How do I prepare my workplace for an active shooter?

Law enforcement teaching

Unfortunately, practicing fire drills and rehearsing plans in case of natural disasters no longer are enough. With the increasing number of Active Shooters causing harm and taking lives in all sorts of offices and public areas, this is something that needs to be prepared for as well. Although I am sure that drills and discussions to prepare for this kind of disaster may be hard to prioritize, preparing your staff can easily mean saving lives in case of an emergency.

Who is the shooter?

An Active Shooter is defined as anyone intent to kill using a weapon (usually a firearm) in a confined area with a lot of people. It may seem easier to imagine a complete stranger as the shooter, however it is not uncommon for the shooter to be someone that is familiar with the area. It could be a frequent customer, previous employee or a current, disgruntled employee.

It would be impossible to have to suspect every frustrated customer or employee of being capable of such a crime but you also want to be prepared for serious red flags. It is important to train your staff to know what to listen for as well. Those that work with them the most will also be most able to notice when something changes with the person and could possibly become violent. Here are some common things to look out for. Take notice when someone you work with makes a significant change in how they care for themselves- their hygiene, appearance or health with increased use of drugs of alcohol. They may also exhibit severe mood swings, depression, unstable outburst of anger, extreme overactions to changes at work, or vocalize feeling like everyone is against them. Train your staff to come talk to a manager or Human Resources when someone talks about violence frequently, discusses firearms or shows unusual understanding for a person committing violent acts in the news or elsewhere.

Although prevention would be the most ideal it is not always possible. The attack of an active shooter is often done in less time than it will take for you to train your staff for one and could take place anytime or anywhere in your facility. Preparation, training and practice is often the best and only way to empower your staff in case of this type of emergency. However important, this topic is often (quite understandably) not a favorite topic for staff meetings. It is hard to imagine such a scenario, but real training involves picturing an active shooter in your given office or frequent work location and understanding exactly what to do. The more often this is practice, discussed and analyzed, the more comfortable your staff will become and ultimately, the quicker they will respond during an actual emergency. These types of trainings are especially important in scenarios where your staff will be seen as leaders where students, customers or other employees will look to them as an example or for instruction during emergencies.

How exactly do you respond to an active shooter? What specifically do I train my staff to do?

First, get out! If evacuation is at all possible, this should be your immediate response. Leave all your belongings and wait to call for help until you have successfully escaped immediate danger.

Try to assist others to safety if they are not wounded (movement could cause more damage) but do not wait for them if they refuse to come. It is absolutely essential that you have a plan for evacuation with multiple routes in case one or more is compromised. Post this plan in a common place for someone who is new to the building to quickly grab on their way out the door. If more than one safe route is not obvious for a location, discuss options in a training, practice scenario so that everyone is comfortable and confident with the plan. No matter how different the evacuation routes may be for different locations in the building, it is also very important to have a meeting place where everyone congregates once they are out. This will help police officers evaluate who is still in the building and where and assure that everyone is accounted for once the conflict is resolved.

Second, Hide! Only if you cannot evacuate, look for a good place to hide. Find a place that is out of view from the shooter and puts something between you and the shooter as a barricade- ideally, this would be a locked door. Try not to resort to someplace where you will be restricted and cannot move as you could be there for a while. In most buildings, employees should be trained to hide in a nearby office and lock and barricade the door with furniture or other large objects. Just as they specifically rehearsed their evacuation options for their given location, employees should also plan exact hiding places that would be ideal from their location and for the group they may be leading. Once you are hidden, it is important that you are quiet. Silence cell phones and be prepared to keep people calm and quiet. Depending upon your distance from the shooter, while you are hiding you can either call and give details to the 911 dispatcher or just leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what the shooter may be shouting and either way send help. If you are able to talk, they will most likely ask you for a description of the shooter, their location and weapons and the number of possible victims in the area.

            Third, attack! ONLY if you cannot run or hide, use force against the shooter to try to disrupt their plan. This can involve yelling, throwing things, or any kind of attack. However you decide to attack, commit to your actions so you are confident and don’t second guess yourself.

Emergency Action Plan

Create and regularly reevaluate and discuss YOUR Emergency Action Plan. This plan is going to be specific for your workplace and the needs of the individuals most likely to be there.

Include every team of management and employees and establish everyone’s rolls and responsibilities. Where will everyone meet? Who is in charge of calling families to notify them of the situation- do you have emergency contact information for everyone? Have emergency numbers posted for easy access to those who may need it. It is also helpful to have details about your location posted nearby to give the first responders on the phone. Does everyone have a key on a lanyard that they wear regularly to lock the doors if needed? Is there one main person for everyone to call for information or once they are safe? Is a phone tree necessary? Does everyone have the right phone numbers? Besides 9-1-1, what other local phone numbers would be necessary? Where is the closest emergency health care provider? Work together as a team until everyone is confident of their roles and responsibilities in various possible scenarios. It may also be beneficial to assemble emergency kits with first aid supplies, radios, contact numbers and other needs specific for your area and team. For example, is there anyone with disabilities in your office or location that might need special assistance or medication if you are stuck somewhere for hours?

Invite Law Enforcement

Ask for your law enforcement or emergency response team to come help you with your training. They will be able to teach you and the team the specific protocol for your area.

They are also more familiar with these scenarios and will know how to better prepare your team. If possible, invite them to show you what a gunshot would sound like in your facility. Some halls have odd echoes or sound different than you would expect. It is important for employees to recognize the sound of a gun so they do not go closer to the shooter unknowingly to investigate the strange sound.

Law enforcement personnel will also be able to train your team on how to respond during an emergency when first responders arrive on the scene. It is essential that civilians do not interfere with their process of securing the area. When they enter the scene, it is important to make it clear who the shooter is by putting your hands in the air and keeping your hands visible. Do not ask the first responders for help or directions. The second team will help anyone who is hurt, however the first team will ignore injuries until they are sure the area is safe. Do not be alarmed if they show up with all sorts of firearms, protective vests, or push people out of the way to safety. Do not run up to them for help, instead, quickly evacuate the way that they came in.

With a law enforcement officer helping with training, a conclusive Emergency Action Plan in place and regular practice, you can ensure that your employees feel more confident in case of an emergency and possibly save many lives in case disaster does strike.