Security in the workplace could mean locked doors, metal detectors, electronic badges for employees, cameras and armed guards.
But a typical corporate office is simply not ready for a determined, armed assault — and most companies do not want the cost and climate that comes with that kind of protection, said Darrell Mercer, owner of Mercer Protection Agency in Alpharetta.
While many companies put a guard near the door or in the lobby, they are often unarmed, said Mercer, whose company offers protection for executives, as well as corporate and event security.
"You can take precautions and you can be alert. But things do happen, unfortunately," he said recently, a few hours after the FedEx sorting center shootings in Kennesaw, Ga.
"If somebody really intends on doing harm and they set their minds on it, you just can't stop it 100 percent," Mercer said.
Workplaces have been the most common sites for mass shootings, according to a report last year from the Congressional Research Service. An employee or former employee was the shooter in about one-third of 78 mass shootings the report studied between 1983 and 2012.
The agency said there were 463 workplace homicides in workplaces in 2012, accounting for 10 percent of all on-the-job fatalities.
Yet the number of workplace homicides has decreased since the mid 1990s, said Dan Hartley, workplace violence prevention coordinator at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Moreover, the stereotype of the homicidal employee or bitter ex-worker is in the minority, Hartley said.
Three-quarters of workplace homicides involve theft or robbery. Just 17 percent involve a worker or someone with a personal relationship to a worker, he said.
Employers have a financial as well as human interest in a secure workplace. From medical bills to attorney fees and lost wages, "the financial implications after a violent event in the workplace can be staggering," said Loretta L. Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
"As a result, insurers offer employers workplace safety policies to cover such incidents," she said. "Premiums range from $3,000 to $10,000 per year."
The most common sites of workplace violence are service businesses, not factories, she said: Government facilities account for 17 percent; restaurants and bars, 15 percent; schools, 15 percent; and medical facilities, 10 percent.
The insurance institute suggests a host of methods to prevent workplace violence, including guidelines for behavior and counseling for troubled employees.
Jeffrey Slotnick, chief security officer for OR3M who helped write the industry's workplace violence standard, said there are typically indicators of violence beforehand.
Someone may behave differently, showing sadness, depression, threats, menacing or aggressive behavior, or making reference to weaponry, for example.
When those behaviors come in clusters, it should be reported for the company's crisis management team to offer counseling or other assistance, he said.
Douglas Duerr, an Atlanta attorney specializing in labor and employment at Elarbee Thompson, also said there are limits to what security can do to prevent workplace violence.
"It would be great if you could have airport security at your work site, but that's simply not practical," Duerr said. "It's not realistic to expect that you're going to be able to prevent every instance of somebody coming into the workplace who's heavily armed.
"The thing to do is to have training on what are the potential indicators of someone who might become violent."
FedEx has a workplace violence prevention program, aimed at increasing awareness of "developing situations and other indicators of workplace violence."
Terri Howard, senior director at FEI Behavioral Health, a crisis management company that provides employee assistance programs and other services for businesses and employees, said employers should consider what they would have done in FedEx's situation, and incorporate lessons learned.
"At the end of the day, we can't always prevent incidents from happening," Howard said. "Sometimes, these incidents are random. Sometimes issues of domestic violence spill into the workplace."