On September 9, 2010, two employees of a Kraft Foods plant in Northeast Philadelphia were killed by fellow employee Yvonne Hiller. Authorities reported Hiller had convinced herself that other employees were spraying her with toxic chemicals. She had been suspended for making threats and using abusive language.
Hiller went out to her car after being suspended only to return minutes later carrying a loaded .357 Magnum. One employee was wounded, and 36-year-old LaTonya Brown and 47-year-old Tonya Wilson were both killed.
The families of these two women sued U.S. Security Associates Inc. of Georgia, arguing that the security officers had not protected the employees during the shooting. The security guard firm stated that “the evidence presented was not sufficient for a punitive damages award.” They held, furthermore, that the security officers “made reasonable decisions and acted with courage in the face of a direct threat to their own lives.”
It was decided that the security officers had not done their job and the two victims’ families were awarded $38.5 million in punitive damages. The firm had earlier also been required to pay over $8 million in compensatory damages. Attorney Shanin Specter stated that security officers “can’t simply run away in the middle of the crisis. They actually have to act like security guards.” He said that this was the message of the verdict made by the Common Pleas Court Panel.
One policy that could have prevented this tragedy would be one of always taking threats seriously. Hiller’s threats were apparently not taken seriously. Had they been, perhaps the shooting could have been prevented. Employees and authorities alike should always assume a threat is serious. Employees should be told to report any such threats.
Authorities who are setting an example of responding to problems with anger and with mild displays of violence encourages a violent manner of handling difficulties. Instead, authorities should promote and aid in peaceably working out difficulties. This, too, could potentially have prevented the tragedy.
A significant help and possible prevention would have been to require employees to take certified first responder training or a Workplace Violence course like that offered by 360 Training. All employees, no matter what the company size and no matter what their responsibilities or level, should take a course like this.
In this course, individuals learn to define workplace violence and to identify its various types. They are taught to recognize several warning signs of potential workplace violence and will be educated on a variety of prevention strategies. Employee and managerial responsibilities, as they relate to reporting and responding to workplace violence, are discussed as well. Methods of post-incident recovery and – perhaps most importantly – the best practices for responding to an active shooter scenario are also taught.
This first responder course differs from others like it in its inclusion of teaching on dealing with an active shooter. Other companies offer workplace violence courses, but no other eLearning company teaches how to respond to an actual shooting. The $46.5 million settlement from the Kraft Foods case says that security officers do not always do their job. You have to know how to respond to workplace shootings. This time, it was a Kraft plant near Philadelphia, but the next time, it could be near you. Do not wait until it is too late. Learn what to do now.