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An ounce of prevention Featured

1:05pm EDT July 18, 2002

He went by the nickname "Mucko." And last year, the day after Christmas, he roamed the offices of the Boston Internet strategy consulting firm where he worked, armed with a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun.

Allegedly, he hunted down and shot to death seven of his co-workers, four women and three men. Employed by the firm at the time of the shootings, Mucko, whose real name is Michael McDermott, reportedly had a conflict with the firm's accounting department over garnished wages.

Then, in January, just outside of Chicago, in Melrose Park, Ill., William D. Baker, a 66-year-old former employee of the Navistar International Corp. diesel engine plant, strode into the factory hiding a bevy of firearms in a golf bag. Baker, who was to serve a five-month prison term for stealing from his former employer, reportedly shot and killed four employees and wounded four others before taking his own life.

Incidents like these underline the need for business owners to consider better security measures and to re-evaluate the procedures they use to hire, review and terminate employees. According to William A. Penrod, Cleveland director of the business security firm of KlinkFarley Inc., many business leaders don't have a solid security plan in place. That could be setting them up for trouble.

"We tell our clients, 'Your employees are probably the most valuable part of your business and also the part that can cause you the most problems,'" says Penrod, a former trial attorney who has successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. "The old adage about an ounce of a prevention is worth a pound of cure, that really rings true."

Develop extensive programs

Penrod says it's imperative to design an education program and a prevention program which work hand-in-hand. In his education programs, he helps employers train employees about risks in their jobs, ways to protect themselves and how to respond to a violent incident.

"You need to put in place steps to ensure the safety of the workers," Penrod says. "And then, after something happens, you need to have post-incident responses. For victims and witnesses, is counseling available? Do they talk to the police?"

In his prevention program, Penrod reviews where the potential problems are in his client's facilities and procedures. It could be as simple as a physical location. Are there dark areas of the plant where employees need to go at night? Are they located in a bad neighborhood?

One way to stave off problems is to allocate extra dollars and time to the hiring process.

"All the attacks don't occur from the outside," Penrod says. "You have to screen better and scrutinize the resume. You can't believe how many people have on their resume that they did XY&Z when they really may have done a little bit of X, a little bit of Y, but they didn't do all of XY&Z. That's a pretty good indicator.

"You might have a problem employee on your hands if he or she is a big liar."

Increase security

You don't need to turn your office into a glorified prison, but security officers, armed or unarmed might be a good idea if they aren't already in place. Having a few extra guards on hand for a potentially hostile employee termination is also a good practice.

Penrod used extra security recently with a client who had been receiving subtly threatening e-mails from an employee.

"Were they overt? No," he says. "But they were subtle hints that something might happen and a red flag goes up. That, coupled with a layoff, could send somebody off the edge."

Penrod often recommends to clients that they consider installing alarms systems, panic buttons and cash handling controls, have a law enforcement liaison in the local police department and install video surveillance equipment. The bottom line is, the safer your workplace, the safer your business.

How to reach: KlinkFarley Inc., (216) 589-9750

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.