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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

C-Suite Advisory

Ways Companies Can Identify And Mitigate Emerging Pandemic-era Conflict & Violence Threats

New threats continue to plague the nation and the globe as we all grapple with the “new reality” created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – from increased domestic and workplace violence to elevated hate crimes, rising gun sales, and advanced terrorism plans. Why and how are these threats emerging and what can we do about it?  These are unprecedented times and we are all looking for answers.

Below are a few emerging threats that are changing the landscape of our nation’s health and safety –  both during and post-pandemic – and what measures can be put in place to dramatically reduce these risks, in and out of the workplace.

Domestic Violence

The pandemic has caused an uptick in domestic violence, which can and often does spill over into the workplace.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll (April 2020):

  • 45% of respondents say their mental health is affected by COVID shutdown.
  • 19% say shutdown has had “major impact” on their mental health.
  • 69% say this is the most stressful time of their career.

Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have caused an alarming rise in domestic violence.  In fact, according to an NBC news poll, 18 out of 22 police departments reported an increase in domestic violence calls in March 2020:

  • Houston, Texas PD:  +20% (300 more calls)
  • Charlotte, N.C.  PD: +18% (517 more calls)
  • Phoenix, AZ.  PD:  +6% (200 more calls)

Because of long isolation, victims are forced to shelter-in-place with their abusers. And while child abuse calls, for example, are down it’s only because victims are also not able to report abuses while sheltering-in-place and they are going unnoticed to the outside world.

Post-Pandemic Workplace Violence

Many companies have become skilled at developing “soft landing” programs for employees who are terminated, laid-off, or fired by improving severance packages, extending unemployment benefits, providing job retraining, and covering the cost of counseling, mental health services, and re-employment support. The ultimate goal for companies is to be able to maintain safe and sustainable operations under the “new normal” and to also anticipate new threats and challenges of the future workplace.

Rising Gun Sales and Gun Violence

There’s no doubt the current health crisis is escalating fear and uncertainty, as is evident in behavior such as a surge in nationwide gun sales. In fact, the national numbers show a sharp increase in gun-related violence this year compared to the same time in 2019.

According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, initiated gun background check filings for February and March 2020 totaled 6,543,155, compared to 4,698,737 in the same period last year – an increase of more than 1.8 million. Also, according to figures from the FBI, 3.7 million background checks were done in March alone – the most for a single month since the system began in 1998.

Mental health and gun violence experts worry that the soaring sales of firearms could lead to a dramatic rise in suicides, domestic homicides, and accidental injuries and deaths in the coming months.

Racial Tensions

There is growing evidence of a rise in discrimination and racist violence against U.S. residents of Asian and Pacific Island descent due to COVID-19. There have been several incidents across the country, including the following:

  • In California’s San Fernando Valley, a 16-year-old boy was physically attacked at the beginning of the outbreak by bullies in his high school who accused him of having the coronavirus simply because he is Asian American.
  • In Midland, Texas, a man was arrested for attacking a family of three because he thought they were of Chinese descent and were spreading the virus.
  • In Queens, New York, a man was arrested for harassing and pushing a 47-year-old Chinese man walking his son to the bus stop.

The FBI asses that similar attacks will continue to surge across the U.S., endangering Asian-American communities. In response, many regional law enforcement and government agencies, such as the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, have created hate crime hotlines and online forms to receive reports of hate crimes involving COVID-19.

New Domestic & International Terrorism

Experts agree that the current health pandemic also lends itself to potential new terrorist threats and tactics.  According to the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, terrorists are expected to speed up plans by finding “new ways to attack and new targets” during the pandemic.

A recent Department of Homeland Security memo stated, “Violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets and promote their ideologies, and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months.”

Among these possible C-19 terrorist activities include extremist organizations calling for supporters to carry out attacks against overburdened healthcare systems in various Western countries.

According to a DOJ memo, “Coronavirus appears to meet the definition of a biological agent under 18 USC 178, and such acts could potentially implicate the nation’s terrorism-related statues.”

Mitigating Threats of Workplace Conflict and Violence

To help companies best identify and mitigate threats of conflict and violence, experts recommend implementing the following four components:

  1. Have an expert perform a full security risk assessment and mitigation plan.
  2. Install a case management system to track and mitigate threats of conflict and violence.
  3. Scan company communications for any signals related to elevated levels of conflict and violence.
  4. Require routine training such as conflict management, situational awareness, and active shooter to keep your team safe and ready.

A few of the key factors to consider when implementing the above components include employee wellness, workforce resilience and preparedness, and physical and technical security policies. Ask your team questions like:

  • Do our policies align with new and emerging threats?
  • How do employees report/respond to violations of social distancing?
  • How do employees report/respond to sick employees?
  • Do our termination procedures need to change? Is now the right time to terminate employees?
  • What is our policy regarding employees who protest governmental pandemic policies?
  • Do we need or have a threat assessment team? Do they have adequate training?

Building a Safe Environment Together 

The more appropriate and coordinated the response to the current threat environment, the safer you and your employees and the general public will be. By working together and developing solutions, we can help prevent and decrease violence and create a safe and healthy environment for everyone.


Written by Ty Smith. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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Ty Smith
Ty Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vigilance Risk Solutions (VRS), a technology company that specializes in conflict and violence prevention. He is a retired United States Navy SEAL Senior Chief, with 20 years of service. Prior to retiring from the Navy, Ty completed a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management from Ashford University, and a Master of Business for Veterans from the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business. Ty Smith is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.