Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Sgt. Ryan Morrison talks about the first mail carrier to go ‘postal,’ a term still used to describe workplace violence.
By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — More workplace violence happens in schools than in churches, malls, restaurants, hospitals and other public places, an instructor on active shooter incidents told a class Monday night.
About 30 people attended a workplace violence class at Clayton County Fire Station No. 13. Instructor Sgt. Ryan Morrison gave daunting statistics.
“Experts have determined that 38 percent of what is sometimes called ‘rapid mass murders’ happen in school systems,” he said. “Seventeen percent happen at universities, giving educational facilities 55 percent of violent workplace incidents.”
Most of those shooters suffer from a mental illness. Four employees of Clayton Center Community Service Board, which serves residents with mental illnesses, attended the class. Shelby Dodson is the center’s health and safety representative and said what the group will take back with them to other workers is vital to Clayton County.
“If ever there is an emergency, the mental health people will have to be there to help out,” she said.
The county program serves about 2,500 patients every year. Dodson said the public would be alarmed if they knew how many of their neighbors and people they interact with every day are being treated for a mental illness. Most cannot function in society without weekly or daily medication.
“We see it so much,” she said. “You’d be amazed at how many people come to the center who, if they didn’t get help, you would not want to be around. We have day programs filled with people who get injections every week. It’s really an important program we have here.”
Dodson said the class was useful in providing tips to keep people safe in the building and for those seeing doctors.
Morrison designed the class around the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s campaign to “Run, Hide or Fight” in cases of workplace violence. The class offered warning signs and what human resources or other managers can do to prevent violence escalating into death or injury. He started off with a video depicting an active shooter entering an office building and gunning down victims.
“By the time you leave here, you will be thinking differently about how you lead your daily life,” he said. “Grocery shopping, going to church, being out in public. You’ll be more prepared. People tend to react rather than being proactive.”
Workers should not try to be a hero but get out as safely as possible or hide effectively.
“There is a difference between cover and concealment,” said Morrison. “When you are concealed, you are hiding from someone. When you take cover, bullets can still hit you. A gunman will have a hard time finding you behind a concrete wall and most are not going to waste bullets trying to fire through doors.”
Taking action against a shooter should be a last resort.
“Being a hero is not really an option,” he said. “If you have to fight, yell first. That gets adrenaline racing and gives the shooter a pause for a second. Using a dynamic voice toward somebody can buy you some time.”
Improvise weapons and throw items, but heavy items that will have an impact.
“Staplers are usually heavy,” said Morrison. “Throw heavy books, that’s what you need to use. And you don’t want to hesitate. Commit to your actions.”
Morrison also advised the class on how to interact with law enforcement.
“The only thing the police are there to do is eliminate the threat,” he said. “It’s kind of a gray area but you just have to take their word. If they’re holding a badge, they’re a good guy. Follow the path they came from to safety.”
Employers need to plan for a such a scenario, with two routes of escape, and keep emergency contact information for all workers.
Morrison, planning officer with the Clayton County Office of Emergency Management, teaches the class with Beth Durmire. Clayton County fire Capt. Walter Barber said other classes will be offered because of the positive response. Employers who want to set up a class can contact Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services at 770-473-7833.