No business ever wants to experience an active shooter incident situation. But the sad reality is that these incidents have become an all too frequent occurrence across the U.S. According to the FBI, 250 active shooter incidents occurred in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017, leaving 799 dead and 1,418 injured. The data show that 42 percent of these incidents took place in businesses.
ASSP’s technical report, “How to Develop and Implement an Active Shooter/Armed Assailant Plan” (ASSP TR-Z590.5) provides guidance and best practices on the steps a business can take to help prevent an active shooter from entering its facility and what to do in the event of an incident.
“This is a problem that workplaces need to address and be prepared for,” says Brian Hammer, senior risk management consultant for Nationwide Insurance and chair of the committee that developed the technical report. “The technical report will help organizations better understand the risks that can lead to active shooter incidents and help them address those at their workplaces.”
While an organization must consider many factors when developing an active shooter/armed assailant response plan, here are five key areas it can focus on to better protect its site and employees from workplace violence.
1. Assess Your Risks
The first step to protecting your site and employees is understanding your vulnerabilities. Much like a regular workplace risk assessment, an active shooter/armed assailant risk analysis is an invaluable tool in determining what gaps currently exist and how those can be mitigated moving forward.
“Similar to addressing any safety issues at your organization, you have to assess your risks,” says Hammer. “That includes examining specific threats that your organization may face as well as any vulnerabilities at your facility.”
A risk assessment should examine how an assailant could exploit those security vulnerabilities to cause harm to the site and its employees.
- How easily could someone access your site?
- What is the ease of movement throughout the site?
- What are your lockdown and video surveillance capabilities?
- What is the location of entry/exit points and evacuation routes?
- What is the security presence on-site?
- What notification procedures are in place if an event occurs?
As part of the vulnerability assessment, the technical report advises an organization to assess human resource policies in addition to the facility itself. For instance, the plan should include an examination of hiring practices, reporting processes, orientation programs and discipline and termination procedures and how those policies and procedures can help reduce the potential for workplace violence.
2. Safeguard Your Facility
Assessing your risks and vulnerabilities provides a better understanding of what it will take to make your facility more secure. Ask yourself, “How can I keep people from accessing my facility who I don’t what to be there?” Much like a business would try to prevent a burglar from entering its facility, you should have that same mind-set in thinking about how to prevent an active shooter or armed assailant from accessing the site.
Safeguards can be divided into two main categories: “hard” controls and “soft” controls. Hard controls include physical measures such as door locking systems, gates and security cameras. Soft controls are more administrative in nature and include employee screening, training employees to report suspicious behavior and about what action to take during evacuation and lockdown procedures.
“You need to develop human resources policies so that employees understand that they can report things without fear of repercussion,” says Hammer. “Encourage them to come forward if they are aware of potential threats so that they can be discussed and addressed.”
In terms of hard controls, Hammer stresses that even small- and medium-sized businesses with limited budgets can take steps to safeguard their facilities. From deadbolts on doors to badging or keycard systems and video surveillance, several low-cost options are available for monitoring and protecting a workplace.
3. Train Your Staff
To ensure that a plan is deployed effectively, everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities. Conducting training exercises helps employees think about what they would need to do in an active shooter/armed assailant situation and familiarizes them with the procedures in place to help protect their safety.
Training can take many forms, including:
- Tabletop exercises. These drills aim to evaluate an organization’s written plan and identify areas of improvement. They are also designed to assess the organization’s ability to effectively implement its response plan in relation to a given scenario.
- Communication exercises. Communication is the first area to break down in many active shooter/armed assailant situations. It’s important to determine who will be responsible for internal communication, who will speak with outside agencies, and who will communicate with those affected by the incidents and the media.
- Tactical exercises. Tactical drills enable you to practice a specific portion of the plan in order to simulate that scenario. For example, if the facility has lockdown capabilities, a tactical exercise could focus on what is required during a lockdown.
- Full-scale exercises. These drills are designed to simulate, as close as possible, an actual incident to test the entire emergency response system. This includes both internal response and that of responding agencies. The technical report notes that full-scale exercises should only be conducted once the other exercises have worked out the flaws in your emergency response protocols.
4. Coordinate With Responding Agencies
Effectively addressing an active shooter or armed assailant incident goes beyond internal response. External resources will be required to deal with the threat, help treat any injuries or document fatalities. Therefore, it is crucial to coordinate with external responding agencies.
Inviting local police, fire departments and first responders to your site can help you build relationships with those agencies and help them become familiar with your facility. The more acquainted police officers and first responders are with your workplace, the better prepared they will be to respond in an emergency.
Furthermore, having an open exchange of information and ideas will help you become familiar with the capabilities of first responders, and vice versa. Responding agencies can offer suggestions for improving security at your site as well as strengthening your overall response plan.
5. Handle Post-Incident Issues
In the aftermath of an active shooter or armed assailant incident, there is still more work to be done. An organization must ensure that employees get the attention they need, including any counseling to help them cope with what they’ve experienced.
Along with meeting personnel needs, the organization will want to do everything it can to ensure that the impact on business operations is minimized. Developing a business continuity plan as an element of an active shooter/armed assailant response can help limit any interruptions of business operations.
When you develop this plan, you should recognize that the facility may be shut down for a period of time after an incident while law enforcement processes the crime scene. In such a case, the business should be prepared to shift operations to another site to continue to meet business demands.
Beyond developing a business continuity plan, it’s also important to continually examine and assess your response plan. As with striving to improve safety and business performance, an organization should always look for ways to expand and enhance its response plan to address any gaps in security and put in place both administrative and physical controls that will help save lives.
“Anytime you change processes or the makeup of your facility, you should reevaluate your plan,” says Hammer. “Reevaluation allows you to build a plan that is specific to your facility and refine it so that it’s as good as it can be.”
Listen to our three-part podcast with TR-Z590.5 chair Brian Hammer for further insights on the steps you can take to prevent an active shooter from entering your facility and what to do in the event of an incident.
Preparing for an Active Shooter Situation