Personal Security – What’s Your Risk? (Part 2)

               I stood peering over a fence post in my backyard to the darkness beyond.  I listened closely, but couldn’t hear anything – now.  I shivered from the cold as I waited.  A few minutes before, I had been inside, working at my desk, when there was the sound of gunshots right out back.  I had immediately turned off the lights in the room and ran upstairs.  My wife had shut off the lights in our room and was peering out back.  It occurred to me that our walls were not very good cover, only concealment.  My wife called the police while I ran back downstairs and outside.
               Sadly, this wasn’t the first time we’ve heard gunshots, but these were close.  As I looked for any movement in the field behind my home, I felt the temptation to jump the fence and head into the field myself.  I knew, though, that I would be exposed in the ribbon of light crossing the street and that the police would arrive soon and I would be stuck explaining who I was, when they could be looking for whoever fired the shots.
               As I waited, I thought of all the times that my wife or I had needed to call the police and we are the type who prefers to deal with problems ourselves whenever possible.  Once again, I wished that we could move to an area not so prone to criminal activity and thought about how our direct environment has an impact on our lives and safety.
               In the last post, “Sleeping With the Enemy?”, we discussed the first part of personal safety and taking a look at the individual risk that we are all exposed to.  Primarily, that is the people around us and the things that we do, something that I call our lifestyle risks.
               Today, we are going to look at other risk factors that have an impact on our safety.  First we will look at environmental risk.  Environmental risk can include a number of areas, but mainly pertains to the area around us, the crime in our neighborhood and the kind of activity that goes on near our homes.
               Look at your home and your neighborhood.  Start with how you feel about your safety.  If you don’t feel safe, your instincts may be warning you about something that you have picked up on subconsciously.
               Are there vacant lots, empty buildings, or abandoned businesses around you?  Any areas not maintained or that show a lack of caring can attract criminal activity.  If the bad guys feel like a property is not cared for, then they may feel like they can get away with whatever they want there. 
               Look at graffiti as well.  It can be “artwork”, but can also be used to send messages.  A dollar sign may indicate drug dealing.  Some graffiti may be used by gangs to mark their territory.  In general, the less ‘artistic’ the graffiti, the more likely it is being used for some more nefarious purpose.
               The other part of your environment is looking at the actual crime happening around your neighborhood.  You can “CSI” your house.  That is not as hard as it sounds.  Most police departments have crime information, even crime maps that allow you to enter your address and look at exactly what type of crime has happened around you.   Often, you can adjust these online crime maps by distances or time period to get a better picture of crime in your area.
               There are also some generic crime statistics or ratings available for whole cities or towns.  The problem with those types of sites is that they will give you a crime rating for your entire city, not just your section.  So if there is a high crime area on the opposite side of your city, but your area is generally much safer, these city-wide crime rates combine or average everything for one score.  This doesn’t really tell you much about your actual neighborhood.
               Even if your local police don’t have a website with crime stats, you can get a great deal of information by calling.  Most departments have crime analysts or community service officers who can help you understand crime in your section of town.  In fact, community service officers are often available to come out to your home and do a mini security survey for free.  They will look at your landscaping, locks on your doors and windows and the lighting around you and give you a few recommendations on what they see.
               That is an overview of environmental crime concerns.  Let’s take a look at work and the related hazards.  Some aspects are comparable to your environmental assessment, looking at some of the same factors on your drive to work and at your work location.  Is there graffiti in the area, or on the drive there?  Do you pass through high-crime neighborhoods?  What about the area where you actually work?  Again, your local police department can help to get a realistic assessment on crime in the area.
               Different industries or different types of jobs will have different risks as well.  For example, if you work alone, carry cash and are out amongst the community, such as a taxi cab driver, you are at a much higher risk of being robbed.  Other industries, such as healthcare, have higher risk of being the victim of assault.  ER staff members deal with substance and drug abuse, as well as mental health patients, which increase the risk of violence behavior. 
               The other aspect of your workplace is violence from co-workers.  This is something that we see every now and again in the news.  Ex-employees coming back and extracting revenge after a bad termination is one example. 
               So how does your company handle terminations?  Do they let people go with dignity or aggravate the situation?  We’ve all had people who have rubbed us the wrong way and know how we are treated can really affect how we feel or how we respond.  How does your company deal with individuals?  Also, having a risk assessment team can help when looking at workplace threats.  Threats can come in very different forms, such as vague, implied threats up to very direct and specific threats.  The more specific a threat, the more seriously it should be taken, although not all aggressors will make a threat before acting.
               Does your company have strict policies prohibiting harassment in the workplace and threatening behavior?  Are those policies enforced?  Be careful about zero tolerance policies – that does not have to mean maximum punishment in every case. 
               Workplace violence is a complex issue and one that will be covered in future posts to look at different aspects, including domestic violence situations spilling over to work.

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