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How to Maintain Workplace Safety & Well-being In the Face of Recent Bomb Threats

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What We Know So Far:

As of Wednesday, October 24th, ten potentially explosive devices have been discovered. Each device appears to be relatively small, crude, and capable of a detonation. Fortunately, however, none have functioned.

The devices have been sent either through courier or through the regular mail service, meaning that they have been moved around without incident. The mail services are monitoring the situation closely and will be working to intercept any additional suspicious packages.

Of those who received the packages, all appear to be connected to politics and the media, leading to a close-fitting pattern. In addition, most of the activity is centered on the Washington D.C. and New York areas.

While the investigation is ongoing, and it is possible that more devices will be found, it is unlikely there will be many.

If there are concerns that a device is suspicious, try calling the sender to confirm they sent a package. If they did not, follow your protocols, avoid touching and handling it, and call 9-1-1.

Managing Employee Reactions and Well-being:

As we all know, the intent of any terrorist action is to foment terror, discord, and anger – not just for intended targets – but for the wider population as well. Business leaders have a unique and challenging goal: to address those powerful emotions within their workplace without feeding into the perpetrator’s desired outcome of increased fear.

Effective leadership in such cases follows three steps (A.R.C.):

  • Acknowledge the event (“What just happened?”),
  • Recognize that the event may be distressing for some employees (“How do we feel about this”), and
  • Communicate the organizational response plan (“What are we doing about it?”). This response may include a review of existing corporate policies/protocols that apply, encouraging heightened situational awareness (“See something, say something”), and promotion of support resources for those who desire them, such as their EAP.

While the recent bomb threats may have been very limited in scope, the emotional impact can be far reaching. Having a plan and communicating that plan will go a long way toward restoring calm and confidence in any team or workplace.

Preparing for the Future:

An understandable reaction to the events of the past week is to ask oneself, “What should I look for to ensure the safety of myself and others?” or “How do I know if I’m being responsible in reporting something, or overreacting?”  These are common questions at times of national crisis, particularly when threats of targeted violence are involved. Yet, there remain good reasons to keep calm. In the U.S., most terrorist acts of any kind are very low-frequency events and most are committed by lone-actors. Those involving use of explosives are extremely rare with firearms being the predominant weapon of choice for the past 60 years. At times of heightened national reactivity and constant news coverage on such events, it is critical to contain personal fear and anxiety, and remind oneself that the risk of being victimized is very unlikely.

Meanwhile, there are three reasonable and simple precautions you and your team members can take to maintain a sense of personal control, responsibility, and safety now and in the future.

  • Put forth a concerted effort toward situational awareness by noticing your surroundings and those around you in public and at the workplace. If you notice something that is out of routine or appears out of place, report it to proper management or security personnel who can investigate further and follow up accordingly.
  • Avoid the easy trap of becoming complacent. Some assailants may re-initiate activity several days or weeks after no action. Other individuals, unrelated to the initial assailant become emboldened by the first assailants actions, and decide to commit “copy-cat” offenses of a similar variety – typically within the first two weeks after initial news coverage of the events (referred to as the “contagion effect”). Once again, the likelihood of such is quite rare, yet it is still is good practice to remain situationally aware and vigilant.
  • Conduct a quick re-assessment of your daily personal and workplace routines, to assess how these increase or decrease your overall awareness. Periodically “check-in” with yourself throughout the day to gauge how situationally aware you are. You might be surprised to find how easy it is to get caught up in your own thoughts and fail to notice things around you.

These three simple actions can restore a sense of control, agency, and security – all crucial aspects for leadership and well-being in times of crisis.

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