It’s a scenario no business wants to think about: an active shooter or violent offender on the premises. An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. According to the FBI, these individuals do not necessarily have to yield a gun but could alternatively involve driving a car into a crowd. From 2000 to 2017, there were 250 active shooter incidents in the United States. These horrific acts of violence took place across many 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 on their premises. 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 active shooter scenarios. 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 in place is the first line of defense. The following Active Shooter Response Plan 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. However, there are factors every business should consider as they look for ways to reduce the risk of an active shooter 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 aware of some common behaviors could potentially help prevent 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 will not have the time or the clarity of mind to craft effective messaging and figure out a way to quickly notify your people. Having a pre-populated template in place is essential to seamlessly notifying everyone.
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. 60% of active shooter events conclude by the time police arrive. Keeping your people informed about 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 active shooter scenario 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 is a proactive step that can help businesses forecast potential danger. The team is composed of key stakeholders who have been thoroughly trained in threat assessment and management. Your threat assessment team 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.
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 Active Shooter Response Plan should highlight how to stabilize the incident, establish a safe environment, communicate with your people, and ultimately transition into recovery mode.
Empower your Employees
The first step of responding to an active shooter event is sounding the alarm when something happens. Employees often ignore hints of imminent danger and fail to alert the workplace. Employees should be trained and provided with the tools to push a button or dial an emergency code to ensure that both employees and authorities are notified immediately. Even if the situation turns out to be a false alarm, empowering your employees to act on any possible threat can help save many lives.
Run, Hide, & Fight
During an active shooter scenario, 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 and 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 a second option. Your active shooter response plan 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 hidden until identifiable law enforcement has given the all clear.
Finally, employees might be forced to incapacitate the assailant. While nobody wants to think about confrontation with a violent individual, there might be no other choice. Employees should make use of common office items as weapons (such as chairs or fire extinguishers) and consider the benefit of force in numbers, speed, and surprise.
Communication is Vital
When it comes to active shooter preparedness, 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: send out alerts with ease
- 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
- Reduce Delivery Time: use pre-made templates for different emergency scenarios
- Centralized Information: create event pages to provide one source for all information
- Availability: access via mobile device—an incident can occur at any time
In reality, it is unlikely that everyone will remain 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 . 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common warning signs of a potential active shooter?
1 in 5 shootings at work are carried out by employees of the company. Utilize your employees to identify these potential threats and prevent active shooter scenarios from unfolding. Common pre-attack behaviors include increased interest in firearms, fascination with mass shootings, recent traumatic life events, and problems with authority figures. Train your employees to recognize these key warning signs to identify perpetrators of workplace violence before it is too late.
Is active shooter training required by OSHA?
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently does not have specific requirements and standards for active shooter training, businesses are required to provide a safe working environment for all of its employees. Under the general duty clause, it is made clear that employers have a duty to put measures into place for workplace violence prevention. The clause specifically states that businesses must create a workplace environment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”
How should companies deal with reports of possible threats?
Employees should be provided with the proper channels through which they can securely report observations. All reports should be taken seriously no matter how big or small they appear to be. Your company should create a threat assessment team that is responsible for evaluating and acting upon potential threats. These individuals should design a standardized plan on how to evaluate reports and incorporate members from human resources, security, and employee assistance/mental health teams to devise a strategy to address the threat.
What kind of active shooter drill should an employer implement in the workplace?
There are many unique forms of active shooter drills that each serve a company-specific benefits. Depending on your company size, location, and type, one drill type will probably be more effective than another. The two main types of active shooter drills include the lockdown drill and the tactical shooter drill. While both of these drills provide hands-on training for a potential active shooter scenario, they are also known to create unnecessary trauma for employees. Another alternative involves using active shooter pamphlets and videos to educate employees on how to respond. To learn more about the various types of active shooter drills, read our blog post “What you Need to Know about Active Shooter Drills at Work.”
By informing yourself on how to prepare for active shooter scenarios, you have taken huge steps to protect your company and employees. Continue to strengthen your active shooter response plan by using our Active Shooter Readiness Assessment. Ensure that you have considered site hardening, communication, training, policy, and threat reporting to feel confident that you have done everything in your power to protect your employees.
Nobody wants to consider the possibility of an active shooter or violent workplace incident happening to them. But thoughtful preparation can truly save lives.
Looking to prepare for the event of an active shooter or other violent situation? Download our free active shooter readiness checklist.