Threat assessment and threat management are clearly buzz words these days.  Although I fortunately haven’t heard these used interchangeably, I still come across people who aren’t quite sure what either of the terms truly are referring to.

I decided to take my first post on this site to do a brief introduction to this ever-increasingly important service.  First off, lets do a quick definition:

Threat Assessment:  An investigation into concerning behavior and/or comments to determine if there is a risk of violence.

Threat Management:  The active management of a situation where there is identified risk of violence.

Now what does threat assessment actually look like (we’ll tackle threat management on another post)?  In this scenario a frustrated and exhausted employee (we’ll use the name Derek) says that he is “going to burn this place down and kill everybody inside.”  He slams his computer shut and leaves for the day.

A co-worker  (we’ll use the name Lamar) doesn’t quite know what to make of what he just heard.  He doesn’t know Derek that well, but hadn’t heard anything concerning before.  Lamar then tells his boss, who contacts Human Resources (HR).

STOP!

This is when the company, particularly HR, needs to bring in the professional.  This threat assessment professional can be on staff, or could be contracted.  In any case, the voice of this professional should be taken into account now!

Why you ask?

Because a wrong move could unintentionally escalate the risk of violence.  No pressure HR folks, but your normal course of action could put fuel on the fire.  Take heart, most likely you won’t, but you have to realize it could.  Unless you know Derek intimately, you might not know where he falls on the spectrum – this spectrum meaning on one end, Derek is a solid person who simply had an awful day, and the other end where Derek is escalating towards violence in the workplace.

We’ll call this threat assessment professional Pete.  See what I did there? Pete is going to get the details of Derek’s behavior from HR. Pete could get the details straight from Lamar, however, speaking to Lamar could have negative consequences depending on factors Pete has to consider.

There isn’t initially a great amount of information in this case, but definitely something of concern with what Derek said. A typical next step would be for Pete to speak with Derek’s supervisor.  This depends on a few factors, but essentially Pete is trying to get information on two fronts without letting Derek know because it could upset him further: 

  1. How does Derek interact with people and in situations at work
  2. Data on specific factors in Derek’s overall life

Based upon what Pete learns, he hopefully will have sufficient data to determine if Derek poses a threat.  People make threats all the time, but don’t actually POSE a threat. Conversely, people who commit workplace violence have a great deal of indicators which could have predicted the violence.

Oh thank goodness, Pete was able to learn a significant about Derek and has no additional concerns. This means Derek doesn’t have a lot in common with people who are known to commit violence.  HR then has this lens to look through when he/she meets with Derek to see how Derek is doing. 

Scenario ending:  Derek has a few things going on and literally just had a bad day.  HR was able to provide Derek some additional support.

Alternate scenario ending:  Pete found out Derek has a significant amount in common with people who have committed violence. This will take us to what Threat Management looks like.  However, that is for a different post.

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