Crisis Wasn’t Averted – The Active Shooter at Your Doorstep

This is the third blog in a four-part series focused on the analysis of an active shooter prevention program. This post concentrates on response strategies for employees, security personnel and law enforcement.

It is in our nature as security professionals to plan and prepare to mitigate an eventuality. But sometimes, with the best possible planning, a crisis still occurs. Whether it resulted through external targeting from a terrorist cell or a domestic violence dispute in the workplace that turned deadly, you are now faced with an active shooter inside your workplace. While much of what we must consider here should be the result of diligent efforts in planning and preparation, let’s just think about them in the context of the moment and whether our planning efforts considered the realities of the situation.

Various acronyms have been put in play to create a semblance of order to the decision making for an individual in conflict. This is a good approach to ensure people in distress don’t have to address complicated processes for their own survival. You either “Run Hide Fight” or follow other models such as “Run Hide Tell” in the United Kingdom or “Alert” on college campuses in the United States.

These acronyms however are simple summaries of a much more complex problem. Is there a technique to running? Do I zig and zag? Do I collect my phone first? Where should I hide? Under my desk or in a designated shelter? How long will I have to hide for? Questions posed by students in active shooter prevention training sessions are extensive and to instill confidence, presenters guiding such a program should have carefully considered responses well ahead of time.

When we start analyzing some of the statistics in active shooter events we quickly recognize that much of the carnage occurs before law enforcement has the chance to arrive. In fact, within the FBI’s study of active shooter incidents from 2000-2013, 60% of the shootings ended before law enforcement was on the scene. Law enforcement agencies in the United States suggest their average on-the-scene response time is 12.5 minutes but many have active shooter response policies discourage solo entry into a hot scene, so we can add a few more minutes to that window. So, let’s face the reality that law enforcement may not respond until after the attacker has killed several people. According to the March 2014 report entitled The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents published by the Police Executive Research Forum, in just under 50% of active shooter cases the attacker either left, committed suicide, was shot by civilians or subdued by civilians. This is the reality for many assaults, but are we communicating this and devising our planning based on the statistics? Or are we relying on law enforcement response as the solution? What stop gaps could a company consider to improve the likelihood of attack survivability? I recommend that programs consider:

  • Designating shelter in spaces that are truly safe and not just the coffee room
  • Offering self-defense training to all employees as part of a healthy living program, while also building confidence in their own ability to be responsible for their safety
  • Incorporating decision making training into employee development programs that not only makes employees more empowered to take risks and be creative, but may also cultivate instinctual responses to crisis
  • Making violence prevention training mandatory for all employees
  • Confronting the reality that bad things happen to good people and just like insurance policies, an investment in prevention is critical

After addressing an actionable plan for employees, now it is time to consider the first responders (internal security team and/or law enforcement) that can help in an active shooter crisis. Recognizing their limitations is certainly a good first step though if your security force is really just a concierge service in disguise, they will do little beyond observe and report and perhaps help coordinate the evacuation of hundreds of panicked personnel. What have you done to prepare them? Most of the companies I have assessed have never even done a tabletop exercise with their uniformed guard force much less a role-playing exercise to test their capabilities.

If your uniformed guard force is armed, are you expecting them to engage the attacker, secure their position or just help with evacuation? Maybe now is a good time to have that discussion, before a security officer that only has to shoot a 70% or higher on the state course of fire decides they can take out a gunman with a carbine.

Presumably part of your solution includes a response from law enforcement, but what have you done to make them as effective as possible versus responding too late? It is important to confirm they are familiar with how you have layered security, where shelter in place locations are or if other armed personnel are in the building. The list could go on, but simply by engaging with leadership within the law enforcement agency and providing them with comprehensive information can help to guarantee they shave off a few minutes of time to get to the attacker, possibly saving many lives.

Point is, we have a long, long road ahead of us just within the context of response to make sure our facilities and personnel are truly able to survive. As part of the final blog in this series, I will address the unfortunate aspect of an active shooter crisis – recovery from an attack.

About Chuck Tobin

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