses can prevent domestic disputes from turning into incidents of workplace violence


Earlier this week, a former employee at solar products manufacturer Emcore Corporation in Albuquerque, N.M., walked into the business and opened fire, killing two people and wounding four others before turning the gun on himself. Police say the gunman, later identified as 37-year-old Robert Reza, was involved a bitter dispute with his ex-girlfriend over custody of their children.

Obviously, incidents of workplace violence are something that security managers work to prepare their organizations for through numerous methods, be it early detection of warning signs exhibited by employees or though the implementation of security technologies and personnel that can serve as a first layer of defense.

However, the Albuquerque shooting begs the question of what companies can do to account for circumstances and issues that are potentially out their control?

In this "At the Frontline," SIW speaks to Felix Nater, president and owner of security management consulting firm Nater Associates, for his take on this incident and what businesses need to do to be better prepared to prevent acts of workplace violence.

What do businesses need to take away from this shooting to improve their own workplace violence prevention programs?

Preventing and mitigating the threat of workplace violence requires multiple intervention strategies. An organization's workplace violence program should address threats posed by employee-on-employee, vendors, contractors, external threats away from the workplace, domestic violence spillover into the workplace and active shooter incidents. It should have C-suite support through a written corporate policy statement of commitment, creating a culture that avoids violence and the threat of violence at all levels. We have to move away from old paradigms of issuing zero tolerance policy statements and then not aggressively investigating every reported incident. The problem with that approach is that it leaves the organization open to legal scrutiny the moment you fail to be consistent.

What if any lesson do you see for security directors and human reason professionals from the Albuquerque shooting?

The shooting presents a classic case of domestic violence spillover into the workplace. Training initiatives are remiss in addressing the threat posed by domestic and relationship violence. The C-suite along with security and human resource directors might consider revisiting traditional workplace violence prevention and domestic violence strategies that include due diligence in the implementation and management of policy statements and content of training that address risk mitigation. Like a terrorist, the disgruntled employee goes through a methodical process of planning the attack and the execution. Former employees must not be allowed routine access and should be subjected to visitor management and access control protocols. While I am not making any assumptions that (Reza) had unlimited access to the workplace, the question of former employees and their access to their former workplace must be scrutinized and addressed as part of reducing potential vulnerabilities.

You allude to the need to revisit traditional training approaches in favor of adopting non-traditional training content to address risk mitigation. How do you accomplish this?

Training in warning signs and risk factors are critical components of any workplace violence prevention program, however, we must adopt non-traditional workplace violence mitigation training strategies that address personnel risk mitigation tactics and physical security measures that include security personnel. Training should address the need to respond and react to threats by persons with a gun. The object of which is to move as many employees safely away from the shooter's kill zone as possible. Training in the evacuation or movement to safety during an active shooter incident is also needed and that includes tactics and procedures for all employees including those with special needs. Such training should be made mandatory for all. Specific training should address tactics when encountering the shooter in the open area outside the building, entry points and/or while in the building that include restricting the shooter's movement and escape, evasion, cover and concealment if deciding to stay in place or move to a previously established safe room. Training should also include incident command and prior planning and coordination with local first responders and other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

How can the C-Suite help workplaces prepare for an active shooter or domestic violence spillover into the workplace?

The C-Suite, but in particular the security and human resource directors, should begin the process of conducting a critical vulnerability assessment in the form of a workplace violence prevention security assessment of their current business and security policies and practices. They should also review their capability to manage and contain future threats, how to apply multiple intervention strategies in the pre-incident phase before escalation, ability to coordinate and implement the physical security role to deny the shooter access, and containment measures restricting the shooter's movement.

Do you think security directors will now take a harder look at employees dealing with serious domestic issues as the case was here and what steps can they take to mitigate the risks associated with them?

When situations like these become known, I believe security directors always go back to the drawing board each and every time, simply because they can assess the situation from their vantage points and come up with potential reasons to revamp or reevaluate existing security procedures and recommend implementation of new strategies or use of technology. I would hope that human resource directors would do the same as it relates to personnel policies and procedures that help manage former employees during the termination process and ensuing post termination issues.

I recommend that every workplace undergo a critical vulnerability assessment of their workplace specific to their sites to help identify gaps in their physical, personnel and workplace violence security posture. Do not conduct a cookie-cutter assessment. If conducted by internal resources, the process should be collaborative involving representatives from other functional departments.

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