The Preventative Power of Early Intervention

A man sits hunched over at a table with head down, covered by folded arms.

“There was always something a little off about him.”

It’s a phrase that follows far too many mass casualty events – a sentence wrought from the forges of guilt, shame, and sadness.

We see the signs but choose to ignore them. Maybe we feel it’s not our place to pry, or the idea of reaching out to someone suffering makes us feel awkward. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: We tend to notice the writing on the wall and just as quickly dismiss it.

See something? Don’t just say something. Do something.

The bystander effect is very real and very dangerous. It’s a social and psychological phenomenon that keeps individuals and groups complacent in the face of clear and present danger.

Overcoming the bystander effect isn’t easy. But one way to recondition the mind’s inclination toward avoidance is through routine security awareness training. Exercising our observational skills and learning to recognize warning signs gradually builds up our confidence and reorients our thinking in a way that prepares us to act in the crucial moments before catastrophe.

Many factors drive someone to violence.

It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason why a person might resort to acts of aggression. The contributing factors toward someone’s sudden brutality often manifest in combination with one another. Even so, there are a handful of hallmarks that, if present, could be your cue to intervene.

They seem isolated from the community

Reclusive behavior can mean many things, with very few of them good. When someone begins to isolate for prolonged periods of time after a personal tragedy or emotional event, this should raise alarm bells. These trigger events could be something as passive as a poor performance review or dynamic as a skirmish in the schoolyard.

They appear angry or in distress

Another warning sign is when someone becomes irrationally angry, especially over inconsequential matters. Disproportionate malice toward anything or anyone – particularly if it’s constant and maintained for more than a few days – could spell trouble.

They’re vocal about their intentions

While rare, those who carry out violent acts do sometimes come clean about their plans ahead of time. Other times, they will accidentally reveal them either through a verbal slip up or leakage. On occasion, this might even be to spare that confidant from suffering whatever awful fate they aim to bring to others.

Intervention doesn’t have to be forceful.

The best time to resolve a conflict is before it gains momentum. Much of what drives the modern-day school shooter, workplace violence perpetrator, or mentally ill aggressor is simply a reaction to what they perceive as insurmountable environmental stimuli or a world that stands in opposition to them.

For the student, it could be bullying or feelings of otherism and isolation. For the disgruntled employee, it might be abuse from a coworker or financial destitution. Regardless of their specific profile, people who exhibit distress in a way that might lead them to violence need skillful assistance from a trusted party, be they a therapist, doctor, spiritual leader, or close friend who can lend a sympathetic ear.

There are many de-escalation tactics you can use to curtail someone exhibiting questionable behavior, but these three, controlled approaches trump the rest: Listen. Observe. Report.

Listen to them

The first step in any intervention plan is to listen out for any cries for help. In many cases, what people want more than anything is simply to be heard. Making yourself available as a sounding board could diffuse a situation before it ever reaches a boiling point.

Observe their behavior

If you’ve heard something threatening or are worried by the tenor with which someone is describing their grievances, continue to monitor their behavior for changes. If their actions become more reckless or erratic, it could be time to share your concerns with the appropriate authorities.

File a report

Reporting someone as a threat doesn’t always mean a police response. In corporate settings, a good first report could be to a supervisor. In a school, you might consider confiding in the principal. Those trusted authorities may choose to handle the issue directly or escalate further. But regardless of where a report goes, it’s important to remember that this is a crucial step in not only stopping something bad from happening, but potentially saving an otherwise good person from doing something terrible. At worst, you’ll have reported suspicious behavior that wasn’t leading anywhere sinister (but always better to be safe than sorry).

Threat assessment teams can also help.

In a large enough organization, establishing a unit devoted to identifying, managing, and training staff on potential threats could prove invaluable. Some states even outright require companies to draft and maintain certain types of threat protection plans. One such state is California, which mandates all businesses with more than 10 employees implement comprehensive workplace violence prevention strategies.

Get involved.

No threat is ever mitigated through inaction. When in doubt, ask yourself: Is what I’m witnessing abnormal, and would my community expect me to act on this information? If the answer is yes, then don’t hesitate.

For threats to national security, you can file a report with your country’s homeland security office, like this one. For everything else, we encourage you to grow your security skillset through various trainings and seminars, similar to the ones we offer online. Our training on workplace violence provides information that is both useful and easily actionable.

And as always, we welcome your questions, concerns, and feedback at

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