Virginia Beach Shooting: Preventing Future Tragedies
25.06.19 Filed in: Workplace
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
VIRGINIA BEACH — The resignation email arrived in the morning, and the gunfire started in the afternoon. DeWayne Craddock, an engineer who had worked for the City of Virginia Beach for 15 years, notified his superiors on Friday that he intended to quit. Then at around 4 p.m., he embarked on a rampage in Building No. 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, turning its offices and corridors into a battleground. When it was over, 12 people lay dead and Mr. Craddock was fatally wounded.(1)
The shooting, the nation's deadliest of the year, unfolded when the shooter shot the first victim outside Building 2, a three-story brick structure with about 400 municipal workers. The suspect then headed into the building, moving between floors and firing at workers. Victims were later found on all three floors. Similar to the Christchurch and Thousand Oaks shootings, survivors were unaware the sounds they heard were actual gunshots. In this case, a suppressor was used to muffle the sounds of gunfire. Police are still investigating and have said they do not know the shooter's motive.(2)
A Growing Trend
FBI statistics indicate there have been, on average, more than 20 active shooter incidents a year over the last two decades and these numbers may rise. The statistics for workplace violence using other weapons, or no weapons, are significantly higher.(3) Common antecedents in workplace violence situations include:
• Conflicts among managers and those supervised
• A psychologically volatile work atmosphere
• Intimidation, harassment or bullying
• Authoritarian management
• Power imbalances between superiors and subordinates
• General disregard for the principle of fairness and respect of employees.
It can be a combustible mix when unhealthy organizational cultures are matched with an individual under severe psychological stress with possible underlying mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association notes personal stressors and relationship problems can be associated with violent acts at work and the National Safety Council identifies the following warning signs which may indicate potential work violence: a) excessive use of alcohol or drugs, b) unexplained work absences, c) changes in behavior at work, d) declines in job performance, e) withdrawn affect, f) resistance to work changes, e) persistent complaining about unfair treatment, f) violation(s) of company policies, g) emotional response to criticism, and h) mood swings and paranoia.
To best prepare staff for an active shooter situation, OSHA and other experts recommend creating an Emergency Action Plan and conducting regular training exercises. This includes joint input from HR and training departments, company leaders, and local law enforcement or emergency responders.(5,6)
Is This Enough?
Organizational leaders should consider cultural elements when it comes to the growing problem of workplace violence and active shooters. One researcher points out that as the nation searches for ways to prevent violence, the focus must be as much on climate and culture as it is on security.(7)
Methods to help create a positive and supportive work environment for employees include (8):
• Promoting sincere, open and timely communication among managers, employees, organizations.
• Offering support for professional development.
• Fostering a family-friendly work environment.
• Promoting quality of life and job satisfaction.
• Maintaining a system for complaints and concerns to be express in non-judgmental forums.
• Ensuring impartial and consistent discipline for employees who exhibit improper conduct and poor performance.
Other elements include promoting psychological safety, fostering teamwork, reducing unhealthy political behaviors, providing recognition and appreciation, and increasing employee engagement in work processes.
Improving organizational culture benefits company performance. We’re now learning it may play a part in helping to prevent serious acts of violence in the workplace.