The Lone Wolf Attack: Is Your Company Next?

If you’re someone who follows me, you’ve probably noticed that the articles that I write are not about the typical topics that are expected from a security person. I’m not interested in discussing anti-virus software or malware. I have a master’s degree in security with a concentration in terrorism. My interest lies in making sure that as security minded individuals, you are equipped with realistic information on another type of threat in the workplace and just like a cyber-attack, workplace violence can happen without notice. In this multi-part series, I’ll be covering the spectrum of these events, starting with the profile of a lone wolf shooter.

Lone Wolf Statistics

Let’s face it. None of us are prepared for a situation, where an active shooter begins target practice with our employees. We all want to get along – don’t we? Our employees have been offered a place of employment with a culture of collaboration, transparency and accountability. So, what’s going on, that workplace violence needs to be top of mind and by the way, planned for.

The answer is the number of shootings that are occurring across the world.

While many mass shootings can be attributed to a terrorist act, the number of workplace violence events and fatalities associated with lone solider rampages unfortunately, is more often attributed to a US citizen and is considered the new norm. In my opinion – with some training and preparation, this latest type of threat, doesn’t need to happen to your company.

There are numerous sites on the Internet to find the following information and if you venture into the research, you’ll see that the data doesn’t always match and there is a reason for this, as most companies don’t report an event and therefore, inconclusive information has been gathered about the incidents. In doing my research, I chose a subset of years and the research presented so much data that I had to pare the information down, specifically to the years 2015-2018 in the US. For 2017, the number is larger due to the Las Vegas shootings.

In a series of charts, let’s consider the statistics that will ultimately profile an active shooter.  This first chart shows the statistics for lone wolf shootings. This data is a combination of workplace violence and other types of shootings. The following charts further breakdown of the details within the subset of information that was used.

The research starts to show the details about the individuals involved in an active shooter attack.  We can ascertain the number of events, by gender, and where the attacker had a prior mental illness. Notice that in 23 events, it was undetermined if a mental illness was previously presented for the attacker. Earlier I stated that evidence can be inconclusive – in many cases, the actual mental health status of the attacker is unknown, especially if they haven’t sought out treatment.

Now that the profile is starting to form, let me ask you – how many times have you heard someone in the news say – we’ll they were a loner, they were a little strange, they just started acting weird?

Weapons used are typically some type of rifle or handgun, though the research shows that new ways of attacking people are now common place and can include – cars, chemicals, knives. When a situation has been planned out, the attacker usually has a cache of weapons available to use.

While it’s hard to fathom, the workplace is more apt to have an event, than a school and this is the reason why we are discussing this subject. In this series of articles, we’ll also discuss additional statistics that will detail out the types of violence that can be encountered.

Within the research, I was unable to identify the professions of the shooters, as I had wanted to make a connection here and couldn’t.

The Profile of a Lone Wolf Attacker

The concept of an angry young man pertains here. While I am only a researcher, the evidence is easy to see, and the research shows that if you are a white male, under the age of 30, have a semi-automatic weapon with or without a prior diagnosis of a mental illness, you are more apt to be involved as a lone wolf attacker in a workplace shooting. And that statistic alone, should make you worry. Take a moment, breathe, look around your company – does anyone fit the profile of an active shooter? Is there someone that you know that is acting out, who is maybe a little strange, fitting the ethnic and age profile? Breathe – do you know if they own or have access to a semi-automatic weapon?

So, the question that I’d like to ask is, what is happening to men under the age of 30, that causes them to want to kill people? Are we all so stressed out that when we blow a gasket, it leads to violence?

One of the great aspects of my career, is that I am able to speak with all kinds of interesting individuals. Recently, I spoke to a psychologist, who is ex-secret service. We could have discussed active shooter situations non-stop for an entire day. His perspective on the plight of the young man/lone wolf attacker is that the root of the issues is societal in nature – but clearly stems from our inability to differentiate between the rights of the individual vs the country. In other words, when a problem is national, the good of the whole should be considered and not necessarily the good of the one. He also indicated that people with bipolar are more apt to become the lone wolf.

In the next set of articles, we’ll discuss the definition of Workplace Violence and then look at the behaviors and stressors that lead to violence. As always, questions can be directed to the email address below.

@2019 All Rights Reserved

Sue Bergamo is the CIO & CISO at Episerver, a global digital commerce company. She can be reached at sue.bergamo@episerver.com.



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