Providing a SafeHaven: Doug Elms’ mission is to keep people safe, company’s brands out of the headlines

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 1,831 views 

Doug Elms founded Bentonville agency SafeHaven Security Group in 2017 to address the problem of workplace violence.

On May 26, a maintenance worker at the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, Calif., showed up at the railyard where he worked and began shooting, killing nine people, including himself.

The shooting was not an isolated incident. According to the FBI, 80% of mass murders occur at workplaces. According to the National Security Council’s 2020 survey, 22% of workers reported being exposed to workplace violence. Acts of violence are currently the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”

Doug Elms founded Bentonville agency SafeHaven Security Group in 2017 to address the problem of workplace violence.

“Corporations in the U.S. recognize they can’t rely on the police to prevent mass shootings,” said Elms, who began his law enforcement career as a Little Rock police officer. “Law enforcement is designed to enforce the law after the law has been broken, so corporations are looking at how to prevent it from ever happening in the first place.”

SafeHaven offers three types of protection: professional uniformed security, executive and family protection, and threat assessment management. Elms’ goal is to serve mid-level businesses in the middle of the country with the level of security expertise found on the east and west coasts.

Licensed to provide security officers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, SafeHaven’s officers are trained to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.

“We don’t body slam people and hogtie them or chase them down the street,” Elms said. “Instead, we use words to de-escalate situations and gather information.”

“We are less about bodyguards and ninjas and more about educating people about what their risks are,” Elms said. “We teach [human resources] professionals and managers about the warning signs of workplace violence. We help them create an environment so that people feel comfortable bringing concerns forward. Then, when they recognize the signs, they call us, and we help assess and de-escalate situations.”

Elms said people mistakenly believe three myths about workplace violence. They are:

  • Violence will never happen to them.
  • There’s no way to predict it.
  • You can’t do anything about it.

“If you have people, you have problems,” he said. “People have relationships, and that’s where the problems are created. But if you know the warning signs, you can recognize them to predict bad situations.”

SafeHaven has grown exponentially, doubling its employee count and revenue each year since its inception. In 2018, SafeHaven billed $500,000. This year the company will bill $5.9 million. Elms began his business with seven security officers in 2017 and now employs 200 officers.

Elms attributes the growth to the need for threat assessment management in Northwest Arkansas and to the career professionals who have joined his organization as consultants. They include Tim Keck, former Rogers police chief; Pat Walsh, former chief security officer at Stephens Investments; and Monte Mills, former physical risk and data center operations security manager at Arvest Bank Group Inc.

Elms spent 10 years as a Little Rock police officer, gaining experience in understanding threats to protectees, protective intelligence and dignitary protection during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. He joined Walmart Inc. in loss prevention and was later responsible for assessing business and security risks and managing corporate security in Walmart stores, the home office and facilities worldwide.

Because of his experience in dignitary protection during Clinton’s campaign, Elms was asked to protect Helen Walton at public engagements, eventually helping create Walmart’s executive protection team. In addition, he had personal security responsibility for three Walmart CEOs, executives and members of the Walton family.

Elms’ background enables him to customize services to meet the needs and expectations of each client.

“At Walmart, I had to purchase security services, so I understand the client side of the business and what they’re expecting,” he said. “The goal is to partner with companies who want professional guidance in keeping their people safe and their brands out of the headlines. That’s a business goal that resonates. You want your brand in the headlines when it’s good, but who wants to be the kind of company where 10 people got killed?”

Working an average of five cases a day of highly potential violent situations, SafeHaven clients include bank groups, philanthropic foundations, high-wealth/high-risk families, churches, food manufacturers and medical professionals. Their client list consists of the Walton Family Foundation, Walton Enterprises, Arvest Bank Group, Bass Pro Group, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Domtar, the University of Arkansas, the American Diabetes Association, Lululemon Athletica and the Nashville Ballet.

“I’m most proud of bringing business skills into the security profession and understanding that businesses have budgets and cultures, and what works at one company doesn’t work down the street at another company,” Elms said. “It’s not always about locking things or locking doors, putting things under lock and key, or having armed guards. Partnering with companies so that security measures fit their culture is what I’m most proud of.”

Summing it up, Elms said prevention is his business.

“It comes down to preventing issues from ever happening in the first place,” he said. “That’s where the intelligence part of security comes in. There are warning signs. You can de-escalate situations so you never have to have armed guards standing at your door guarding you. That’s the last defense.”

Elms predicts his company will continue to grow.

“I don’t think the demand for security is going to go away,” he said. “But the demand will be for intelligent security solutions. How do you prevent bad things from happening instead of cleaning up the mess after?”

Asked what success looks like for him and his clients, Elms said, “It’s a good day when we say nothing happened.”