Skip to content

Ready to Respond

Security officers are charged with the safety and security of employees, contractors, visitors, and anyone else who comes onto the sites they protect. While there are many threats that security must protect against, one key concern these days is workplace violence. Proper training can help officers detect, deter, and respond to this type of threat. One company uses a five-day training program to prepare security officers to deal with workplace violence. Any company can adapt the principles of this program.

The program teaches officers how to detect signs that a person is moving up the violence continuum and how to respond once they become aware of a problem. The program incorporates lectures, discussions, role-playing scenarios, practical application exercises, and a final scenario of an incident in which officers use simulated firearms to respond to a workplace-violence incident.


Training begins with a general discussion of workplace violence. As a starting point, officers are given a working definition of workplace violence. The preferred definition is drawn from the one used by the FBI and includes any conduct that induces a sense of fear or otherwise disrupts the normal course of work, with behaviors ranging from disruptive, aggressive, hostile, or emotionally abusive conduct to physical assaults with or without weapons.

Instructors explain that although active-shooter incidents garner the most attention, nonfatal incidents make up the vast majority of workplace-violence cases. This part of the training emphasizes that the security officer’s job is to intervene before an incident escalates into an active-shooter situation.

The intervention training officers receive is not like the workplace-violence awareness training offered to nonsecurity employees. This is because security officers, who have little day-to-day interaction with staff and visitors, won’t have a chance to spot the behaviors nonsecurity staff are told to look for—such as changes in mood or attitude. In addition, nonsecurity employees are taught to run or hide, whereas security officers must respond to the incident.

The training recognizes that officers are typically brought into a situation only when a person already poses some level of threat—enough that someone felt it necessary to call security. As a result, the curriculum covers the warning signs and behavioral indicators that security officers are likely to see when they arrive at the scene in response to an incident or a call. These signs and indicators are broken down into three categories: medium, high, and severe. (see sidebar, starting on page 34).


The second day of training focuses on the ways in which security policies and procedures can prevent workplace violence. For example, one way is for human resources to notify security immediately when an employee is terminated or when a customer, client, vendor, or contractor is banned from the location. However, this doesn’t always happen. As a result, the disgruntled employee who was terminated yesterday or some other banned and angry individual may be unwittingly waved through by security today.

By adhering to established access control procedures and policies and making each individual present a valid ID badge, security can mitigate the risk. If a person doesn’t have a badge, security should contact the individual’s supervisor or the person being visited.

The officers receive additional training in confrontation management, de-escalation techniques, and nonviolent crisis intervention.

Legal considerations. Trainees also learn about legal, regulatory, and contract requirements when handling workplace violence situations. They learn the importance of interviewing witnesses as soon as possible and of documenting the incident. Accurate documentation serves many purposes. First, it is the key to recognizing and understanding patterns of behavior that might signal the escalation of potentially threatening activities. It can also provide evidence that bolsters the case for terminating an employee or that exculpates the company of negligence charges or provides proof of security’s due diligence in the event of any court case related to workplace violence.

Exercises. This portion of the training includes tabletop exercises and role-playing scenarios based on the information presented in the previous day. The tabletop exercises involve various incidents, such as a disgruntled employee, a customer confrontation, and the arrival of an angry individual demanding to see his or her spouse.

Officers are taught standard protocols and procedures for handling each situation. They learn to match the response to the situation. They are also taught that in high-risk situations, safety is always the top priority. Later, they are presented with similar situations and must write a brief description of the actions they would take.

Next are role-playing scenarios in which instructors play the part of potentially violent individuals. During these role-playing scenarios, the security officers are expected to tailor their actions to the level of risk presented by the threatening individual.

For example, containment and de-escalation are the primary goals in medium-risk situations involving verbal aggression. Security must isolate the individual and allow him or her to calm down. Security personnel are also trained to inform the person’s supervisor and the security command center of what is happening, and they are trained to summon help if the behavior turns from verbal to physical.

