Recently, five people were killed by a gunman in New Mexico. Just two days prior to that, a San Francisco UPS employee killed three co-workers before killing himself. Earlier in the same month, five people lost their lives before a gunman shot himself to death in Orlando. The frequency of these tragedies, three in just three weeks, indicates the real threat that exists that people could find themselves in an active shooter situation.
In 2014 during an unfortunate series of tragedies in that year, we published the active shooter response plan below to help people be prepared. We have updated it and present here again.
As the United States Department of Homeland Security states: “. . . there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations are by their very nature unpredictable and evolve quickly.” In the same way we have no control over a natural disaster, there is no way to prevent an active shooter situation. However, there are ways to lower the risk.
SHOOTERS ARE A THREAT BUT YOU CAN LOWER THE RISK
Every company (and by extension their employees) is vulnerable somewhere, in some way, to threats and risks. Threats are often out of a company’s control and can pose an immediate danger at any time. Risks, however, are what make your company vulnerable to those threats. Risks are the elements that can be controlled if the company is made aware and has a plan to mitigate. For example, if a company does not have a sign-in procedure for employees, vendors and guests, there is a greater risk that someone intent on harm can enter company property. Where your company is most vulnerable to these threats can be determined through a comprehensive risk assessment, after which a plan can be created and implemented to reduce those risks.
It is common for people to assume that an active shooter risk assessment is something that should stand on its own. However, this is far from the truth. Determining where you are vulnerable during an active shooter situation should be a subset of a workplace violence assessment which is part of a larger emergency and disaster response plan.
PREPARATION MINIMIZES RISKS
The emergency and disaster response plan establishes, in detail, the necessary actions that should take place during an emergency situation, of which the active shooter threat is an example. Having and then implementing a plan is critical during and an emergency situation. For example, the notification time standard in an emergency situation is less than one minute. Therefore, the ability to communicate quickly and successfully is essential. To ensure successful communication, multiple systems should be considered. Public address systems, telephone trees, mass text messaging, email, or call systems are just a few of the ways to effectively announce imminent danger. In 2007, school officials at Virginia Tech were criticized for being slow to communicate the threat of an active shooter on campus. Technology has improved since then, with more ways to communicate including social platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook Messenger and advanced mass-email/text systems that can distribute up-to-date development instantly. The key is that people know which platform or platforms to use for priority updates and that messages are delivered in a timely manner.
At the first announcement of danger, all employees should already have a familiarity with the protocol to follow. This means that all employees should have a basic understanding of the response plan as part of their training. Depending on their position and location relevant to threat areas, different people within the company, such as security officials, should be given additional information and instruction. This hierarchical distribution of information ensures that the entire company will be well prepared in an emergency.
PRACTICE FOR SUCCESS
Once your plan is created it is essential to practice implementation. Recurring training and exercises should be standard within any company. It is not enough to have an annual fire drill or tornado warning practice. There is a high value in training to reveal areas in which the team must improve. For example, what if the individual assigned to initiate the telephone tree is not in the office? Does the second in charge know where to begin? What if a shooter has taken hostages? Do you have a system for knowing, at any given moment, who is in the building? Questions such as these will get addressed in a training situation.
Remember the saying: “You will react the way you train.” In the movie “Captain Phillips, ” which was based on a true story, the crew reacted slowly and without urgency to the approaching boats, which they would soon discover were filled with Somali pirates. By the time they took the threat seriously, it was too late. As you initiate training exercises, stress to the trainees the importance the training has as a way to save lives, including their own. While workplace violence and active shooter situations are very rare, a company must take the necessary steps to plan for the worst case scenario since there is no way to predict when a situation will arise. Don’t be caught off guard!.