News of active shooters causing panic, chaos and death have become commonplace around the world. In the US alone the FBI has categorized 27 shootings in 2018 as active shooter incidents. An active shooting incident is defined as an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” (FBI Document: Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018).
In most cases, active shooting happens within an organization or institution. Sometimes, it occurs in a public event, such as a concert (such as Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester) or a marathon (such as Boston bombing incident). When these shootings occur, organizers and sponsors of these events, as well as organizations that own the location can be held liable for the life of customers and personnel alike.
It goes without saying that organizations need to have a solid plan to respond to an active shooting incident. The steps a company should take in order to be ready for active shooting incidents will be covered in this article.
Create an Emergency Action Plan
An emergency action plan is an important part of active shooter incident readiness. It gives an organization and its employees a clear and specific road map to follow in case of a suspected active shooter threat.
An effective emergency action plan includes:
- A chosen method for reporting fires and other emergencies
- Policies and procedures on evacuating
- Procedures on emergency escape and route assignments
- Phone numbers for, and roles and responsibilities of points of contact as part of the emergency action plan
- Details of hospital in the area and neighboring places ( name, phone number, and how far away they are from the business’ location)
- A system to notify parties during an emergency which include the law enforcement agencies, healthcare and emergency responders, and individuals at remote location within premises
Anticipating Potential Workplace Violence
The profile of active shooters include those who are currently working at the company or disgruntled former employees. Managers who have a strong intuition and observant coworkers may notice common characteristics of potentially violent individuals. All employees must be willing to report these observations to HR if they have any reason to suspect a potentially violent person.
In most cases, people who become violent at work display indicators days or even months before they fully “snap”. If these behaviors can be observed and monitored, potentially violent persons can get help, so they don’t turn violent towards others and themselves. Here are some behaviors that can be used to diagnose violent tendencies:
- Frequent use of drugs and alcohol
- Unexplained absence at work; non-specific illnesses
- Obvious decrease in attention to hygiene and personal image
- Anti-social tendencies and depression
- Repeated violations of company policies
- More frequent mood swings
- Uncontrolled emotional responses
- Sudden outbursts of anger or rage for no particular reason
- Expression of suicidal thoughts
- Comments about “putting things in order”
- Feeling paranoid about being watched or under attack
- Increased mention of problems at home and with money
- Talks of personal history of committing violence
- Empathizing with people committing violence
- Penchant for talking about firearms, other dangerous weapons and criminal behavior
Aside from identifying potential active shooter behavior, there are more ways to prepare for an active shooter situation. First is to ensure that the building or facility has at least two routes for evacuation, with post evacuation routes hidden throughout the building. It is also a best practice to invite the authorities and first responders in the training exercises for active shooter situations.
To prevent active shooter attacks, it helps to create a safe space for employees and to cultivate a respectful workplace. Help should be provided to those who seem to be going through depression or anxiety, through counselling and creating support groups.
How to Stay Safe During an Active Shooter Attack
Staying safe in an attack can be reduced to four simple steps: run, hide, tell and fight.
- If there is a clear and safe route, run.
- Tell others to go with you.
- Don't let others slow you down.
- Do not attempt to take belongings with you.
- If you can't run, find a hiding place and stay there.
- Find objects to cover from gunshots.
- Lock the door and barricade yourself in.
- Stay away from entry and exit ways.
- Stay very quiet and silence your mobile phone.
- Dial the emergency number in your emergency action plan when you are safe.
- Provide your location.
- Describe the direction the attacker is moving in.
- Provide as much detail as you can.
- Safely stop other people from entering the area
- Attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter
- Act as aggressively as possible against the shooter
- Scream at the attacker
- Commit to your actions
How to Proceed Once Law Enforcement Arrives
Once you are safe and law enforcement arrives, remain calm and follow all their instructions precisely. Place all of your belongings on the ground and immediately raise your hands with fingers spread wide. Ensure that your hands are visible at all times to signal law enforcers that you are not a threat. Also, try to appear relaxed and avoid pointing, screaming or yelling. Keep walking to the direction of the law enforcement officers and don’t stop for any reason.
Law enforcement officers will be needing your input to stop the attacker. You have to provide the location of the active shooter, number of shooters if there is more than one, a very detailed physical description of the shooter ( including clothing, accessories, and marks), number and types of weapons held by the shooters and the number of potential victims that remain unsafe.
As soon as you have arrived at the safe location or assembly point, you will be held in that area by law enforcement until the area is under control, all of the witnesses have been determined and have given their statements. Do not go anywhere until the authorities have given a signal for you to do so.
In summary, ensuring everyone’s safety during an active shooter situation is possible with a detailed emergency action plan, being observant of people who have violent tendencies, learning the run-hide-tell-fight procedure, and following the lead of law enforcement authorities.