Tragic Lessons: What We Should Learn from the Naval Yard Shootings

Sep 19, 2013

Like a lot of people, I’ve been watching the news reports about this week’s shooting at the Washington Naval Yard.

Aaron Alexis, now dead, is believed to have murdered 12 civilians before being shot and killed by police officers. Alexis was a former Naval reservist who was working as a military subcontractor.

I listened to the testimony from some of those Naval personnel present when the chaos erupted, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with the level of calm and professionalism they exhibited during what certainly had to be a trying time. Their superiors should be proud.

There are still lots of questions that beg answers, and while the professionals are digging for those answers, I’m focused on what we’ve already learned from this tragic incident, because, frankly, that’s all I know to do.

Here goes.

Lesson #1 – Crisis Management is not a waste of time

We never want to have to put these plans into action, but every organization needs an active crisis management plan.

Most of us hate those fire alarm drills that interrupt the work day and take us away from pressing duties that need to be attended to now, but the drills are necessary.

Lesson #2 – There are good reasons for a thorough background check

Some companies routinely conduct background checks on all potential hires, others will conduct checks for certain positions, and still others hardly ever or never conduct any sort of background check.

A thorough check is an investment of time and money, but the cost of not doing your due diligence and having something awful happen that could have been avoided is too high to count.

And while I don’t know whether Alexis’ employer checked out his background, I do know his background is questionable.

Lesson #3 – You really need an Employee Assistance Program

I’ve written before about my support for EAPs. As benefits go, employee assistance programs are cheap, and they’re valuable in ways that may surprise you.

I once had an employee tell me that she and her fiancée contacted the EAP about premarital counseling, since neither was religious or affiliated with a church and wouldn’t be receiving pastoral counseling.

Let’s face it — we live in a troubling, chaotic world, and stuff is always happening within our workplaces, communities, and families. An EAP can help.

Lesson #4 – Behavioral Interviewing is not just for the birds

When I read the news reports that Aaron Alexis had been discharged from the Navy for “misconduct,” and that a 2010 incident with a gun may have been a factor, what immediately came to mind is the behavioral interviewing mantra that “the best predictor of future performance is past behavior.”

While I’m not suggesting that “Tell me about a time when you discharged a firearm” should be added to your checklist of interview question staples, I am saying, look, there’s something to this behavioral interviewing thing.

If you aren’t in the habit of asking candidates questions using this technique, you might want to start.

It’s hard if not impossible to make sense of why anyone would do what Aaron Alexis is said to have done.

My thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims.

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