Workplace Security in the Age of Covid-19 By Joe Anderson

April 27, 2020

 On a balmy Thursday afternoon on July 1, 1993, a madman wearing a trench coat entered the 101 California Street Building in San Francisco. He crossed the lobby into a bank of elevators and ascended to the 34th floor offices of the law firm Pettit & Martin.  Brandishing a pair of TEC-9 handguns and carrying an additional Norinco NP44, he walked toward a conference room where a deposition was taking place, and began a storm of automatic weapon fire that ended the lives of nine innocent people and wounded six more.


The Dawn of Entrance Workplace Security

By August, entry to 101 California (and countless similar skyscraper office buildings around the nation) required visitors to check in with security in the lobby followed by passage through a metal detector.  Subsequently, employee ID badges with key card access limited to certain floors and offices, previously reserved for places like the Pentagon, became commonplace in American business.  It is perhaps unsurprising then, that 101 California was the last high-rise mass shooting in America. 

However, key card access and other security measures remain less common in government buildings, schools, warehouses, and houses of worship. These locations have proven to be easier targets.

As much of the country continues some form of stay at home order in response to the Covid-19 crisis, many of these locations stand largely empty.  For locations deemed essential, safety measures include temperature checks and health screening, in addition to physical distancing and the wearing of PPE.  When work and gathering places return to activity, many will likewise begin implementing at least some of these measures.

While it is too soon to determine causation rather than mere correlation or even coincidence, the month of March was the first in 18 years to pass without a school shooting.  In fact, while gun violence has increased during Covid-19, mass shooting frequency has decreased.  Certainly, empty buildings do not make particularly attractive targets, but the country at large has been spared news of mass shootings for a substantial period by American standards.  Perhaps added scrutiny at points of ingress and egress has provided an additional layer of security from the dangers of virus and violence alike.


An Opportunity to Prepare Now

Safety preparedness is generally a hard sell unless mandated by government action or, sadly, in the aftermath of tragedy, when it is too late.  Even other people’s tragedies are not enough to prioritize taking measures against something we desperately hope will not happen.  Implementing strategies that deter an event from even occurring (thereby making the successful nature of the investment difficult to confirm), tends to be a big ask of an organization’s valuable time and budget.  Nonetheless, the downside of failing to implement such strategies when something bad happens is equally heartbreaking and avoidable.


Personal Space Safety

The Covid-19 crisis provides such an opportunity.  People will most likely return to work not in droves, but in dribbles.  Everyone will have heightened sensitivity to their personal space and to measures to ensure it is safe.  They certainly will be open to new policies, procedures, and projects intended to maintain the health and well-being of the workplace community.  Collaboration – being in it together – will be the name of the game. 

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is hopefully that we take time to do the things we need to do to ensure our own and others’ health and well-being.  It has shown, in fact, that failure to take such take timely action can have disastrous consequences – unavoidable ones at that.  We now routinely dedicate 20 seconds to handwashing throughout the day.  Can we not dedicate 20 minutes to training in the company’s new anti-violence safety preparedness protocols, perhaps once a month, to provide peace of mind in the workplace?


Workplace Peace of Mind

Workplace peace of mind will be an important commodity in the post-Covid economy.  People will be leaving their remote work bubbles and returning to work, but it will be different than before the pandemic.  Most places are as unlikely to return to “normal” as Pettit & Martin was after the shooting. Even with lobby metal detectors, security, and the partners’ best efforts, the then 10th largest law firm in California dissolved within a year.  More positively, implementation of anti-violence safety preparedness at other office buildings around the country helped other firms avoid Pettit & Martin’s fate.


Returning to “Better Than Ever”

Now is the time to begin preparation not for a return to normal, but to a return to better than ever.  Now is the time to invest in violence deterrence, prevention, and response training and equipment solutions.  Now is the time to make safety a priority for everywhere people gather to work, worship, and play (the latter of which are someone’s workplace as well).  Now also happens to be the dawn of a new era in best practices in anti-violence safety preparedness, with new non-lethal personal protective equipment, office-to-automobile proximate personal protection, and online platforms dedicated to turn-key safety service solutions.

The person, personnel, and company you save might be your own!

Joe Anderson is a former
Attorney at Pettit & Martin
And CEO of Reflex Protect

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