Active Shooter Preparedness FAQs

What is an "active shooter" and how often do these incidents occur?

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an active shooter is "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area." A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study identified 250 active shooter incidents in the U.S. from 2000-2017 that killed or wounded a total of 2,217 people.

In 2017, the FBI identified 30 incidents — the highest number ever recorded in a one-year period. In addition, the number of people injured or killed during each incident is rising.

Why is taking the proactive approach important?

The key to stopping workplace violence is to identify and address potential problems before they escalate into a violent outburst. That's why you should train employees to recognize warning signs in coworkers and encourage them to report their findings to a supervisor, talk to a member of Human Resources (HR), or use an anonymous reporting avenue.

What are common active shooter warning signs?

Suspicious behavior is defined by the observer and his/her own experiences. Trust your gut. If it looks suspicious based on your daily observations, report it. If you see something, say something.

Common warning signs include:

  • A notable increase in frustration or picking fights
  • An obsession with weapons
  • A decline in health or hygiene habits
  • An increase in alcohol or drug use
  • Symptoms of depression or thoughts of suicide

What organizational preparedness requirements exist for workplace shootings/active threats?

Employers have a legal obligation to provide their employees with a work environment free from harm, including physical violence. Given the increase in workplace shootings in recent years, some employers are going a step further and teaching their employees how to survive if such dangers enter their place of business.

Knowing what actions to take if confronted with an active threat is just as important as knowing what to do in the event of a fire or tornado. Even though the likelihood of a violent situation may be low, you should still be prepared, especially when the results can be so devastating. 

Violent acts committed by past or current employees fall under the category of workplace violence (violence, or the threat of violence, against employees, supervisors, customers, or vendors). Although there is no specific federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standard which addresses active shootings in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, in Section 5(a)(1), states "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

Has an active shooter profile been developed?

The unfortunate truth is there are few similarities among active shooters, the locations they target, or their choice of victims.

A FBI study revealed most shooters were males acting alone, but other demographic factors varied widely. Creating an active shooter profile simply isn't possible. Aside from gender (94% male) and race (63% white), there are no similarities in age, education, employment, or criminal background of the shooters studied.

How should employers handle reports of possible threats?

Reports of the potential for future violence should be taken seriously. Consider forming a threat assessment team to evaluate each threat, determine its severity or likelihood, and develop a plan of action.

The goal is to manage the situation before it has a chance to play out. The team's priorities are to protect all personnel from harm and provide the reported employee with the help he needs.

Team members should include management, HR, a mental health professional, and possibly a representative from law enforcement.

How should employers assess their risk?

Since threats can also come from outside your place of employment, it's important to conduct a risk assessment that examines your building and the access to it. The goal of this detailed evaluation is to identify areas of vulnerability.

When conducting a risk assessment, seek the assistance of local law enforcement. These experts are aware of any local threats and have the latest knowledge gained from past events around the country.  

There are a variety of actions you can take to make your building less inviting to an active shooter, as well as deter other criminal activity:

  • Install fencing around the perimeter of your building
  • Monitor vehicles parked in your lot with stickers or rearview mirror hangers
  • Control access with key cards (this is only effective if you teach employees not to prop open doors or allow others to "piggyback" off of them as they scan their card for entry)
  • Light parking areas, walking paths, and entryways well
  • Use signage to clearly mark each door (signs can be used to direct visitors to the main entrance and indicate employee-only areas; in addition, numbering doors on both sides can help identify exactly where you are located in an emergency)
  • Install high-quality surveillance cameras around the premises

How should an employer plan for recovery after an active shooter incident?

Recovery begins the moment the active shooter is incapacitated, and law enforcement renders the building safe. Beginning to account for individuals inside the building and reconnecting employees with family members should all be a part of your company's Emergency Action Plan and discussed during your tabletop exercise.

Employees may have fled, leaving personal items like jackets, purses, cell phones, and car or house keys behind. After things settle down a bit, there will be attempts to retrieve personal belongings. Because the building is a crime scene, someone from law enforcement will need to gather the items, not a member of HR or management. Depending on the size of your company, this may be quite an undertaking.