According to the FBI, in 2014 and 2015 alone, a total of 40 active shooter incidents occurred in the United States. While the average number of incidents per year is increasing, the statistical risk of being affected by an active shooter is still relatively low for any given employer.
To employees, however, the terrifying nature of such a threat tends to make it seem much more immediate. Taking steps toward preventing such situations and giving employees the tools to protect themselves should an incident occur can lessen individual employee anxiety and keep employees safe in the event that an active shooter does enter the workplace.
Unfortunately, many active shooters are outsiders, so a company that falls victim to an attack may not have any warning signs that such a threat is coming. However, employees can also be the perpetrators, and those individuals may exhibit warning signs of their intentions to harm other people.
One of the most important things employers can do is to maintain and strictly enforce a policy against workplace violence which includes a process for reporting and addressing any indication of violence. Employees who bully, intimidate, or threaten others should definitely be addressed for their actions. Subtler signs of possible violence by an employee should also be noted. These include:
- An increase in frustration or picking fights
- An obsession with weapons
- A decline in health or hygiene habits
- An increase in alcohol or drug use
- Signs of depression or thoughts of suicide
Employees and employers alike must resist the temptation to ignore or diminish the seriousness of potential signs of violence. Think of addressing such conduct as a way to help employees get help before a situation possibly escalates into something much more serious.
Employers may also want to consider how easily its facilities can be accessed by outsiders. Simple security measures like limited access entrances can help keep active shooters out.
Give employees the tools to protect themselves.
Most active shooter situations last just minutes. In fact, they're over so quickly that, according to the FBI's 2014 report, about 67 percent of incidents ended before law enforcement arrived. Employees have to be prepared to protect themselves by following the Run, Hide, and Fight plan.
In the event of an active shooter, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that individuals consider these three steps, in order. Employees should be instructed to first consider whether they can run. If there is an accessible escape path, evacuating is the best choice. Employees should be reminded to always be aware of their surroundings while at work, noting accessible exits. Employees should leave belongings behind and evacuate whether others agree to follow or not.
Where an employee is unable to safely evacuate, the next option is to locate a place to hide that puts him or her out of the shooter's view. Once hidden, employees should lock any doors and blockade them with heavy furniture. Cell phones should be silenced, lights should be turned off, and employees should be out of view from any windows.
When the first two strategies aren't options, employees may have no choice but to fight back against an active shooter. When this is the only option, employees should identify any improvised weapons. Items like fire extinguishers, shovels, scissors, or even a pot of hot coffee can help incapacitate a shooter.
Most employees will never have to use the strategies used in active shooter training, but educating them about strategies in active shooter situations can help calm employees' fears, empowering them to act in case such a situation should occur in their workplace. Of course, in the unlikely event that an active shooter situation does occur, those same preparations could save lives.