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How to Prepare Your Business for an Active Shooter Situation

Posted On: February 18, 2020

How to Prepare Your Business for an Active Shooter Situation

Losing a loved one, a friend, or a co-worker to a random act of violence is unthinkable. Unfortunately, the events of recent years serve to remind us that we are not immune to these types of tragedies in the workplace. 

Workplace violence may involve someone armed with a knife, bat, or any other weapon. But, by far the most well-publicized are workplace shootings involving multiple deaths and injuries. How common are workplace shootings? Between 2006 and 2010, there were an average of 551 homicides per year in the workplace; the majority were shooting victims, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And these numbers have risen significantly in recent years.

These types of incidents are often referred to as active shooter events.

An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and other populated area. In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly.
-FEMA Emergency Management Institute

Educating Staff for an Active Shooter Situation

An active shooter incident can happen anywhere, anytime, for any reason. To best prepare for an active shooter situation at work, create an emergency action plan (EAP) and conduct company-wide education exercises.

Emergency Action Plan

Your EAP will prepare you and your staff to respond effectively and help minimize loss of life. A lack of preparedness in responding effectively to an active shooter can have disastrous consequences.

An emergency action plan addresses critical policies and procedures, for reporting emergencies and evacuation of the premises. Also, the EAP specifies responsibilities and key contact information. The EAP should also include an emergency notification system. Ensure that your staff familiarizes themselves with your EAP as well as EAPs of any facility or building they regularly visit during working hours.

  • Ensure that each facility has at least two evacuation routes.

  • Clearly post and mark evacuation routes in conspicuous locations throughout each facility.

  • Ensure that all necessary staff have access and keys.

  • Conduct training exercises.

  • Include local law enforcement and first responders during training exercises.

Educated to Respond

After the emergency action plan is in place, your staff should be educated in responding to active shooter situations. They will be better prepared to respond to an active shooter incident and other emergencies. Include local law enforcement and first responders when possible to enhance your active shooter education.

Experts recommend conducting drills and exercises of an emergency action plan at least once a year. Training should cover:

  • Adopting the survival mindset during times of crisis

  • Run, Hide, Fight

  • Calling 911

  • How to react when law enforcement arrives

The most effective way to educate your employees to respond to an active shooter situation is to conduct mock active shooter training exercises. Encourage law enforcement, emergency responders, SWAT teams, canine teams, and bomb squads to train for an active shooter scenario at your location.

Employees should be educated in recognizing the sound of gunshots and reacting quickly when gunshots are heard or when a shooting is witnessed.

After any education exercises, review what went well and what did not. Use this reflection as an opportunity to better prepare for an active shooter situation. For example, in a mock active shooter scenario, shooting occurred in one room of a warehouse. Employees discovered that there was only one way in and out. Because of a lack of a secondary evacuation route, the employees in that room were cornered by the active shooter.

Facility Manager Responsibilities

Your facility manager or managers should be given the important role of being responsible for the following:

  • Implement and maintain access controls (e.g., keys and security system pass codes).

  • Distribute critical items to appropriate managers and employees, including floor plans, keys, and facility personnel lists and phone numbers.

  • Coordinate with the facility’s security department to ensure the physical security of the location.

  • Assemble crisis kits containing radios, floors plans, staff rosters and emergency contact numbers, first-aid kits, and flashlights.

  • Place removable floor plans near entrances and exits for emergency responders.

  • Activate the emergency notification system when an emergency situation occurs.

Recognizing Potential Workplace Violence

Current or former employees typically do not become violent unexpectedly. Instead, they display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. For example, days before the office shooting at a software company, the shooter angrily confronted management over personal financial issues. A few days later, the shooter asked two of his coworkers to sign his will. One member of payroll told her family that his behavior frightened her.

If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated. Indicators of potentially violent behavior by an employee may include:

  • Depression or withdrawal

  • Repeated violations of company policies

  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation

  • Behavior that may suggest paranoia, such as saying “everybody is against me.”

  • Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace

  • Talk of severe financial problems

  • Talk of previous incidents of violence

Intuitive managers and coworkers may notice characteristics of potentially violent behavior in an employee. Alert your human resources department if you believe an employee or coworker exhibits potentially violent behavior. Regardless of the type of workplace violence, the chances for prevention improve with increased awareness of potential warning signs and rapid response to a problem.

Responding to an Active Shooter Situation

A natural reaction during shooting events is to be afraid, anxious, or even disbelieve what is happening. Gunfire, screaming, crying, alarms, and explosions can add to the confusion. People often feel helpless and do nothing or panic and make decisions that cost them their lives.

Many experts note that doing anything is better than doing nothing in an active shooter situation. It’s up to each individual to respond effectively to survive a workplace shooting.

The 911 Call

You cannot rely on law enforcement to save you in an active shooter situation; police typically aren’t on the scene until the shooting is well underway -- or over. Active shooter situations evolve too quickly for police to arrive on the scene, locate the threatening person, and secure the area.

The average response time for first responders is between five and eight minutes after a 911 call. The FBI noted that 69 percent lasted five minutes or less; 60 percent of active shooter incidents end before police arrive.

It will be up to you to think and act quickly to survive a workplace shooting. If you suspect danger such as a workplace shooting, as soon as it is safe to do so, call to alert first responders by contacting 911. Relay as clear and accurate information as possible. The dispatcher may request information such as your location, the number of people with you, the number of suspects and what they’re wearing, types of weapons involved, the number of shots fired, any injured persons and/or hostages.

Run, Hide, Fight

In an active shooter situation, you must be able to quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your life. Victims are usually chosen at random, and these situations evolve quickly, so hesitating to make decisions could mean the difference between life and death.

If you are in harm’s way, you will need to decide rapidly what the safest course of action is based on the scenario that is unfolding before you. Your options are to:

  • Run: If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate.

  • Hide: If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.

  • Fight: As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the active shooter.

When Law Enforcement Arrives

During an active shooter incident, law enforcement’s first goal is to find the shooter or shooters, subdue them, and secure the area. They are not there to help the injured or guide you to safety. Remain calm and follow instructions. Keep your hands visible at all times, and avoid pointing, screaming, yelling, and quick movements toward officers. Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, because they will be focused on finding and incapacitating the shooter.

Do not ask officers for help with injuries while you are being evacuated from the scene. Emergency medical personnel will be waiting in a safe area to provide assistance.  

Managing Consequences of an Active Shooter Situation

After the active shooter has been incapacitated and is no longer a threat, your human resources and/or management group should account for all individuals to determine if anyone is missing or injured; determine how families of affected individuals are to be notified; assess the psychological state of everyone on the scene to determine if there is need for referral to health care specialists; and identify and fill critical personnel or operational gaps that occur as a result of the incident.

It is also important to analyze the situation and create an after-action report. The analysis and information in this report will:

  • Serve as documentation for response activities.

  • Identify successes and failures that occurred during the event.

  • Provide an analysis of the effectiveness of your emergency action plan.

  • Help you improve your EAP.

Online Active Shooter Course

VGM Insurance’s partner, VGMU, offers a comprehensive catalog of online learning programs focused on key industry topics and trends. Their course “Active Shooter: What You Can Do” is a one-hour program that gives employees the basic information they need in an active shooter situation, no matter where they are. It is included with a VGMU subscription or as a standalone course through the online store


Additional Resources

Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event” video produced by city of Houston, Texas, depicts an active shooter situation in an office environment.

MESH Coalition video “Responding to an Active Shooter in a Healthcare Setting” depicts Run. Hide. Fight. in a hospital setting.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security video, “Active Shooter Situation: Options for Consideration.”

What Would You Do?” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office workplace violence training and video.

Active Shooter Planning and Response” includes detailed step-by-step guidance to hospitals and other health care facilities. Updated in January 2017, this 115-page document also includes incident statistics, describes five response plans, and details law enforcement’s response.


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