“Rapid notification of a threat can save lives by keeping people out of harm’s way.”
– U.S. Department of Justice
It’s a scenario no business wants to think about: an active shooter or violent offender on the premises. From 2000 to 2017, there were 250 active shooter incidents in the United States. These horrific acts of violence took place across industries and geographic locations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 alone saw 500 workplace homicides in the U.S.
We now face an unfortunate reality: no company is exempt from the potential threat of an act of violence occurring at their organization. As a result, businesses must be proactive in order to protect their people, minimize injury and loss of life, and safeguard their establishment.
Preparation, effectively communicating with staff, and maintaining protocol are critical measures every business should take when dealing with workplace violence. There’s no such thing as “too safe” when it comes to protecting human life.
Take Action Before Tragedy Strikes
Whether an attack is targeted or random, having an effective Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) in place is the first line of defense. The following EOP was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice and aligns with guidance from the Department of Homeland Security. It consists of five main areas of active shooter preparedness: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery.
Even the best-laid plans can’t guarantee absolute safety. But there are factors every business should consider as they look for ways to reduce the risk of a violent workplace incident. Fostering a positive, inclusive work environment and treating every employee with compassion and respect can often curtail the behaviors that lead to an incident occurring.
While there are no clear-cut indicators that a current or past employee might engage in a violent act, there are some red flags to look out for.
Common pre-attack behaviors include:
- History of aggression towards authority figures
- Recent acquisition of multiple firearms
- An interest in explosives
- A fascination with past shootings/mass attacks
- A traumatic life event such as a death, breakup/divorce, or loss of employment
- Being the victim of bullying in the workplace
These warning signs are by no means an exhaustive list. And they certainly don’t always suggest an impending threat. But staying cognizant of some common behaviors could potentially help thwart an attack.
In the context of active shooter preparedness, protection refers to the ongoing actions businesses can take to safeguard its people and property.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests developing a thorough Emergency Operation Plan prior to an incident occurring. This includes ensuring you have an emergency communication system in place to immediately notify employees of an incident.
Every second counts when you’re thrown into the chaos of a violent workplace attack. You simply won’t have the time or the clarity of mind to craft effective messaging to your people and figure out a way to quickly notify them. Having a pre-populated template in place is essential to seamlessly notifying your people.
Targeted acts of violence can escalate quickly, so you need to be ready to deal with the situation before law enforcement is on the scene. Most active shooter episodes have concluded by the time police have arrived. Keeping your people in the loop on unfolding events can ultimately save lives.
Mitigation refers to “the capabilities necessary to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property damage by lessening the impact of an incident.” (U.S. Department of Justice).
This stage differs from prevention because it focuses on detecting a potential threat and limiting the damage of an attack. While it might feel like an act of workplace violence is out of your control, there are precautionary measures every business can take to reduce the likelihood an incident will occur.
Organizing a Threat Assessment Team (TAT) is a proactive step that can help businesses forecast potential danger. A TAT is composed of key stakeholders who have been thoroughly trained in threat assessment and management. Your TAT works with law enforcement to identify potential threats and protect your people against harm.
Of course, threat assessment can often reach beyond the capacity of an ordinary organization. Fortunately, there are law enforcement resources available such as local and state fusion centers and FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF).
Ultimately, the goal of mitigation is to err on the side of caution and utilize the resources at your disposal. Your goal during this stage should be to shield your people from danger and limit the damage of an active shooter attack.
When an act of workplace violence does occur, how your business responds is critical. Your Emergency Operation Plan should highlight how to stabilize the incident, establish a safe environment, communicate with your people, and ultimately transition into recovery mode.
Most people will react instinctively in one of three ways: Run. Hide. Fight. Fleeing from the situation should be the first course of action. Employee training should focus on mapping out evacuation routes ahead of time. Staff should also be reminded to leave behind personal items, avoid escalators/elevators, and to call 911 once safe. An active shooter drill outlining explicit steps will help to minimize panic.
If running isn’t possible, hiding in a secure location is the next best option. Your EOP should instruct your people to find a room with few windows and shut off the lights. They should lock the door, barricade it with heavy furniture, keep quiet, and remain in place until identifiable law enforcement has given the all clear.
As a last resort, employees might be forced to incapacitate the assailant. While nobody wants to think about confrontation with a violent individual, there could be no other choice. Employees should make use of common office items as weapons (chairs or fire extinguishers) and consider the benefit of force in numbers, speed, and surprise.
Communication is Vital
When it comes to the response phase, one of the most impactful actions a business can take is investing in reliable, easy-to-use mass notification software. Sending out communications that relay vital information is perhaps the most effective way to keep your people safe.
An emergency communication system should meet the following criteria:
- Intuitive interface: easily send out alerts
- Two-way messaging: allow your people to reply with status updates
- Wellness checks: quickly survey employees to see if they’re safe or need assistance
- Always available: accessible via mobile device—an incident can occur any day, at any hour
It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to keep calm in the midst of a frightening attack. But the more your people are kept informed, the quicker everyone can get to safety and begin the recovery process.
The immediate aftermath of an active shooter incident will likely be a confusing time. Misinformation can lead to delayed recovery and further trauma. This is also where communication can diffuse the chaos. Keeping your people aware of unfolding events during this stage is critical to ensuring safety and restoring order.
Some emergency notification system providers offer a central hub (event page) where a company can consolidate crisis details, post current video/photos, and communicate resolutions. This can be especially useful in expediting the recovery process and keeping everyone aware of a quickly unfolding situation.
Longer term recovery can be broken down into four distinct areas: services, physical, financial, and emotional/psychological. Your Emergency Operation Plan should determine who has authority to close and reopen business, how to document damage assessments, sources for relief funding, and where/how psychological first aid will be provided.
As organizations plan for both the Response and Recovery phases, it’s helpful to adopt the principles of FEMA’s National Incident Management System (NIMS). This will help everyone share common terminology, assign roles, and define responsibilities as businesses strive to regain continuity and support their people during the vulnerable recovery process.
Adopting a Reliable Emergency Communication Solution
The backbone of your EOP, especially during the Response and Recovery phases, is having a reliable way to keep your people informed. Nobody wants to consider the possibility of an active shooter or violent workplace incident happening to them. But thoughtful preparation can truly save lives.
AlertMedia is the leading provider of emergency communication software. Our intuitive interface, two-way messaging platform, immediate onboarding, and 24/7 customer support will give your management and people peace of mind in the event of a workplace crisis.