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Fear once more grips Americans, in the wake of a tragic shooting in NYC outside the famed Empire State Building where a laid-off employee gunned down his 41-year old former employer.

Seven innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire between police and the gunman, including one woman getting her morning coffee.  The horror of the shootout makes people wonder:  When you can be shot on a busy street in New York City, in a movie theatre in Colorado (at the Batman screening) or in a religious house (in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple), is anywhere safe?


The list of random shootings is sadly long.  Such events remind us painfully of the unexpected nature of life, not being in control, and natural feelings of powerlessness.


One way to cope is to increase your street smarts and be alert. As one taxi driver told me, “I never park in construction sites, in case something falls on me”; a mother told me, “I teach my kids to never talk to strangers”; a young woman says, “I cross the street when I see shady characters.” 


Interviewed on CNBC-TV’s “Closing Bell” with Maria Bartiromo today, the focus was about what blame to put on unemployment. A lot.  The blow of losing a job, and the frustration over not finding another and not having money – drives people to extreme desperation and anger.  The blow is to one’s ego (hard for men and a increasing number of women) and to survival.  Looking for an outlet, such frustration can reach a boiling point, where people strike out.  The object can be close to home, leading to the “kick the dog” phenomenon and increases in domestic violence, or any other perceived cause of one’s sorry state.  People can reach many back years, recalling a traumatic experience, and identify some perceived responsible party who becomes the target of their misery.   

Paul Viollis, CEO of Risk Control Strategies, also a guest on the show, agreed with me, citing that research in workplace violence shows a direct relationship between lay-offs from downsizing, unemployment and concomitant identity crises, with violence.  He said such incidences are avoidable by carefully crafting proper termination procedures.  

An intelligent interviewer (I watch her on many TV shows and see her in person when she hosts her show from the Clinton Global Initiative every year), Maria asked why this gunman took action a year after being fired.   My answer: frustration festers.  An explosion of anger isn’t always expressed immediately, but can build over time when other failures add up to make the pot boil over.


My advice to companies:  bolster human resources departments, and also outplacement services, that have been drastically decimated through budget cuts. Institute better pre-screening programs, and also ongoing employee screenings for stress levels – which are not just to protect the employers but also to determine when employees get fired up and need help with anger management for their own good (please, look to professionals, not Charlie Sheen playing one on the new Anger Management TV show).  Stress tests—that everyone is familiar with when their get cardiology check-ups—can be a preventive measure. 


 Some shooters do show early signs, that are overlooked.  Shooters can be psychotic (the Batman shooter who has been “diagnosed” as schizophrenic; psychopathic, or just plain out-pf-control angry. In today’s NYC case, the employer and employee already ahs cross-claims of harassment – a tinderbox that needed to be monitored.  IN the    


Advice for city governments:   invest resources in social services, so people who are unemployed can get psychological counseling.  The NYC Employer-shooter targeted his ex-employer, and shot him to death, a full year after being fired.  Long-term mental health counseling for the unemployed are essential and part of prevention of such incidences.


The heroes of today’s tragedy:  The construction worker who alerted police when he noticed the gunman, following the NYC public safety campaign that has persisted in the message: “If you see it, report it.”



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