Three-Stage Exercise to Test Your Organization’s Workplace Violence Response Plan

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Violent situations, whether terrorism or lone wolf, are becoming disruptive and impacting more and more people.Tweet from Waffle House

Ten pedestrians were killed and more than a dozen others injured on Monday, April 23 in Toronto, Canada. The deadly weapon of choice was a white van that sped through a downtown street, striking everything and everyone in sight. A 25-year-old male is in custody and charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. On that day, at least 10 innocent people lost their lives in a senseless crime. Less than 36 hours prior, a gunman walked into a Waffle House in Tennessee and killed four. The suspect was arrested the next day. On April 22nd, four innocent people lost their lives.

Although investigations concerning both acts of violence are ongoing, the denominator is the same: innocent people were killed in tragic incidents involving deadly weapons.

Incidents of violence occur at every establishment: schools, restaurants, office buildings, houses of worship, among others. No one is immune and it’s up to every leader to take appropriate measures to protect those within your facility and grounds. How do you prepare? Various measures can be taken, including facilitating a virtual, live simulation of a crisis situation. Firestorm conducts virtual exercises covering a variety of topics every year; the most recent centered around Terrorism or Lone Wolf – Does it Matter?

The two-hour exercise, based upon actual cases, guided participants through a series of events that required attendees to test their crisis plans in real-time. Attendees gathered in conference rooms to participate in the exercise. They were encouraged to:

  • Respond based upon their understanding of their organization and current plans.
  • Make the best decision based upon situations given.
  • Understand that once the simulation begins, they are ‘on the clock.’

The session was facilitated by Firestorm COO, Hart Brown, and included expert insights from Firestorm CSO, Jason Russell, and Dr. George Vergolias, Medical Director of R3 Continuum.

The following information reviews, in part, the simulated crisis situation. Participants received a few minutes after each stage to discuss how they’d respond to the events. While reading, imagine the crisis unfolding at your workplace. How would you respond?

Please contact us to discuss creating a custom simulation exercise for your teams.

The Exercise

STAGE ONEJohn relocated for his position in your organization. He is 25 years old and a 3-year member of your team. Last year, John received a written performance review of “needs improvement” and was placed on a performance improvement plan.

No improvement occurred and he has received several warnings for showing up to work under the influence of alcohol, and his excessive use of the Internet during work hours. He has also received warnings due to his argumentative, abrasive, and physical outbursts in meetings.

He has reportedly stalked another co-worker with romantic intent and said the company is out to get him. He told others he better not be fired. Yesterday, a supervisor recommended John’s termination from the company. Today, John did not show up to work.


  • Are you concerned about anything?
  • What level of concern would you give this situation: Low, Medium, or High?
  • What monitoring, communications, or notifications are you going to make – to whom and why?


Reviewing the process of terminating an employee should be the main concern in this stage. The question of, ‘if we terminate the employee, will the problems go away on their own?’ arises frequently. Terminating an employee will not solve the problem – however, how the termination is handled is important.

Termination should not be conducted in a disrespectful and undignified way. It should follow a procedure that is respectful and retains the employee’s dignity. Before terminating an employee, ask the question: how is the employee physically removed from the building? What type of access does the employee have – do they own keys to the building? Ask colleagues if the employee has exhibited additional behaviors of concern apart from behaviors already identified.

STAGE TWO: John, the employee who was recommended to be terminated this week, is very active on social media – this is one reason he was online frequently at work. You’re alerted that an hour ago he posted, “You’re all gonna die when I see you next…except for my list of”


  • What is your team’s primary concern at this point? Be specific.
  • What level of concern/severity would you give this Low, Medium, or High?
  • What monitoring, communications or notifications are you going to make – to whom, how, and why?


In this situation, reporting the threat to law enforcement is recommended. This will ensure officials are aware of the potential threat. Depending on the situation, incorporating officials can neutralize, accelerate, or mitigate the risk. Balance is important.

Contacting a third-party professional, like Firestorm, during a crisis is beneficial. A third-party organization will advise on next steps based upon years of experience handling similar situations. They can work alongside law enforcement, create a plan, and help mitigate the situation. It’s important to have a third-party relationship established prior to a crisis.

Understand that resolving an issue and mitigating future issues is a very important process and requires training.

STAGE THREE: It’s afternoon now and you’re in your office and you hear sirens growing louder. You look out of the window and see dozens of official vehicles, including SWAT, arrive. Officials appear focused on the facility next door. A voice over the loudspeaker announces an immediate lockdown. You learn the adjacent facility may have an active shooter inside. People in the office hypothesize that John, their colleague, may be involved due to his recent social media threat. Additional threats are appearing, but you are unclear if they’re connected. Officials announce the lockdown may last several hours.

During the lockdown, one of your employees begins complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain.


  • What is the #1 priority or action for each member of your team?
  • What is your team’s primary concern at this point? Be specific.
  • What monitoring, communications or notifications are you going to make – to whom, how, and why?

Analysis:Firestorm May Webinar Invitation -Business focus

Lockdowns and active shooter situations can last for hours for those who are in the protective perimeter. Significant time can pass before the scene is clear and people can evacuate. Anticipate additional stress will affect people differently; in this scenario it caused an employee to endure chest pain.

Security issues arise from lockdown and active shooter situations that must be addressed prior to a situation, not during the event. Ask yourself these questions: Do employees know where to go during a lockdown? What do we do with visitors? Do we use code language that could be confusing in the moment? How do we evacuate once the lockdown is lifted? Do police help people reach their cars? Do we have enough medical supplies to house our employees in one place for hours? Answer these questions while planning for a crisis – not during an event.

Additionally, as a crisis manager, never assume. Police in the past have responded to the wrong building based upon misinformation. Don’t assume those in your care are safe because officials aren’t focused on your location.

In the simulation, multiple crises occurred in one day. Never assume the incidents are linked. It is vital a crisis manager stays focused until details are confirmed.

The Time to Prepare is Now

The time to prepare your organization and people for a crisis is now – not when the next headlines indicate another episode of violence.

As we continue to respond to requests for assistance in this area, and as we observe more real-life examples, we will continue to provide exceptional training – including trainings like our virtual exercises.

Our goal is to approach the issue of violence in a holistic manner; by looking at the entire approach and preventing incidents from striking. We don’t want to answer the phone anymore for this issue, but we will. We don’t want to be talking about the next event, but we know we will.

Please look at our programs, ask us questions, and let’s solve this problem together. If you would like to facilitate a virtual exercise, or listen to the entire exercise Terrorism or Lone Wolf: Does it Matter, contact us – we’re here to help.


Join Firestorm COO, Jason Russell, on May 17th for a Firestorm webinar session,  Why Would You Wait for the Weapon to Arrive? (Part 2 of 2) – Planning for and Responding to Violence. The 45-minute session will walk attendees through preparedness best practices and action steps to take when violence enters your door.

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