Risk Scenario

Shattered

A company’s failure to communicate important information to survivors in the wake of a deadly shooting exacerbates a tragedy.
By: | October 6, 2015 • 12 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

No One Here Gets Out Alive

All is not well in the home of Gretchen and Peter Mansfield. Gretchen, 41 is a sales manager for Durham, N.C.-based pharmaceutical manufacturer BioRealm. Her husband Peter, 44, lost his sales job in mid-2015 and insecurity has been eating away at him.

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A big part of Gretchen’s job is working with BioRealm’s SVP for sales, Brian Hatch, 35. Fit, good looking and very well compensated, Brian is Peter’s current nightmare.

Brian and Gretchen spend a lot of time traveling together, sometimes staying in the same hotel for days at a time. Peter, always the jealous sort, stole Gretchen’s work email password long ago and has been following her every move.

He’s read emails between Gretchen and Brian that left no doubt in Peter’s mind they were having an affair.

The last straw was when he picked up a voicemail from Brian that went direct to Gretchen’s email. Hearing Brian describe what he’d like to do with Gretchen the next time he saw her sent Peter over the edge.

At 11:10 am on September 15, 2015, Peter parked his family’s SUV in the parking lot of the Durham location of BioRealm.

From the open windows of the car, Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was blaring.

Peter wore a two-day beard, but there was nothing else in his appearance to warrant alarm.

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As he walked to the front door, carrying a large black gym bag and a vinyl grocery bag, he caught the eye of Sandy Brick, Gretchen’s friend and coworker, whom he’d known for years.

Sandy always liked Peter.

“Hey Sandy,” said Peter with a smile.

He was in sales for years. He can do this.

“Hey Peter, what brings you here?” said Sandy.

“Gretchen forgot her lunch bag and her gym bag,” said Peter affably, smiling and holding up the gym bag as he did so.

He did this just as Sandy reached the front door. Not giving her action a second thought, Sandy swiped her security card to open the front door and allowed Peter in ahead of her.

“You know where Gretchen’s office is, right?” Sandy said.

“Sure I do,” said Peter with a smile that faded a little too quickly.

But instead of heading toward Gretchen’s office, Peter made a beeline for Brian’s office, in the opposite direction.

Peter half-jogged to Brian’s office pulling a Glock 9 mm handgun with a 12-round magazine from the grocery bag and an AK-101 with a 30-round clip from the gym bag.

Approaching Brian’s office, he heard his voice, that same confident baritone that Peter last heard on Gretchen’s voicemail. Peter’s rage went from burning red to white hot.

Now running, Peter burst into Brian’s office and shot him three times in the head with the Glock. Peter bit completely through his lower lip as he shot Brian, so intense was his anger.

Not knowing exactly what they heard, BioRealm employees turned their heads to see Peter, with blood running from his mouth, leaving Brian’s office holding the handgun and the assault rifle and heading toward Gretchen’s office.

Now it’s clear what’s happening. Screams begin to rise from the cubicles.

“He’s going for Gretchen!” a woman shouted.

Two men rushed Peter and he shot them down with a burst from the AK-101.

Gretchen poked her head out of her office at the sound of the second round of shots. She saw Peter coming at her. But it wasn’t like it was him at all.

His face was a grey mask and his pupils were pinpoints.

Gretchen’s right hand went up reflexively as Peter fired a 9 mm bullet through her hand and into her temple. Peter fired again and again, some of the bullets hitting Gretchen’s falling body and some of them ricocheting off of office fixtures.

In a half-jog, wiping spasmodically at his bleeding mouth, Peter moved back to the front door.

People attempting to flee the building scattered as he approached. Peter fired with the AK-101 as he neared the front door, striking at least half a dozen people as those more fortunate fled in a different direction.

The exit door was streaked with blood. A woman with sandy hair was propped against the door, dead.

Peter grabbed her by the hair and tossed her aside to clear his exit. The door wouldn’t budge. So he shot the latch to pieces with the AK-101.

Peter walked out to the parking lot, placed the muzzle of the Glock in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Blood splattered on the BioRealm sign adjacent to the front door.

Peter Mansfield’s final visit to BioRealm lasted all of three minutes and 25 seconds.

