Active shooter scenarios are an uncomfortable topic. No one wants to talk about what would happen if a shooter entered the workplace. No matter how difficult it may be to talk about it, though, it’s necessary for today’s workplace.
Between 2000 and 2018, there were 277 active shooter incidents, 121 of which involved a place of commerce. Hopefully, your workplace will never experience one, but you can’t take that risk. You need to have a plan of action should it occur.
Your workplace likely has plans for emergencies like fires, but you may not have an active shooter plan. If you don’t know where to start, follow this guide to create a strategy to keep you and your employees safe.
The first step in creating an active shooter safety plan is preparation. What your strategy ends up looking like depends on your specific situation. Before you start crafting a course of action, you need to take some variables into account.
Ask yourself these questions to better understand the safety of your environment:
- Is your workplace on the ground floor, or is it on an upper level?
- Is your workplace in a crowded area?
- How many entry points are there in your building?
- How many emergency exits does your building have?
- Are there any rooms people can hide in?
- Do you have any security systems like cameras or guard posts?
- How close are you to any emergency services?
By answering questions like these, you’ll get an idea of what steps your plan should include. Depending on your building’s layout, you may want to designate some exits as first choices over others. If all of your rooms have large windows, hiding in the building may not be a viable option.
The preparation phase should also include considering contingency plans. If you work in an area prone to adverse weather, you may need a Plan B in case environmental factors become an issue. If you don’t have multiple versions of an emergency plan, you’re not fully prepared.
As part of the preparation, you may want to establish a team to handle emergency planning. A designated group of responsible employees could help you create the most foolproof strategy possible. If you can contact emergency personnel like police officers to help you, then do so.
After you’ve gathered the necessary information, it’s time to create the plan itself. While each workplace’s strategy will vary depending on their environment, there are a few basic principles that always apply. Security experts recommend that active shooter plans follow a “run, hide, fight” structure.
Running, hiding and fighting are your three options when it comes to an active shooter scenario. Your first choice should always be to run if possible, followed by hiding. You should only fight back as a last resort, but you should plan for it regardless.
Generally speaking, the safest response to an active shooter is to evacuate. Safe evacuation routes should be the primary focus of your emergency response plan. Consider all of the entryways and exits in your building to determine the best way to escape.
Plan an evacuation route for every way a shooter could enter your building. If they come in one door, exit through the path furthest away from it. Make sure all of your employees know these exits and when to take them by heart.
Evacuation may not always be an option. If you can’t safely exit the building, you need a plan to hide within it. In this scenario, hiding includes both staying out of sight and earshot, as well as preventing entry.
Rooms with assets like fewer windows and thicker walls are ideal for this situation. Designate a few rooms in the building as hiding places and establish protocols for securing them. These include things like locking doors, barricading entryways and making sure everyone silences their phones.
Ideally, you’ll never have to fight an active shooter, but you may not be able to avoid doing so. As part of your safety plan, include a strategy for fighting back. If a shooter enters the room, attack fast and attack aggressively.
Yelling can disorient the attacker and give you a fighting chance. Employees can use objects like books and computers as improvised weapons, throwing them at the assailant. If you’re at a high enough risk of this scenario, you may also consider using firearms.
People interested solely in self-defense make up 26% of gun owners, so it’s not uncommon to keep one in case of emergency. If you do decide to keep a firearm, be sure you know how to carry, store and use it safely. Make sure you follow all local gun laws and take gun safety training courses. Keep it in a safe, and don’t give out the location. There are even some out there that you can keep track of on your smartphone for extra piece of mind.
Make sure you include guidelines for how to report the situation, both to employees and authorities. Create a specific and clear set of phrases for warning employees about a shooter and updates on the circumstances. One of the best ways to communicate in these scenarios is with a messaging system, to maximize efficiency and stay silent.
To minimize damage, you need to contact the authorities as soon as you learn of an active shooter. Calling 911 is the best way to do this, but if you have to keep quiet, you can text 911 in some areas. Always listen to 911 operators carefully and follow their instructions to the letter.
After you’ve developed a safety strategy, you need to make sure employees know it. It’s not enough to hold one meeting and then be done with it. You should go over the plan with your employees at least once a year and ask if anyone has questions.
On top of these regular meetings, you should hold active shooter drills occasionally. To design and implement these drills, reach out to local law enforcement agencies for help. They’ll have the expertise to make your training as helpful as possible.
Staying Safe in an Emergency
If you need further assistance, you can use Homeland Security’s Emergency Action Plan Guide to create your strategy. Having a thorough active shooter response plan is an indispensable asset. You may never need it, but that chance isn’t worth risking your life or the lives of your employees.
You can never be sure when these kinds of situations will arise. You can’t hesitate to design an emergency action plan because you don’t know when you might need it. It may be uncomfortable, but it can save lives.