How to Plan for an Active Shooter in the Workplace

How can you plan for an active shooter in the workplace? Most businesses have policies in place outlining responses to different types of crises. Every business follows fire codes and many have a response plan in place for critical incidents such as a bomb threat.

The same concept of writing policies, creating a plan, training staff, and then practicing these procedures does not apply as it should regarding an armed or violent intruder, or a disgruntled employee. Building a plan for this type of event is critical to ward off an active shooter attack in the workplace.

5 Important Concepts for Planning for an Active Shooter in the Workplace 

(Click to read the full article: Preparing for the Lone Wolf Attack: The Building Blocks of Planning for an Active Shooter in the Workplace published in the Preferred News newsletter sponsored by Public Risk Underwriters of Florida)

  1. Establish non-emergency lockdown procedures. A non-emergency lockdown is implemented when there is a known threat off-site, but close to the facility. An example of a non-emergency lockdown would be when police establish a perimeter close to the facility and search for an armed suspect. The facility will secure all exterior doors and fencing with the intention to keep the problem out. Business will be as usual on the inside, but nobody will be able to enter the facility. The employer’s job is to ensure the facility is secured from the outside and that layers of resistance are in place to block a potential intruder from entering the interior of the site. A designated person should call the police to gain information as to the nature of the incident and how it may affect their business. The designated caller should tell the operator that the facility is on lockdown and to request notification for when the area is clear. Once the incident has been cleared or deemed safe by law enforcement, the facility will go back to normal. Employees should be kept abreast with updates. Being in a non-emergency lockdown for a potential threat off-site, puts the workplace at an advantage in the event the facility moves to an emergency lockdown.
  2. Establish emergency lockdown procedures. An emergency lockdown is described as an unwanted intruder on site or within the workplace. Keep in mind that this threat is mobile. In most cases, people are told to disengage and report the incident to law enforcement as quickly as possible. Contacting law enforcement is crucial, and equally important is carrying out a plan while waiting for police to arrive. Instead of implementing layers of resistance on the outside, the mindset needs to switch to creating resistance on the inside. Proper communication, through an intercom system or alarm system, must be activated to notify all staff that they are in an emergency lockdown and discourage the threat from executing their plan. Once the threat is restricted from access to others this should cause the threat to leave or be located by law enforcement. It is important to note that this plan should be implemented in every emergency lockdown situation- whether it is known that the intruder is armed or not. If no weapon is visible, it cannot be ruled out that a weapon is not concealed. A disgruntled customer, client, or former employee should be taken seriously because the intention is unknown.
  3. During an emergency lockdown, expand upon the Run. Hide. Fight. model. Run. Hide. Fight appears self-explanatory and simple, but I recommend further, in-depth explanation and training.
    • Where and when do I RUN? If the decision to “Run” is made, the response should be to evade or evacuate. The action shall not be to blindly “Run” from the threat, but to move when there is knowledge where the threat is located. If the employee is made aware that the threat is moving through the interior of the business, but there are no auditory sounds of gunfire, I would hesitate evacuating from my current area because there is no certainty where the threat is located. However, if there is stimulus through gunfire or one can physically see the threat, I would be more inclined to evacuate or evade to safety. Employees should be cognizant of any avenue of escape. Staff should spend time taking internal “field trips” of the work space to locate all fire exits and additional doors within offices that lead elsewhere. People are creatures of habit and under stress resort back to training or previous experiences; therefore, with simply learning the layout of the facility, employees can recognize other avenues of escape.
    • How and where do I HIDE? Unfortunately, evacuation may not feasible for all employees. In choosing to “Hide,” there should be a clear understanding of the choices that are made when selecting a location to hide and the material that is chosen to hide behind. When selecting a location to hide, it would be most beneficial to access areas less known or regularly travelled. Adjoining rooms that bring one deeper into the facility and further away from the threat is a better option than hiding under a desk. Once the location has been chosen, shielding oneself behind the proper material for “cover” is imperative. Cover is something that can stop bullets from penetrating through it. An example of cover is concrete block or a potentially a filing cabinet filled with papers. If cover cannot be located, then concealment would be the next option. Concealment only affords the benefit of stealth and it should be noted that bullets will penetrate through material that only provides concealment. Examples of concealment are dry wall, most doors, desks, tables, and closets. If concealment is the only option available, then locate a closet or material that conceals all the way around the body. Hiding under a table is not a good choice of concealment because most tables have visual openings that allow the threat to see one from different angles.
    • How can I FIGHT? Finally, if the option is to “Fight,” then employees need to know how to contest with the threat by establishing layers of resistance. A first potential layer is locking the door. Simply securing the door allows staff time to react to the situation and gives an indication if the threat is trying to get into the room. It should be noted that a locked door is sometimes all that is needed to win an active killer incident. The threat knows they have limited time to locate victims and it would be a waste of “time” to attempt to force their way into a room that may have nobody inside. If the threat decides to force their way through the locked door then a barricade, the second layer of resistance, will provide another wall to penetrate. The barricade could be built from desks, tables, chairs, or cabinets. Once the barricade is in place, lights need to be turned off, windows covered, and a weapon needs to be procured. A weapon of choice could be a sharp object, like scissors, or a blunt object, like a heavy trophy or bat. Once armed, understanding how to position oneself to address the threat is next. It is critical to position the body correctly by the doorway in the event the threat makes their way into the room.
  4. Once staff have been trained, trust them to make independent choices. I recognize that some work spaces may not have a door to close and that other layers of resistance just mentioned will need to come first. One thing I need to emphasize further is empowering all employees with the independence to call the police. I have experienced in many schools, for instance, that teachers are taught that they are not permitted to call 911 or do not have the authority to put the school in a lockdown. Rather, they should call the front office or the principal first. I highly discourage this thinking and explain the importance of trusting the judgment of the teacher or staff member.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. All facilities that have the ability to practice for such situations, should do so on a frequent basis. We recognize that some workplaces present certain challenges that prevent them from practicing an emergency lockdown. All facilities, including those facilities that are incapable of practicing scenarios, must provide active shooter training courses, table-top exercises, and rehearsals in portions of the facility at a time.
I hope that after reading this article, the audience understands that an active shooter incident or violent attack could happen at any business, school, mall, restaurant, movie theater, church, hospital, or public place.
The parents and families of the 20 children and 6 staff at Sandy Hook, the families of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, the parents of the teenagers of Columbine High School, and the families of the Post Office massacre in Edmond, Oklahoma may have never thought their loved ones would be slain while they attended school or work.
As the list of these tragedies continues to grow, it should be the duty of every business owner, city manager and principal to formalize plans now and prepare for an active shooter attack.
Interested to learn more about how you can deal with an active shooter in the workplace incident?

Learn more about our active shooter training for businesses or book your A.C.T. Business: Workplace Violence active shooter training course now!

About Steven S. Smith

Steven S. Smith, the President and Founder of Guardian Defense, offers active shooter training programs to staff within schools, colleges, churches, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and hospitals; in order to build confidence and save time in the event of an intruder, active shooter or killer, or other terror attack. Mr. Smith is a current certified law enforcement officer and has a range of experience on school and public safety, and investigation work. He is currently a team leader and instructor on the SWAT Team, for which he joined in 2009. Mr. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice, in 2005 from Nova Southeastern University.