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Last night, I watched a video on Youtube that showed about 10 employees suddenly turn violent at the office. They suddenly started exhibiting destructively violent behaviour, such as breaking laptops, throwing around office chairs, monitors and printers. A bipolar man had an attack that destroyed half the office, and appeared to injure some of his coworkers to prove he's actually bipolar.

I'm fairly sure very few companies have guidelines that explain how to act when coworkers suddenly turn violent. If I am faced with such a situation, what is the best course of action? I assume the top priority would be to stay away from the coworker to avoid injuries, but is there anything besides that I should do? How can I find out what my company expects from me in such a situation?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 16 '17 at 9:43
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    It would be preferable to ask specific questions you actually need resolved about your own situation, rather than general questions about situations made up by somebody else. – reinierpost Feb 16 '17 at 17:39
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    To be fair, putting your fist through your monitor is certainly frowned upon by management, but it doesn't necessarily equate violence against co-workers. Just sayin'... – Omegacron Feb 16 '17 at 19:33
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    @reinierpost Disagree. This is a great question – TheIronKnuckle Feb 17 '17 at 5:00
  • @TheIronKnuckle agreed. To reinierpost, I prefer either sort of question, as I can learn from both, and have always found preparation to be useful. This is especially useful in emergency survival situations where the time to think is severely minimized. – Pysis Feb 17 '17 at 15:41
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Call the office security guards or the police.

This is not something for company guidelines to handle. While company guidelines may state what action will be taken against employees involved in violence at the workplace, that is usually invoked after the violence has subsided. It would be foolish to remind violent employees of the company guidelines while the violence is taking place.

If your office has a security guard team, you should call them and let them deal with it. A competent security guard employed at a corporate office is (hopefully) well trained to deal with mob violence.

If there are no security guards at your workplace, call the police.

You would be advised to avoid doing anything "heroic" such as trying to stop the violence, unless you are suitably trained to do it (and in an office environment, even if you are trained).

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    The only reason you might want to consider heroism is if the alternative might involve death or at least serious injury to someone else. Interfering for anything less is indeed not advised. – Erik Feb 15 '17 at 14:32
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    I don't really see why this answer was voted high. The first long paragraph shows a misunderstanding - the OP obviously asked for guidelines for the bystanders (the potential heroes), not for guidelines for the agressor. The advice to call security and/or police is so obvious as to contain no particular information for the question. The last paragraph ("do nothing") has already been mentioned in the question; the question obviously asked what else can (usefully) be done. Other answers/comments have given alternatives (i.e., help colleagues to evacuate, etc.). – AnoE Feb 17 '17 at 10:16
  • @AnoE Yeah, and the question asks for "what is the best course of action", in case you have not noticed. As to what else has to be done, my answer is do nothing else. You would do more harm trying to "evacuate" people if you don't know how to do it. It is like jumping in to save a drowning person when you don't know how to swim. The point about guideline and being heroic was added for humour, as I expected the question to get closed quickly. I did not anticipate the question to hit the HNQ. What is "obvious" to you is not at all obvious to everyone. Just look up Darwin Awards for examples. – Masked Man Feb 17 '17 at 10:39
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    @MaskedMan (nice appropriate username for this topic :D ), I did not comment that I find your answer bad in any way, just that I do not understand why it is voted high, for the specific, objective reasons I gave. I of course know and concur with the general mindset; i.e. when dealing with armed shooters or knife attackers. But we are talking about violence in an office here, assumably by some office worker (let's not assume a Rambo type who has a gun and a bush knife with him). I am pretty sure that we do not all need to run away and leave, say, small/frail persons back to fend for their own! – AnoE Feb 17 '17 at 11:46
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    For example, if the guy obviously has no weapon, I (as a large male) would feel perfectly safe to stand across the room, try to make eye contact, and calm him down (with several meters between us). I would not feel like a "hero" (i.e., stupid oaf) for that. I am not suggesting that everybody does that, or that the top answer should advise that approach; I am simply suggesting that there could and should be more to the top answer than just "call help and run away". (Not primarily directed at you, but at the voters...) – AnoE Feb 17 '17 at 11:49
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The management team at one of my former employers was made up largely of ex-special forces military guys and they had written guidelines for what to do in the event there was an active shooter in the building. I believe that much of those guidelines would be good advice in the situation the OP descibes in which an employee or employees are acting out violently. The key strategy is to:

