Workplace Violence: Be Prepared with Active Shooter Training
News reports are continuously filled with mentions of active shooters or mass killings. Recent incidents include the VTA shooting in San Jose, the mass shooting at a club in Miami, the situation at King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, and the list goes on and on.
The statistics are startling. In just 2019, the FBI designated 28 shootings in 16 states as active shooter incidents. The report also found:
97 people were killed, including two law enforcement officers
150 people were wounded in these events, including 15 law enforcement officers
5 of the shooters committed suicide at the scene police killed nine of the shooters and a citizen killed one
15 suspected active shooters were apprehended by the police
Out of the 30 reported shooters: 29 were male and one was female
12 of the 28 incidents occurred in areas of commerce, such as retail shops, restaurants, bars and offices
What is an Active Shooter Incident?
The FBI has defined an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” In most cases, active shooters use one or more types of firearm(s) and have no pattern or method to their selection of victims. These situations can evolve quickly, with many incidents being over within 10 to 15 minutes before first responders even arrive on the scene. However, some incidents continue until stopped by law enforcement, suicide or an intervention by the victims. The majority of attackers are insiders and are familiar with their surroundings.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.” It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. Specific jobs, such as delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, customer service representatives, or law enforcement, can have a higher stress level of stress, leading to a potential increase in workplace violence.
Matt Zender, SVP of Worker's Compensation Strategy at AmTrust explains further, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants, grocery stores and essential businesses took a harder hit. They had, and still have, a higher potential of workplace violence. They have overworked employees and customers who are not happy because of with health and workplace safety mandates. A lot of the other industries, everybody went home. Overall crime during COVID-19 went down, but homicide related to stress went up.”
There is no single element that can predict a violent act, but when a combination of factors comes together, there can be an increased risk of violence. Therefore, organizations must have clear policies and procedures stating that violence in the workplace will not be tolerated, and there will be severe consequences for those who commit it.
Workplace Active Shooter Warning Signs
Active shooter situations are unpredictable, but there can be warning signs to watch out for that can mitigate the risk of a future attack and ensure the safety of those around you. An active shooter in a workplace can be a current or former employee or their acquaintances. Employers and co-workers should be trained to look for behaviors that could indicate potential violence, including:
Increasingly erratic, unsafe, or aggressive behaviors and severe mood swings
Illegal drug and alcohol abuse
Changes in performance at work
Violations of company policies
Overreaction to changes in work policies or procedures
Noticeable decrease in attention to hygiene and appearance
Sudden and dramatic changes in home life or personality
Observable grievances and making statements of retribution
Increased unsolicited comments about weapons and violent crimes
Empathy with individuals committing violence
Active Shooter Training
Ensure your business is prepared for an active shooter event by recognizing the potential workplace violence indicators, performing a security survey of your facility, conducting employee training, and developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). In addition, training your staff for an active shooter situation can help prepare them to respond and help minimize the potential loss of life.
Jeff Corder, VP of Loss Control at AmTrust shares the importance of active shooter training, “As restrictions are lifted, remote workers are returning and customer numbers are increasing, making it all the more important to protect against the risk of violence in the workplace by identifying stressors. The pre-pandemic pressures and aggravations are still there. Employers need to understand and anticipate these challenges and train their staff to understand what do if a situation becomes escalated.”
Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
An EAP should have input from various departments, including human resources, the training team, facility operators, property managers and local law enforcement and/or emergency responders. The Department of Homeland Security recommends that the EAP should have the following:
A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies
An evacuation policy and procedure
Emergency escape procedures, route assignments including floor plans and safe areas
Contact Information for local law enforcement and area hospitals
Creating an emergency notification system
Active Shooter Training Exercises
Active shooter training exercises are an effective way for employees to understand how to respond in an active shooter situation. Local law enforcement teams are an excellent resource for developing these types of exercises. The training exercise should include:
How to recognize the sound of gunshots
How to react when gunshots are heard or when a shooting is witnessed
How and where to evacuate or if that is not possible, where and how to hide or act against the shooter
When it is safe to call 911
How to adopt a survival mindset during the crisis
Knowing your environment and possible dangers at all times
Conduct periodic background checks on all staff assigned to critical or sensitive areas
Set up a credential system that indicates the areas of access and purpose of activity for all employees and visitors at the office or worksite
Issue special identification badges to visitors, contractors, cleaning crews, vendors and temporary employees
Require that identification badges be displayed at all times and verified to gain access to the building
Collect all badges when visits are complete
Ensure your facility has at least two evacuation routes
Post signage throughout the worksite detailing emergency entry and exit points, first-aid stations, and shelter locations
Review past active shooter events at other locations to determine issues and benefits and include them in your EAP
What Should You Do During an Active Shooter Attack?
During an active shooter event, employees and managers need to be both mentally and physically able to deal with the situation to protect their own life and the lives of others. A manager should stay calm, lock and barricade the doors, and evacuate all personnel to a safe area via a pre-planned safe route. The three preferred options to an active shooter situation in order of response are: run, hide and fight.
Running or escaping is the first response option for an active shooter in your workplace or vicinity. Quickly determine the most reasonable and accessible escape path to exit the premises. Leave your belongings behind and keep your hands visible at all times. Help others escape if possible and prevent others from entering the area where the active shooter may be located.
If no rapid escape route is possible, seek cover behind any available object that eliminates a direct line of sight from the shooter. Block any entry to your hiding place with heavy furniture and lock the doors. However, try not to restrict your options for movement out of your hiding area. Remain quiet and make sure that your cell phone is on silent mode. Stay in place until law enforcement arrives.
The last and final option is to fight. Fighting should only be a last resort and only attempted when your life is in imminent danger. For this type of response, it is critical to fully commit to your actions to incapacitate the active shooter by acting with physical aggression. Yell as loud as possible, improvise weapons and utilize any object to throw at and harm the shooter.
Once it is safe to do so, call 911. Remain alert for potential additional attacks and assist others if you can. Give the 911 operator or law enforcement the following information:
Location of the victims and the active shooter
Number of shooters, if more than one
Physical description of shooter/s
Number and type of weapons held by the shooter/s
Number of potential victims at the location
Law Enforcement Arrival
When they arrive on the scene, law enforcement's immediate purpose is to stop the active shooter and eliminate any additional threats. Then, they will proceed directly to the area where the last shots were heard. The secondary team will assess injuries and direct the survivors to a safe location where witnesses can be identified and questioned, and the situation can be put under control.
Active shooter survivors and victims should remain calm, put down any items, raise their hands and spread fingers, avoid making any quick movements, pointing, screaming or yelling and heed the directions of the first responders. Do not leave the safe area until instructed by law enforcement.
Post Active Shooter Event Actions
After the active shooter is no longer a threat and the situation is under control, managers and human resources should perform post-event assessment activities, including:
Account for all individuals that are in the safe area to determine who, if anyone, is missing or potentially injured Determine how to notify family members affected by the shooting, including notification of casualties
Assess the psychological state of individuals at the scene, and refer them to health care specialists as needed
Analyze the active shooter situation and create an after-action report
Update your business's EAP based on the analysis and lessons learned
Disclaimer: WorkersCompensation.com publishes independently generated writings from a variety of workers' compensation industry stakeholders. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WorkersCompensation.com.