Cassie Bernall sat, hidden under a library table, listening to screams and gunfire as the people around her were ruthlessly murdered. In her final, terrified moments, she watched Eric Harris duck his head under the table and say, “Peek-a-boo!” before shooting her in the head. Cassie was one of 13 people killed during the Columbine High School massacre.
Since that horrifying day in 1999 mass shootings have become an epidemic, with more than 330 mass shootings across the country in 2018 alone. If that weren’t frightening enough, depending on how you define the term mass shooting the number might be much higher than that, with some statistics coming in at more than 411 mass shootings in 2018. This adds up to hundreds of lives lost, thousands injured, and tens of thousands of family members, friends, and coworkers left emotionally scarred from the deadly assault on their loved ones.
Worse yet, mass shootings are producing higher fatality rates every year. Fourteen of the 25 most deadly mass shootings since 1982 happened between 2010-2018. During the Las Vegas Massacre of 2017 there were 58 people killed and another 546 were injured by the shooter. The gunman was able to fire into a crowd of 22,000 people for a full ten minutes while more than 500 calls were made to 911 reporting the shooting. The terrified men and women who made those calls for help were fighting for their lives, running to safety or finding makeshift hiding places underneath the stage and in nearby hotel rooms to avoid the torrent of bullets that were being unleashed upon the crowd.
While it is easy to close your eyes and hope that a mass shooting never affects you or your employees, workplace violence is an often unpublicized and overlooked threat to American lives. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace violence affects over 2 million victims each year and costs businesses $36 billion annually. It is nearly impossible to predict a violent incident, but employers can be better prepared, especially through forging a strong partnership with an experienced employee assistance program (EAP) specialized in crisis management.
The Critical Incident Response and Crisis Management services available through an EAP are vital resources for both employers and employees in the event of a tragedy. An EAP can assist employers with the creation of a vulnerability audit to help identify and strengthen their weak spots, both those that are physically present as well as weaknesses in policies and procedures. It can also help provide necessary mental health care, trauma counseling, and other recovery services necessary for employees who’ve been impacted by a tragedy, whether onsite at work or as part of their day-to-day lives.
Trauma often affects individuals long after that actual traumatic experience. There are often many physical injuries suffered by survivors, and even those who avoided the gunfire will often face significant mental trauma, including everything from PTSD to harassment from people who’ve created a conspiracy theory centered around the worst moments of their lives, a fact the children and families of Sandy Hook Elementary know all too well.
As business and HR leaders look to innovative management strategies and tools to build an engaged and empowered workforce, they have to start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable reality of crisis. Employees are each company’s most valuable resource. Protecting the workforce has to be top priority, not just for good business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.