  • Prioritize your physical safety. Don't be a hero over "stuff".
  • Remove yourself from the situation if possible. Leave. Get out and away from danger.
  • Don't put yourself in a position without an escape route. Don't go hide in the bathroom, most bathrooms only have one entrance/exit. If they chase you in there, you're trapped.
  • If you are cornered, you can engage them verbally or physically. Remember, your goal is to get away, not to subdue the attacker.
  • If they ARE shooting, don't run in a straight line, zig zag.
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    +1, came here to suggest something like this. I've worked in DoD related jobs where we have annual active shooter training events, and this is basically what they tell us. Run, Hide, Fight - in that order. – user812786 Feb 15 '17 at 19:09
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    In the UK, Police guidance for weapons attack is Run Hide Tell: npcc.police.uk/StaySafeAssets/NPCC_CT_A5%202pp.pdf – Rory Alsop Feb 15 '17 at 19:18
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See Surviving an Active Shooter, often promoted by law enforcement and various government entities, this video for more survival tips, etc. The general principle is simple: Run, Hide, Fight. Watch the videos for more information, but basically you should try the steps in order.

Run

Get away from the situation as soon as possible, and once you reach safety, like outside the building, call Emergency Services. This is the safest option and definitely preferred. The average active shooter session usually lasts for only a few minutes, so simply getting out of harm's way is ideal. Help others to make rational decisions when possible.

Hide

Get into a room, lock or barricade the door, silence your phone, get low to the ground and to the wall nearest the shooter. The reason why you want to be as close as possible to the attacker in a barricaded room is because if they are shooting through the wall, you're more likely to get hit if you're near the back of the room, since most attackers are standing and shooting at various angles downward.

Fight

As a last resort, get a large, blunt object and try to knock out the attacker. This is the riskiest option, and should only be used as a last resort. Of course, you should only attempt this if you're prepared to fight, and if you think you have a chance. Your best bet is to surprise the attacker as they come through a door or around a corner. You'll want to watch some videos for how to safely disarm or subdue attackers, and get some actual practice on how to do so before you need it. Learning Jujitsu can go a long way, as it is a defensive art that focuses on controlling your opponent.

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    I like this answer a lot, but it does not address the case where a person is destroying property. In that case, run/walk fast. Just get out of their way, call security, and let them deal with it. People can be fired for being "heroic" in that situation because of liability. – Pete B. Feb 17 '17 at 14:16
  • This answer is my current employer's company policy. Naturally they do not encourage the "fight" option except as a last resort where you are out of options. – Ogre Psalm33 Feb 17 '17 at 17:10
  • Run, Hide, Fight is reckless in the extreme. It should be: Put down scissors, Run, Hide, Fight. ; ) – Grimm The Opiner Sep 26 '18 at 7:32
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1) Clear the area - if you leave the guy alone, you also remove the potential urge to destroy things and rant. Doing this may help to defuse the situation somewhat. Don't worry about property damage. It's company property after all.

2) Call the relevant authorities. A security team if you have one - they may or may not want to also contact police. They're the first responders though, so their actions will be key. They'll probably just want to contain the guy to one area and let the situation defuse.

You'd normally expect to see some smoldering before this fire starts, I don't think that bi-polar (or people with emotional issues) go immediately from zero to firestorm that much (if at all).

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    I don't think it's useful to speculate on what a bi-polar person may or may not do without training on the subject. – user30031 Feb 15 '17 at 19:49
  • @DoritoStyle You're making the assumption that I'm referring to bi-polar sufferers here when I'm really just addressing workplace violence. From what I read sudden violence isn't a symptom of bi-polar syndrome. The OP here is simple believing what YouTube told him. – user44108 Feb 17 '17 at 13:16
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    I think that's reasonable given your wording (even after you're edit). According to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23470603 , "There were statistically significant increases of risk of violence in schizophrenia and in bipolar disorder in comparison with general population." – user30031 Feb 17 '17 at 17:23
  • So while, yes, violence isn't a direct symptom of bipolar disorder, you aren't really correct to assume it's not a concern. – user30031 Feb 17 '17 at 17:24
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Arm yourself. First mentally, then emotionally and finally physically.

Mentally arm yourself by taking in your current location relative to what and who else are around you. Look for any immediate dangers: hostile people or physical obstacles. Plan an escape route.

Emotionally arm yourself. Remember to breathe and stay calm. Focus on your escape route. Can you, without endangering yourself, bring others with you? Might you have to get physical with anyone or anything along that route? If so, is there a better route? If there is no better route, emotionally prepare yourself to do what needs to be done to get to safety.