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Falling Short of Competence

BioRealm prided itself on having a state-of-the art emergency response and security system. In the wake of numerous office shootings throughout the country, the company installed swipe card security six months before Peter Mansfield’s shooting rampage.

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Within 10 minutes of the attack, a text alert was sent to all BioRealm employees and their preferred emergency contacts informing them of the incident.

The text informed BioRealm employees to punch in a code number to let the system know they were safe and sound.

The text lacked specific detail, however, only informing employees and next of kin that an incident had occurred at the Durham campus and that BioRealm was working with local authorities to resolve any issues.

The texting system also failed to take into account any employees that might have gone into hiding when Peter Mansfield first opened fire.

Peter shot Brian Hatch down at 11:12 am.

At 1:10 pm, Angela Brighton, an event planner who assisted the BioRealm sales team, was still hunkered down in a utility closet on the first floor of the Durham offices. When the shooting started, Angela fled for cover, not having time to take her cell phone with her.

In her haste to pull the closet door shut, Angela lacerated her shin against the edge of a mop bucket. Traumatized and now dehydrated, Angela finally burst out of the closet at 1:15 p.m., overcome by claustrophobia and pain and crying hysterically. The building by then had been evacuated.

Angela suffered the surreal experience of walking through the BioRealm offices, seemingly by herself. In her shock, she saw a smear of blood on a corridor wall, and traced it with her finger, as if to confirm for herself that it was real.

The first person she encountered was a County Police Lieutenant, who looked at her in shock when he saw her.

“Ma’am, have you been in here the whole time?” the Police Lieutenant asked her.

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“Nobody….nobody said anything,” Angela said, visibly distraught. “Nobody came looking for me. It’s like I don’t exist,” she said, clearly off-center.

Quickly, the Lieutenant got her a seat and ordered medical attention for her via walkie-talkie. No sooner did he have her seated when Gabe Crooks, an intern from Duke, walked up.

“I was in a second floor bathroom,” Crooks told the Lieutenant. Crooks was less visibly shaken than Brighton, but he was clearly upset.

“I’d like to go home now,” he told the Lieutenant.

In a nearby hotel conference room, BioRealm risk manager Nathalie Galbreath, company CEO Keith Ryerson and chief communications officer Roger Blinton were huddled over scratch pads, cell phones and laptops.

“How many are still unaccounted for?” Ryerson asked Galbreath.

“My latest information is five,” Galbreath said.

“That’s five employees that aren’t in the time and attendance system as being on business travel or vacation and who haven’t responded to the emergency text.”

“Dead and injured, again?” Ryerson asked Galbreath.

“Seven dead, four injured, one critically.”

“Text the families of the missing again,” Ryerson told Blinton. “Let them know that we’re still working with authorities to find their relatives.”

“Text them?” Blinton asked.

“Yep. Do it. It’s the fastest way to get to them,” Ryerson said.

Blinton gave Galbreath a look and then turned away to start texting.

The swirl of events continued.

Social media was alive with cell-phone footage of Peter Mansfield’s exit from the BioRealm offices, when he heartlessly yanked a dead woman’s body from the door and shot his way out.

A gutsy BioRealm intern somehow managed to follow him to the door, shooting video with her phone. She posted the video to Facebook within ten minutes of Peter’s death.

BioRealm’s attempts to comfort bereaved families and provide information to others continued to fall short.

Four hours after the incident, no BioRealm employee had reached out to families in person to tell them what was going on. Contrasting this failure was the excellent effort put out by local emergency responders, who placed personal calls to the homes of every dead or injured employee.

With frustration against BioRealm building to a peak, the grieving sister of a slain employee became outraged when BioRealm couldn’t give her a solid answer as to when she’d be able to enter the building to collect his belongings.

“What do you mean you can’t answer that?” she screamed at a BioRealm employee outside the Durham offices as television cameras recorded the moment.

“My brother is dead! Answer me!” she screamed as the employee, rattled, turned his back on her and headed back into the building, all the while on camera.

Television news producers edit the blood-spattered BioRealm sign into their coverage.

It took BioRealm executives until noon the following day to determine that their time and attendance system malfunctioned and that the five “missing” employees were actually in the building at the time the shooting occurred and had fled to their homes.

