Reality Check

Town & Country Club’s seminar for employees on how to handle active shooter situations and workplace violence proved to be “the absolutely best-received seminar ever conducted for my staff,” General Manager/COO Vincent Tracy said.

Like any good club manager, Vincent J.C. Tracy, CCM, CCE, has always known that a vital part of his duties as General Manager/COO of Town & Country Club (T&CC) in Saint Paul, Minn., involves making sure his club is in proper compliance with all pertinent regulations that apply to his property and operation.

When recently conducting a review of the requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that applied to Town & Country, Tracy was given cause for pause when he re-read the “general-duty clause” that was established as a guiding principle for those requirements when the Occupational Safety and Health Act that formed OSHA was originally passed in 1970:

“[The employer] shall furnish to each of his employees employment, and a place of employment, free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Tracy thought about how much different the world is today than in 1970, and in particular about recent incidents that had occurred near T&CC’s property, which stands as an oasis along the Mississippi River between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, but is still vulnerable to the threats that are especially common to all urban environments. He wondered if being a truly OSHA-compliant club—and more importantly, being truly dutiful in his responsibility to keep his employees and property safe—meant that he should be more proactive in addressing the horrible elephants that are in now in everyone’s room—terrorism, workplace violence, and active-shooter situations.

THE GOAL: Expand the responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all employees at Town & Country Club by recognizing and addressing the threats that can be posed by the realities of the current social and political environment.
THE PLAN: Arrange for a staff seminar on preventing, and responding to, active shooter and other workplace violence threats.
THE PAYOFF: Grumbling about the mandatory meeting turned into praise for its value in helping all employees better understand and recognize behaviors that can pose imminent threats. Shortly after the seminar, the staff used new training and insights to express concern about an individual who came onto the club property and acted oddly, and responded to ensure his departure without

Tracy checked with a friend who is an OSHA-compliance trainer and who confirmed that many employers, in a variety of businesses and organizations, have now come to grips with current social and political realities and recognized their renewed duty to make sure they are operating a workplace, and training employees, that is secured as much as possible against the types of incidents that have unfortunately become all too commonplace in the post-9/11 world.

After contacting a possible source of training for those incidents, Tracy was further convinced he needed to take the step, as unpleasant a subject as it might be. Country clubs, he was reminded, are certainly not immune to workplace-violence incidents, and in fact a good case can be made that they rank high on the list of potential targets and may be particularly vulnerable to attacks or active-shooter situations, no matter how tightly other security measures (guards, cameras, etc.) have been put into place.

And so, on the first Monday of April this year, all T&CC employees came to the property for a mandatory, half-day meeting conducted by Archway Defense, a training firm established by a former Federal Air Marshal.

“It was the worst-anticipated meeting I have ever conducted for my staff,” Tracy reports—and not just because many employees had to come in for it on a day off. “There were the predictable grumblings of why do we have to think about this kind of thing, or just a much bigger level of discomfort than usual, because of the subject matter.”

By the time the meeting ended, however, Tracy was already receiving feedback from employees and staff that quickly led him to conclude this would prove to be “the absolutely best-received seminar ever conducted for my staff.” The turnabout in attitude came, he explains, because the content did not involve scare tactics or sensationalism, or discuss typical “profiling” stereotypes, as many had expected.

Rather, the presentations were built around the theme that “with training comes peace of mind.” And the overriding emphasis of that training was on helping all employees develop the ability to recognize, and respond to, observable behaviors that could be the clearest advance signals of potentially volatile situations.

“It went way beyond what to do about active shooters and workplace violence,” Tracy says. “It hit home with many people for what it taught them about personal issues and how they could deal with and help troubled people they might encounter outside of work or even in their own lives.”

The seminar also clearly helped the T&CC staff learn to be better prepared for potential threats on the club property. Just a few weeks after it was held, Tracy reports, a man came into the clubhouse and began asking “odd questions” that included a request for diagrams and layouts of the building. While he indicated he might be interested in holding an event at T&CC, his responses and behaviors, when staff asked for his personal information and offered to have materials sent to him, was enough to trigger the club’s code that indicates a heightened level of concern. After Tracy and others responded to that alert, the man decided to leave the property without incident, and his photos, captured by the club’s cameras, were provided to authorities as an added precaution.

“If we didn’t have that seminar, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have responded as quickly or in the same way,” says Tracy, who notes that T&CC’s membership and Board has supported his decision to be “progressive” in this aspect of training. He is convinced that other clubs should overcome any reservations they might have about addressing the topic, and has recommended that his local club managers chapter sponsor a similar session. And he plans to keep conducting the training at T&CC on an annual basis.