Security officers learn that after threatening individuals have had a chance to cool down, they should be interviewed by a member of the security team. During this process, officers must listen calmly and without interruption. This helps the subjects further calm down because they are being given a chance to explain their actions. The individual’s cooperation and compliance must be gained, so security is trained to be objective and sincere in this interaction.

Human resources and the employee’s supervisor should receive copies of the incident report. If possible, these parties should respond to the report by disclosing to security any previous incidents with that individual so that security can have a more accurate risk profile of that person as a reference point if they are called to respond to a future incident. The security department should treat that information as confidential so that the individual is not unfairly targeted or humiliated.

Officers are also taught how to investigate incidents of sabotage and vandalism. This includes interviewing personnel, documenting the events, and reporting to the proper authorities, whether internal or external (such as law enforcement).
Officers are also taught that when they are called to a high-risk event in progress, they should calmly and quietly evacuate the area. Officers are trained to speak slowly, softly, and confidently to the perpetrator to avoid escalating the situation. Then, the officers are taught to direct the individual to an area where they can calm down and where there aren’t any objects they can throw or kick.

Officers learn that it is important to maintain some physical distance from the individual so as not to appear threatening. Officers learn not to touch the individual unless absolutely necessary and to remain at arm’s length to prevent an attack. As with other risk categories, once the incident is over, security officers are taught that they should interview the perpetrator and witnesses separately, document the incident, and then submit reports to the appropriate personnel.

Defensive considerations. The third day of training centers around the physical attacks an officer may face during a workplace-violence incident. The training should not focus solely on guns, because other objects that may be grabbed in the heat of the moment or concealed for a planned attack can be just as deadly. For example, knives, scissors, and other edged weapons are easily concealed until the perpetrator is within striking distance of the victim.

Any object can be used as a bludgeon including staplers, binders, and other standard office supplies. Chemicals, including many cleaning products, are easily accessible on many work sites. Aerosol sprays can be ignited by a lighter or chemicals can be sprayed or splashed in someone’s face, causing chemical burns.

The third day of training ends at a gym facility where officers receive training in baton and defensive tactics.

Firearms. The fourth day of training involves firearm simulations with a computer-based simulator that uses the same caliber and type of firearms the officers carry on site. Using a simulator for judgmental shooting, officers practice shoot/don’t shoot drills to minimize mistakes in a real situation. They also practice cover and concealment.

While one group of officers is practicing with the simulators, another group uses inert detailed replicas of actual weapons—known as Blueguns because of their color—to practice sweeps and room clearing. This is done both individually and in teams. Additional staff or instructors role-play as employees hiding from an active shooter or as wounded victims. Officers are trained to respond appropriately to each situation by evacuating hiding employees, neutralizing the active-shooter threat, and tending to victims.

The officers also practice working in teams, with the lead officer asking other team members for help with escorting employees and tending to victims. The team’s main focus, however, is to neutralize the threat. As a result, officers must decide how best to proceed. Options include leaving the uninjured or those with minor injuries. The training makes clear that if officers must leave people behind, they should notify the command center as soon as possible about the number, location, and condition of any employees they find. Company policies or contract procedures are also included in the training if appropriate.

Final drills. 
The final day of training involves the use of training ammunition, such as Simunitions or Airsoft, in a training facility designed to look like an office building with cubicles. The day includes scenario training in which an active-shooter incident occurs in the workplace. Officers as well as personnel from the command center are involved in conducting the exercise. Trainers watch to determine how well officers follow standard operating procedures.

The scenario training is designed to be as true to life as possible, with cameras linking back to a simulated control center. This allows command center personnel to practice their duties as well. In some instances, it is possible to have local police and first responders participate in the exercise. However, if that is not possible, then instructors or company employees will stand in and role-play as these individuals so that officers can practice appropriate responses. Extras will also be recruited to play victims and passersby.

