Active shooter incidents have become increasingly common in the last several years. In 2021, the FBI classified 61 shootings as active shooter incidents. According to FBI research, this number is up 52.5% from 2020 and 96.8% from 2017. Active shooter incidents can occur in any setting, with a significant number of incidents occurring in the workplace.
According to the FBI’s “Active Shooter Study: Quick Reference Guide,” 27.5% of active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 occurred in businesses open to pedestrian traffic, and 14.3% occurred in businesses closed to pedestrian traffic. Furthermore, 24% of active shooter incidents occurred in the education setting, 10% in the government setting, and 4% in the healthcare setting. These statistics demonstrate that no workplace is immune to gun violence and that all must be prepared to counter an active shooter.
While all active shooter incidents are unique, many occur very quickly. In fact, according to the FBI, 70% of active shooter events occur within five minutes or less, with over 60% ending before law enforcement personnel arrive on scene. Because of this, a quick and decisive civilian response is often key to minimizing casualties. All employers should address active shooter incidents in their workplace violence prevention and response plans and should provide active shooter training to all employees.
This view is emphasized in Security Magazine’s article, “Active shooter preparedness is critical for employee safety,” by William Flynn. While some employers may argue that the likelihood of an active shooter situation occurring in their workplace is too low to warrant training, the article states, “Companies need to look beyond the possibility or likelihood of an active shooter incident when assessing risk. The real measure of risk is not simply the probability of an event, but a combination of probability, vulnerability to attack, and the consequences an attack could have on your employees, customers, reputation and bottom line.” In other words, the risks associated with an active shooter event is too high to ignore.
Experts recommend choosing a training program that meets the needs of your specific workplace. Furthermore, training should come from a reputable source that incorporates best practices laid out by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Flynn writes, “A good training program will teach employees how to respond quickly and decisively in the event of an active shooter. It will also stress the importance of situational awareness and understanding behavioral anomalies. This includes the well-known “Run. Hide. Fight.” methodology introduced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.” The following will introduce and summarize key strategies and information to include in a high-quality active shooter prevention and response plan.
Know the Warning Signs
While there is no definitive profile of an active shooter, certain characteristics serve as warning signs that an individual may act violently. The Department of Homeland Security’s publication, “Active Shooter – How to Respond,” states, “Employees typically do not just ‘snap,’ but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated.” Key indicators of potentially violent behavior defined by the Department of Homeland security include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
- Depression or withdrawal
- Repeated violations of company policies
- Increased severe mood swings
- Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
- Suicidal ideation
- Behavior which is suspect of paranoia
- Talk of previous incidents of violence
- Empathy with individuals committing violence
- Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons, and violent crimes
The Department of Homeland Security advises that employees alert their human resources department if they believe that an employee or coworker exhibits indicators of potential violence.
What to Do During an Active Shooter Incident
Once again, training is key to minimizing casualties in the event of an active shooter incident. The FBI’s publication, “Developing Emergency Operations Plans: A Guide for Businesses,” states, “When an active shooter incident occurs, civilians will look to authority figures for guidance. They will not make a distinction between law enforcement officers or other uniformed personnel who are employees. All employees should receive basic training in civilian techniques on responding to active shooter events using the Run. Hide. Fight. Model.” Proper training not only empowers employees to protect themselves, but also others involved in the situation. The Run. Hide. Fight. Model lays out a series of response options during an active shooter incident.
The order of this model is important. When assessing the situation, civilians should first consider any opportunity to flee the location of the shooting. If running from the situation is not an option, individuals should find a safe and secure place to hide. Finally, if running or hiding is not an option, individuals should attempt to take down the shooter by any means necessary. Each of these options are summarized by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security as follows:
Visualize possible escape routes and consider the known or potential location of the active shooter. If running is a viable option, you should run out of and far away from the building. When running away from an active shooter incident, it is important to leave personal belongings behind, avoid escalators and elevators, and choose a rout that provides cover and concealment from the shooter. If possible, and once it is safe to do so, call 911 and let someone know that you are safe.
If running is not a viable option, find a safe and secure hiding place. If possible, hide in a room with thick walls, few windows, and a locking door. Turn off lights, remain silent, and silence cellphones and other devices that may make noise. Close and lock doors and windows, and barricade doors with heavy furniture. Ensure that your hiding spot is out of view from the hallway, and hide along the wall closest to the exit so that you can ambush or escape from the active shooter if they enter the room. Shelter in place until you are given an all clear by identifiable law enforcement.
If running and hiding are not viable options, and you are in imminent danger, the last option is to fight the active shooter. Consider what items in your environment can be used as a makeshift weapon to incapacitate the shooter. These items may include fire extinguishers, chairs, and other heavy items. When fighting the active shooter, the Department of Homeland Security advises individuals to act as aggressively as possible, throw items and improvise weapons, yell, and commit to one’s actions.
What to Expect from Police and other Emergency Response Personnel
Training should prepare employees to understand and react appropriately to the actions of first responders in the event of an active shooter. The Department of Homeland Security’s publication, “Active Shooter – How to Respond,” provides valuable insight into what to expect and how to respond once law enforcement arrives on scene. According to the publication, “The first officers to arrive to the scene will not stop to help injured persons. Expect rescue teams comprised of additional officers and emergency medical personnel to follow the initial officers. These recue teams will treat and remove any injured persons.”
Remember that the number one priority of first responders will be to locate and stop the active shooter. It is important to act in a manner that aides first responders in this mission. Do not make quick movements towards officers, scream or yell, or ask for help. Do put down anything you are holding, raise your hands, and keep your hands visible so that officers can quickly determine that you are not a threat. The Department of Homeland Security explains that in the aftermath of an active shooter incident, rescue teams may ask bystanders to assist in removing injured individuals from the scene of the shooting. Furthermore, individuals who are present during an active shooter incident will likely be held in a safe location by law enforcement until the situation is controlled and all witnesses have been questioned.
Active shooter incidents have become increasingly common in recent years. Research indicates that these incidents occur in a variety of settings, many of which are workplaces. Given the catastrophic nature of active shooter events, it is imperative that all employers provide comprehensive active shooter prevention and response training. Doing so empowers employees to act quickly and decisively to protect themselves and others.
Want to know more about general safety training in the workplace? See our article here.