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Published in CenterView on February 11, 2013

Homeland Security video instructs UMMC employees how to survive workplace violence

By Bruce Coleman

On what would appear to be a normal workday in a typical office environment, employees are just settling into their regular job routines when they are abruptly interrupted by the unthinkable.

Without warning, an individual brandishes a weapon and begins to methodically and indiscriminately target people all around the office. Amid the noise, shock and chaos of the situation, what actions should individuals take to increase their chances of surviving such an incident?  

Arty GirodViolence in the classroom or the office has become all too familiar in 21st century America. According to Arty Girod, director of police and logistical services, how one responds to such a disturbance literally could mean the difference between life and death.

“While it might not be your favorite topic, it’s something we have to make people aware of and get them trained on how to avoid these situations,” Girod said. “You can’t bury your head in the sand with these issues.”

That’s why Campus Police has made the video, “Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” available to Medical Center staff and students at http://ushare.umc.edu/Pages/RunHideFight.html.

A Department of Homeland Security grant-funded project of the Regional Catastrophic Planning Initiative, the approximately six-minute video, produced by the City of Houston, Texas, Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, demonstrates the scenario above and recommends three potential responses:

RUN

The preferred reaction: If it is possible to leave the area where the situation is unfolding, individuals should do so immediately, helping others to leave as well.

HIDE

If leaving isn’t an option, individuals should relocate to an area that provides a barricade between themselves and the immediate danger.

FIGHT

If given no alternative, individuals should defend themselves directly against the threat.

“Crimes or violence on a campus setting rocks everybody,” Girod said. “It not only rocks the individual who is victimized, it has a ripple effect and it touches everybody.

“People should be able to come to work and not have the fear or threat of violence or that their safety is at issue.”

Girod said those in the health-care industry are particularly susceptible to finding themselves in a violent situation at work.

“Statistically, the likelihood of assaults and threatening behavior is much greater in the health-care environment,” he said. “Health-care workers already are at a higher risk for this type of incident.

“Knowing that, people should learn on the front end how they can appropriately respond to violence or threats. We can’t afford to take any chances.”

The video is part of a Crime Prevention Program provided by Campus Police to train Medical Center staff and students on a host of security issues, from home safety to active shooter response.

“We believe prevention is paramount and important in these situations,” Girod said. “Our main focus is providing the maximum level of safety and security for people who come onto this campus. Communication is the key.”

The video also is an important tool for communicating how to respond appropriately to life-threatening situations, said Jonathan Wilson, director of emergency services.

“This is designed to take care of the most valuable commodity we have on campus: our patients, staff and students,” Wilson said. “It’s one of the most important obligations we have here at the Medical Center.

“This is a tool to make sure everybody can protect themselves should we have something like this happen on our campus.”

Having Medical Center staff and students trained on the appropriate response to campus violence is important, Girod said, but having them actively communicate their concerns to Campus Police is just as critical.

“There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for violence, or even the threat of violence, here at our institution,” Girod said. “People here listen and see certain things all the time. When something is said that makes them feel uncomfortable, that needs to be documented and reported to their manager, HR or the police department – it doesn’t make any difference where they report it, somebody somewhere needs to hear about that.

“Whenever individuals see something that they question – an individual on the hospital floor without an ID, someone wearing a trench coat in July, or anything their gut tells them isn’t right – they should contact us.”  

Wilson said the Medical Center’s emergency management personnel also works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement and with partner institutions of higher learning on workplace violence preparedness.

“We’ve had joint meetings with other IHL institutions to look specifically at lessons learned at other sites,” he said. For example, “at the University of Texas at Austin campus, they brought in the chief of police to talk about lessons learned (in the 2010 campus library shooting) – what went well and what to do better the next time.”

Wilson said the Medical Center is fortunate to have a police force on campus that is responsive to emergency situations.

“we don’t have to rely on an external agency to respond,” he said. “We have a campus police that has quick response and is trained for these types of scenarios.”

Active shooter training is now taught at the academy, Girod said.

“Our plans are to send our officers through a second time to get a refresher,” he said. “It’s a continuing process for us to make sure our guys get trained.”

Wilson said emergency management will soon place posters around the Medical Center campus to educate staff, students and visitors about how to best prepare for workplace violence.

“Through this campus effort, we are really trying to push for everyone to be aware of the threat and to have a plan of action if it happens,” he said. “If something like this happens, it’ll occur very quickly, and we need to have our people aware of how to respond to the threat.

“We need to give the people on campus the tools they need to protect themselves.”

Meanwhile, Girod said Campus Police personnel are available to provide on-site training for any department or unit at the Medical Center.

“We want to talk with people about this issue and other security issues as well,” Girod said. “We want to hear their thoughts or suggestions. We want to dialogue with others. It’s an ongoing process.” 

For more information about the Campus Police Crime Prevention Program, call 601-815-3072.