When a city worker opened fire in a Virginia Beach, Va., government office on Friday, killing 11 fellow employees and a contractor, he added a tragedy to the list kept by former Secret Service agent Matt Doherty, who trains office workers on preventing such shootings. Many are preceded by red flags, alarming behaviors and threats of violence from those accused of opening fire, the Washington Post reports. In Aurora, Il., a shooter told a co-worker that he would kill people if he were fired. Later the same day, he did just that. While active-shooter training has become a standard security measure in schools, offices and houses of worship, Doherty’s work is part of an effort to teach employees how to flag possible threats and spot warning signs in their co-workers before violence occurs.
Companies are turning to people like Doherty, who used to run the Secret Service’s Threat Assessment Center and now works at Chicago-based security risk management firm Hillard Heintze. He teaches employees how to watch for the missed and mishandled warning signs that have preceded some mass shootings: co-workers who seem particularly angry, who make threatening remarks or who react inappropriately to normal workplace situations. If an employee thinks something is “off” with a colleague, Doherty said, the person with the suspicion is probably right. Doherty advises companies to provide ways for employees to report concerns anonymously and to put policies in place for handling such issues internally when possible, including meeting with employees and turning to their own security staffs and others. “Not every single case is the next shooter,” Doherty, 60, told a recent training session. “That’s not what this exercise is about. It’s early intervention.” So far, it is not clear that there were such warning signs in the Virginia Beach case.