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Preventing Workplace Violence: 10 Critical Components of a Security Plan

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This article is the second in a four-part series of articles on workplace security. This installment highlights the necessary elements of a security plan. Read the first part here, the third part here and the fourth part here.

Every workplace security plan should begin with a thorough assessment of the facility, existing security procedures and potential vulnerabilities. Businesses should use the information gathered from that assessment to craft a plan that will not only deter threats but also mitigate risks in the event of an incident of workplace violence.

The assessment should begin with a physical survey of the workplace. As you walk around, answer the following questions:

  • Where could someone enter the building?
  • Is that entrance secured in any way?
  • If it is, where could someone hide to sneak in behind an employee legitimately entering the building?
  • Is the employer in a shared space with other businesses or in its own building?
  • If it's a shared space, does the building's management provide a security staff?
  • What are the procedures for visitors to gain access to the building?
  • How much time would employees have to react to someone who posed a threat?
  • Is there vegetation or shrubbery that might be used to hide someone or something?
  • If you were someone with harmful intentions, how would you enter the building?
  • How would employees in each area of the building escape?
  • What about employees with disabilities—what's the evacuation plan for them?

Conduct this walkthrough at least once during daylight hours and once after dark. A physical survey of the space can reveal some frightening vulnerabilities: doors left unlocked or open, a lax security staff that allows visitors in with little or no identification, or poorly lit parking structures where a potential attacker could hide undetected.

Once the initial assessment is done, use that information to create a workplace security plan. Employers should take the following steps when crafting that plan:

  1. Identify tools you might use to secure your workplace. Include physical barriers such as fences and gates, access control systems, door locks, security guards, and video surveillance.
  2. Create a facility map that marks all doors, security cameras and stairwells. This will help law enforcement in the event of an emergency. It will also help you determine the best place to deploy security assets, such as cameras.
  3. Devise a plan for access control. Consider using keys that cannot be replicated or cipher locks that require a code. Electronic access cards are another good option. They allow you to disable a terminated employee's card without having to issue new codes to everyone. This system also enables management to limit access to certain areas. However, they are expensive and can be stolen. A more expensive option is a biometric system, which uses physical characteristics, like fingerprints, palm prints and iris patterns. This system is ideal for a high-security facility.
  4. Ensure security cameras are positioned where you need them. A surveillance system can both deter criminal activity and provide valuable information about who enters and exits your facility.
  5. Consider hiring security guards. Many facilities contract with security companies to provide guards. These guards tend to focus on screening and assisting building visitors.
  6. Address how to secure particularly vulnerable areas. These include locations where visitors can enter freely or with little scrutiny. This might be the waiting area in a doctor's office, the lobby of a law firm or the loading dock of a trucking company.
  7. Conduct a periodic review of security measures. The review should ensure that doors are closed or locked as needed, that locks are functional, and that guards are properly screening visitors. For example, sometimes doors designed to keep intruders out don't close completely, rendering their locks useless. Employees may not report this because they appreciate the convenience of not having to use their keycards. A periodic review can identify these issues and determine how your security plan should be modified to address them.
  8. Devise a plan for communicating with employees in the event of a security emergency. If a visitor turns violent, or a fired employee returns to retaliate, what doors will you lock? How will you warn employees to seek cover? Where can they go to not only avoid harm but to escape?
  9. Create a system for tracking security issues. If an employee reports that her ex-husband is stalking her in or around the facility, do you have a process for communicating that information to your front desk so they can watch for him? If an employee finds a door open when it shouldn't be, does she just close it? Or does she report it so that you can investigate whether this happens a lot and adjust your security measures? The system for recording security issues doesn't have to be complex. Purchase a simple logbook from an office supply store or record your data in a spreadsheet. Your security plan should detail where this log will be kept and who will be responsible for updating and reviewing it.
  10. Designate a spokesperson to issue communications in the event of an incident. The spokesperson should be able to speak intelligently to the media, the public and employees' relatives. Choose a person who would be able to impart the facts about an incident and convey concern for victims and their relatives. In more complicated situations, a public relations professional can help you craft a message for the media.

Martha Boyd is an attorney with Baker Donelson in Nashville. 

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