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 is vulnerable somewhere, in some way, to threats and risks. Threats are out of a company’s control. They are out there and could become dangerous situations at any time. Risks, however, are what make your company vulnerable to those threats. They are the elements that can be controlled if the company is made aware of them and has a plan to mitigate them. 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 threats is what is 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, like an active shooter. From the start of an emergency situation, the plan must be initiated. 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.
At the first announcement of danger, all employees should already have a familiarity with the protocol that is 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
Lastly, it is essential to practice. Recurring training and exercises should be a standard within a company. 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 that 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!.
Question for comment: How can companies reduce the risk of an active shooter?