None of the five ever came back to work for BioRealm.

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No Quarter Asked or Given

Executives at BioRealm were prepared for an active shooter scenario, or so they thought. There was the aforementioned addition of swipe card security. The company was also banking on its text messaging system to get crucial information out to friends and family in a timely manner.

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The company had created an evacuation plan and an emergency communications plan in case of an extreme weather event or some other catastrophe. The actual event, someone’s spouse entering the building and killing people, simply overwhelmed all preparations.

BioRealm’s risk management and emergency response management failures would prove costly in human and financial terms.

Keith Ryerson’s inability to realize the importance of speaking directly to employees and their families on the most notorious day in his company’s existence did not play well.

Coupled with the results of investigations that reported that BioRealm failed to adhere to its own crisis response policies, families that felt their loved ones were killed or injured due to corporate security laxity filed suit.

Also filing suit were 25 BioRealm employees who left the company after the shooting. They alleged that the company’s emergency management training and security measures were inadequate.

Included in that class of litigants were Angela Brighton and Gabe Brooks, the two employees who were left behind the day of the shooting.

“Let me get this straight. Nobody made any attempt other than a text message to reach you and no one came looking for you,” one of the attorneys handling the lawsuit asked Brighton and Brooks.

“No one,” Brighton said.

“No one, means no one,” said Brooks, whose usually sunny disposition was under a very dark cloud.

“Who allows a non-employee to enter a supposedly secure building carrying a heavy black bag?” another attorney representing the employees in the lawsuit said to one of his colleagues as they prepared their brief.

The reputational harm caused by social media sharing of the Peter Mansfield shooting video, plus the images of a BioRealm employee turning his back on a grieving family member also wouldn’t go away.

“We’re going to have to up investments in security,” Nathalie Galbreath told Keith Ryerson in a meeting two months after the shooting.

“I’m talking metal detectors on every door and armed security guards. I think it’s the only way we’re going to get any sense of stability in our workplace,” she added.

“Do you know what our legal bill is already from this?” Keith Ryerson said to her.

“Um, no, I don’t know what it is,” Nathalie said, not feeling very patient.

“How about $650,000 and we’re not even at trial with any one of five lawsuits?” Keith said.

Keith Ryerson put his head in his hands.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Go ahead what?” Nathalie said, sharing his exhaustion and depression.

“Go ahead and order the metal detectors, order the guards,” Keith said weakly.

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Risk & Insurance® partnered with Black Swan Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Black Swan Solutions’ recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

1. Crisis Response and Business Continuity plans must coordinate with community police, fire and emergency medical agencies. In addition, pre-establish coordination with a local chapter of the Red Cross.  All organizations rely on community responders to assist in a crisis.  Yet most never proactively involve these same agencies in plan development and testing. If a crisis occurs, this can result in significant challenges related to cooperation and coordination.

2. Have a plan for testing, shelter in place and evacuation processes including a reliable means to account for every employee on premise at the time of the event. This information will also be invaluable for first responders involved in the search and rescue effort.

3. Have a secure centralized database for up to date information. This will allow for timely and accurate notifications to stakeholders.

4. Consider contracting with a specialized crisis call center to ensure you have a plan in place to accommodate mass inquires while providing a professional and compassionate response. Families will expect your organization to provide timely information and account for their loved ones who may have been affected by the crisis. The volume of inquiries and requests for information will often overwhelm your expectations and capabilities to respond.

5. Difficult news must be delivered personally. If the news is not good, make the effort to say it either in person or on the telephone – don’t text it.  Realizing you have to use the tools and contact information you have, do your best to connect on a personal level, no matter how challenging, when you must deliver bad news.

6. Prior to a crisis, identify and train organizational personnel who will interface with victims and families in a critical event. Understand the importance of self-care for those involved in responding to the incident and debrief them at the end of every shift.  Consider contracting with an organization to provide specialized training, as well as to provide guidance and support to those employees during the crisis.

7. Pre-consider strategies for establishing a family assistance center, typically at a hotel, where victim families can gather to obtain information and receive emotional support and psychological first aid. Families also have an opportunity to obtain information from responding authorities.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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