Physically arm yourself. Can you find anything that can be used as a defensive weapon? A top rail of a cubicle, a power strip, a chair or anything that can be swung or thrown if needed to distract any threats you may come upon while getting to safety. Keep as many physical barriers between yourself and active threats as you can without cornering yourself.

If you are in a work environment where an event like this is a realistic possibility, such as a convenience store, a courthouse, a payday loan office, or even just a workplace in the wrong part of town, prepare before there is a real threat by mentally arming yourself. Memorize your exit paths, take into account where desks, shelving or other barriers are and may be shoved to (defensively or offensively). Ensure your co-workers are also prepared if a threat occurs.

If the possibility of such an event is probable consider taking self defense classes to further physically arm yourself. Practice meditation to help you keep your emotions in control when something happens.

If you choose to carry a traditional weapon (club, knife, gun, etc.), learn and practice using it correctly. When a real threat happens, it will be more likely to harm you than your attacker if your not prepared to use it. If you have a concealed weapon and are not physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to use it, do not even reveal it. Do not attempt to be a hero with your weapon, you'll only further endanger yourself and others.

Most people will never be in a situation where any of this is necessary. If you're not at an elevated risk for attack, it is still good to be prepared, but do not allow your preparation to make you paranoid or pessimistic. Remember though, when seconds matter the police are only minutes away.

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The answers listed by DLS3141 are very comprehensive and clear. As to his fourth point, remember that a soft answer turns away wrath. Sympathy can go a long way as long as one does not indicate that one assumes to know what the violent person is going thru. Is it psychological, biological, situational....? Remain calm and be curious. Saying a prayer never hurts, because at least it helps one focus and calm down.

For instance, if you are able to calmly and genuinely ask why and the attacker indicates something like it is because the voices are saying to do it, then you have created an opening where you might state something like "Oh, the voices. I know what to do about that. Let me show you. Let's sit down over there and I'll explain it". You are trying to diffuse the situation, by whatever means you can. Even getting close enough to wrap your arms around the person and hold on will stop the other's actions and might just work until help arrives. (You must be able to evaluate your relative strength level to make this work, but adrenaline helps.)

These steps work best when we are living a calm life ourselves and are able to react appropriately to any situation. If we are not at peace ourselves, we will not be able to survive, let alone help others.

Most situations like the OP described are not going to happen all at once. It is easy to stop any escalation of mental or emotional problems by being involved and available when it comes to our co-workers.

I also agree that the Run-Hide-Fight video by Homeland Security is an excellent one to watch.

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Maybe clearing objects that could conveniently be used as a weapon from the area might be a good idea but that would be largely situational in what sort of objects to look out for and how much risk to take to get them. In a typical office environment there aren't many things that would make a much better weapon than a thrown laptop but it'd still be worthwhile assessing if there is anything close at hand that would make this person much more dangerous and how much risk would be involved in preventing them from getting it. In an industrial environment look for anything particularly dangerous like nail or Hilti guns, oxy/acetylene cart, keys to vehicles, or anything else that could do more harm than a hand tool.

If you are in anyplace with a gun carrying culture, just as important to calling security/police is getting out of the area. If there is a possibility of bullets flying either from the violent person or a jumpy bystander, the best thing you can do is remove yourself from the area.

  • @JoeStrazzere: Probably steps such as, lock the flammables storage cabinet. – Ben Voigt Feb 15 '17 at 20:56
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    @JoeStrazzere Coming at it from an industrial perspective grabbing anything particularly dangerous like nail or Hilti guns, oxy/acetylene cart, keys to vehicles. or anything else that could do more harm than a hand tool. In a typical office environment there aren't many things that would make a much better weapon than a thrown laptop but it'd still be worthwhile seeing if there is anything close at hand that would make this person much more dangerous. – Myles Feb 15 '17 at 21:57
  • Pencils, pens, keys, scissors, broken picture frames, chairs, computers... There's really very few things that don't have potential to be weaponized. You'd be surprised at the amount of damage a drinking straw can cause if it's held right. – Wayne Werner Feb 17 '17 at 19:16
  • @WayneWerner While that's true, how much more dangerous someone is with one of those items than without? A person who is strong/able enough to be deadly with a broken picture frame or a chair is likely deadly without one of those things. – Myles Feb 21 '17 at 14:11
  • @Myles it's really just about the physics. I'm not sure how hard i can punch, but Mike Tyson could punch 1,800 psi. let's say i can punch at 300 psi. If you take that same force and instead of punching with my fist I hit you with a key that's maybe 1/50th the area, now I hit you with what 15,000 psi? That's a huge difference. – Wayne Werner Feb 22 '17 at 5:59

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