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Recognizing and Responding to Potential Threat Situations – Third in a Four Part Series

Recognizing and Responding to Potential Threat Situations – Third in a Four Part Series
Recognizing and Responding to Potential Threat Situations – Third in a Four Part Series

Customer Service and Creating a Culture for a Safe Workplace


Third in a four-part series that will discuss superior customer service and employee safety: strategies for dealing with low-risk interactions as a foundation to ensure success with high-risk issues.


By John A. Haley

Senior Consultant, Baron Center, Inc.


In the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of planning, practice, and preparation when it comes to employee safety and the ways in which customer service relates to safety. In part two, we provided a simple formula—the LAND model—to help employees achieve positive results and resolutions when dealing with low-risk 1  interactions. Now, we focus on the critical subject of recognizing and responding to potential threat situations.


An often-overlooked responsibility of company owners or managers is providing employees with the tools and procedures that they need to identify people who are angry, aggressive or assaultive, the skills needed to prevent situations from escalating, and strategies for surviving situations that can have deadly consequences. It’s not a pleasant topic, but if it’s ignored, the fallout can be tragic.


In the law enforcement world, we use the term “crime cookbook” to describe the ingredients that make up threatening behavior: desire, ability and opportunity. The focus for employee training must be on the third ingredient, since it’s the one that is most controllable; the idea here is to decrease opportunities for violence to occur.


Employees should be taught to pay attention to their intuition (i.e. what looks wrong is wrong), follow procedures, and have a plan to rely on what’s been practiced. An important aspect of that plan is the “Three A’s Model”: awareness, alertness and avoidance. In our safety training the Three A’s model teaches employees to be aware of events and activities around them and to be prepared to act, react or avoid threatening situations. While it’s not necessary—or healthy—to always be on high alert, being comfortable with awareness, which includes recognizing indicators of threatening behavior, is invaluable. Observing red flags and reacting appropriately are paramount to survival and safety.


Prepared Not UnpreparedThe best advice I provide employee groups is to operate in a state of awareness, know what options are available and practice “what ifs.” Being aware increases alertness and helps employees avoid becoming victims. I’m always saddened when I am consulting or training with an organization, and I discover that few, if any, employees know multiple ways out of their work area or don’t know where the fire alarms are. These two very important pieces of information can be lifesavers in the event of an active threat situation.


It can also be problematic if employees don’t know how to dial 911 directly from their desks – for instance, do they dial out directly, or first access an outside line or call a security desk? This seemingly simple procedure can cost valuable time and decrease the chances for updated information getting directly to first responders. After evaluating a situation and deciding that threat exists, the final step is acting—and if that includes calling for help, it must occur as quickly as possible.


Employees will also benefit from understanding what I call the survival triangle: having the mental, physical and tactical mindset to address threat situations. The mental aspect includes rehearsals and practicing the 3 A’s. Physical can be as simple as being able to push, pull, or move to defend or avoid a threat. Tactical doesn’t mean being an expert in fighting or survival, but it does mean knowing how to react in certain situations and the pros and cons of various reactions.


The best way to make employees feel safe and secure is to educate them. It’s been well documented that the more education employees have on recognizing and responding to potential threats, the less stressful those situations will be should they occur and the outcomes are far more likely to be positive.


  1. Low-risk situations are those that do not present an imminent danger. They are situations that are uncomfortable, but there is very minimal indication of potential threat or danger. This would include people who are frustrated and moderately angry, but not aggressive in nature or demeanor; they can be controlled through communication and generally follow all instructions. But, improper handling can worsen the situation.

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