An exercise begins with a scenario where an officer informs the command center and their supervisors of the incident. The command center immediately notifies all security officers that there is a CODE RED and briefly describes the type of incident and location. Notifications are then made to the facility by activating an emergency alert via cell phone, telephone, and radio. The command center immediately calls 911, notifying emergency services. Police, fire, and EMS respond.

Once they arrive on scene, the police will have an officer posted in the command center. In training, officers must try to identify the suspect by name, give a physical description, and note the last known location.

In these scenarios, the suspect will sometimes be an employee and sometimes not. Where the suspect is an employee, there is an assumption that the person has used an access control card. Trainees must then respond with the proper protocols. For example, the officers must notify appropriate personnel to have the badge access turned off to restrict the suspect’s movements. If the building has multiple floors, engineers should be asked to respond to the affected building to immediately recall all elevators to the ground floor and stand by. If engineers are unavailable, a security supervisor locks down the elevators to the lobby or first floor to prevent the suspect from using it to move about the building.

The command center continues to monitor all CCTV activity in and around the incident scene and report all suspect movements, activities, and related intelligence. All vehicular and pedestrian access to the building and the garage is immediately restricted. Visitors are restricted in a predetermined safe location as identified in emergency  procedures.

If the company has a buildingwide communication system, the training will require that the command center put out a message stating that there has been a shooting incident. The message will include the location of the incident, and it will state that security and emergency services are responding. The message should caution everyone to remain calm and to shelter in place by locking doors and hiding.

If the company has armed response personnel, they will be trained to engage the shooter per the company’s use-of-force policy. If an attack is occurring or about to occur, the primary goals are containment and de-escalation without risking further injury until police arrive on the scene. If containment and de-escalation are not possible, the priority is to monitor the perpetrator’s movements.

Security should also evacuate the area as quickly and safely as possible. If officers can communicate with people they cannot evacuate, they should tell them to lock and barricade doors and remain quiet so as not to alert the attacker (as any buildingwide message also would have told them). If employees cannot lock and barricade the doors, they should be told to disperse, hide, and remain quiet. Officers must ensure that employees do not cluster together as it increases the number of potential victims. 

In a multi-story facility, officers should be dispatched to the floors above and below the incident to monitor elevators and stairwells, while available armed officers split up as follows: two of the armed security officers are trained to respond to the rear of the building and monitor the emergency stairwell exit doors. They also clear any pedestrians from the area. Two armed security officers respond to the front of the building to assist in clearing any pedestrians from the area. Two armed security officers respond to the garage levels of the building to monitor elevator lobbies and stairwell exit doors, and to restrict employees from entering the lobbies and stairwells. At least three armed security officers should respond to the outer perimeter of the affected building to conduct crowd control. A contingent responds directly to where the threat is.

Security officers restrict entry into the garage and clear any vehicle traffic to allow emergency services to enter. Officers also stop all traffic from entering and will initially restrict all traffic from leaving. Officers will let traffic exit when given the order by authorized personnel.

A supervisor coordinates the arrival of police, fire, and EMS response. One security specialist responds to the command center to monitor all radio and telephone traffic to keep the appropriate personnel briefed on all current activity.

Recording the training exercise is essential to identifying strengths and weaknesses in officer performance. The recording becomes part of the scenario debriefing after the training is complete. Trainers hold discussions with officers about what went right in addition to pointing out mistakes. Additional training is planned if it is deemed necessary.

Training frequently reveals that security officers need to be assigned specific roles and duties. This alleviates some of the tendency to wait for others to perform necessary tasks and prevents officers from getting in each other’s way or arguing. Whoever assigns duties should keep in mind that the goal is quick and efficient neutralization of the threat using the minimal amount of force.

A comprehensive workplace-violence prevention and response program involves a combination of physical security measures and policies and procedures. But if those measures, policies, and procedures are to work as intended, security officers must be properly trained to handle both their daily routines and their incident-response roles.

Jennie McLamb, CPP, PSP, PCI, is compliance and training administrator for OMNIPLEX World Services. She manages training and licensing of more than 1,500 individuals across multiple jurisdictions.