The number of incidents involving active shooters has steadily increased over the last 15 years. In 2000, there was one active shooter incident, and in 2015 there were 20. According to the FBI, the largest number of active shooter incidents occur in a business setting, following by schools, open spaces and non-military government property.
The FBI defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area such as parks, schools, houses of worship, medical facilities, transportation centers, workplaces and other public gathering sites.
There are three options when faced with an active shooter situation: run, hide or fight, and survival depends on having a plan for each of these options.
If you can get out, do it. Always try to escape and evacuate, and don’t let others sow you down with their indecision. Those fleeing should leave everything behind – purses, personal belongings and the like. The priority is to get out of harm’s way. It is also important to not allow others to walk into the danger zone and call 911 once evacuated to a safe area.
Looking for places to hide or ways to get out of a venue should become second nature in public spaces. The uncertainty of where to go or how to escape can mean the difference between life or death.
For guests, shoppers or workers who can’t get out to safety, the next best option may be to hide somewhere in the building. At the concert in Las Vegas, people hid behind cars and tables, and several people even hid in a beer truck to escape the shooter’s bullets.
Inside a shopping center or office building, it is important to silence cell phones to minimize the chances of being discovered. If possible, lock the doors to locations like an office or classroom. Hiding behind large objects can also help to provide some measure of protection from any gunfire. Try to remain quiet and calm.
Confronting the Shooter
Fighting is a last resort. For the shooting in Las Vegas, this was not an option for anyone other than responding law enforcement officers. It is important to consider and plan ahead for a variety of dangers. It is advised that the public always be aware of their surroundings and devise some sort of an exit plan in public spaces.
In an airport, for example, the most vulnerable places involve the shops, restaurants and other areas located before the TSA security checkpoint. The safest place will usually be the gate areas because travelers and their luggage have been searched and all individuals on that side have passed through the security checkpoints.
Training & Exercises
Preparing for an active shooter scenario involves the development of a workplace violence policy and plan, emergency response plans, training and exercises, as well as providing physical security onsite such as cameras, badged entry or even security guards.
As part of the workplace violence policy, the employer sets the standard for acceptable workplace behavior, affirms the company’s commitment to take action and provide a safe workplace for employees, and addresses not just physical violence, but also factors like threats, bullying, harassment and the possession of weapons.
Risk Management Strategies
An emergency response plan should be created for all hazards – fire, flooding, emergency evacuation, and active shooters to name just a few. A team involving staff from HR, training, security, the facility owner or operator, property managers and others should included in the design.
The plan should address:
- Methods for reporting different types of emergencies
- Evacuation policy & procedure
- Escape procedures and route assignments
- Contact information for mandatory point of contact information on local hospitals
- Emergency notification system – e.g., announcements, cellular systems, emails
Companies should also conduct a detailed physical security assessment. The goal of physical security is to deny unauthorized access and protect property, personnel and operations.
Employees can be a company’s best source of training because they can help identify vulnerabilities and solutions.
Questions to consider as part of the assessment include:
- How easy is it for people to access key personnel in your business?
- Who gets access in the company or to what buildings?
- What landscaping around the business prevents a clear line of sight of who’s around or entering the building?
- How do you control access after-hours?
- Are cameras available around the property?
A vital aspect of a holistic security strategy focuses on deterrence, prevention, mitigation and recovery. Physical security measures can include access and control systems, surveillance, an emergency notification system, first aid, and physical impediment tools which are designed to impede/prevent an active shooter from gaining access into office spaces.
The key to develop a plan that will prevent a shooter from gaining access and provide employees with the training to respond if a shooting event arises.
Additional resources on active shooter preparations are available from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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