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Active shooter events: Simple actions that can save lives

Law enforcement officials tell safety professionals how to plan, respond, and recover

Posted June 11, 2018

With a large majority of active shooter events occurring in the workplace, occupational safety and health professionals are looking for guidance in helping their organizations plan, act, and recover.

Recently, law enforcement officials participated in a forum for safety professionals, providing guidance and answers on addressing what is becoming, if not already become, an epidemic. The forum, part of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Safety 2018 conference held in San Antonio, Texas, allowed safety professionals to hear from FBI, local law enforcement, as well as an expert in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), on the unique role that safety professionals play in an organization's active shooter planning and response efforts.

Unlike most safety hazards, active shooters cannot always be identified through an assessment, even though warning signs may be recognizable in some cases. In fact, there is no specific profile of an active shooter, aside from the fact that most are male and act alone. They come from all occupations, industries, economic situations, education levels, backgrounds, and race.

What, then, can a safety professional do to help an organization assess and control the active shooter risk?

The key, according to panelists, is to plan ahead and work with law enforcement. The more familiar law enforcement is with a workplace, the better they can assist before and during an event. Experts advise employers to form relationships with law enforcement in advance. Find out who the captain is. Ask for a walkthrough. This is something safety professionals routinely do with fire and emergency responders in preparation for confined space rescues and emergency situations.

Panelists also recommended employers create a Threat Assessment Team, made up of members from a cross section of the company, including safety, security, operations, maintenance, employees, and HR. By doing this, employers may be able to recognize a potential threat early on, and recommend appropriate intervention. For example, if one team member brings forth information regarding a worker’s troubling behavior, it may not raise a red flag. But if several members from other parts of the company have noticed similar issues from the same person, then the team may have recognized a serious threat. At that point, the team can seek guidance from human resources, law enforcement, and EAPs.

Panelist spent a great deal of time discussing mitigating damage once an event has begun. Several tips were provided:

  • Give law enforcement as much heads up as possible. In addition to pre-event planning, on-scene information about the facility is critical. Employers can place lock boxes in the front entrance containing blueprints and key cards, along with dry erase markers. (Dry erase markers on the hood of a car can be used to show the floor plan of a building for additional responders.)
  • Plan for reunification of workers, keeping in mind that law enforcement may have occupied usual emergency gathering spots. In addition, prepare for family members and media personnel to be present on scene. While law enforcement may handle access control, employers can plan in advance and make the process more effective.
  • Let law enforcement speak to media early on in the event. The company's communications team should work with law enforcement. Later, once the investigative portion is complete, this will transition to the company. Internal communications to workers, however, should come from the company. (In any emergency situation, it helps to have a policy indicating that any media communication should come from assigned company representatives; employees should be instructed to defer to those representatives.)
  • Have a plan for getting work done. Because law enforcement will essentially close the building for days after an event, it’s important for employers to have a contingency plan, keeping in mind that many employees will have quickly left the scene without computers and other items needed for work.
  • Plan for post-incident counseling. The goal is to normalize emotions, helping workers get back to a routine. Provide HR staff with appropriate training so they are able to assist. And, bring in trained professionals to provide counseling.
  • “Run, hide, fight. Or run, hide, die.” Law enforcement recognizes that many employers are not comfortable telling workers to fight. However, there comes a point when it is the best available option. Active shooters typically plan their crimes meticulously ... if employees can fight back, even with something as simple as throwing a book or yelling, the action can disrupt the shooter enough that stronger measures can be taken. If employees are made ready, the damage can be reduced.

This article was written by Travis Rhoden of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Active Shooter and Active Threat Training CoursesJ. J. Keller's Active Shooter & Active Threat training courses empowers employees to minimize the impact of workplace violence and react appropriately to an active shooter situation.


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