workplace violence

Responding to Active Shooter Incidents in the Workplace

By Doug Heywood

Active shooter incidents, like the San Bernardino shooting that occurred during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center, have forced company owners to consider “active shooter plans” for their businesses.

According to a report released by the FBI in 2014, an “active shooter” is defined as an individual who is actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. An active shooter incident is different from defined crimes such as mass killings or murders because the “active” nature of the crime implies that both law enforcement officials and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the incident based on how they respond to the events as they happen.

In total, there were 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, with 1,043 people killed or wounded during the course of those incidents (not including the shooters).

The study also found that active shooter incidents are on the rise nationally: Between 2000 and 2006, there were an average of 6.4 incidents occurring annually; during the same seven-year period between 2007 and 2013, that number increased to an average of 16.4 incidents occurring annually.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report found that most likely place for an active shooter incident to occur is in a place of commercial businesses (45.6 percent of incidents occurred in these areas). The researchers further broke this down into three more specific categories: commercial businesses generally open to pedestrian traffic, commercial businesses not open to pedestrian traffic and malls.

Almost all of the incidents (91 percent) occurring in commercial areas during this time period were in businesses. About 50 percent of shooters involved in incidents occurring in places of business were either current or former employees of the businesses where the shootings occurred. The percentage of current or former employee shooters is even higher for incidents occurring in businesses generally closed to pedestrian traffic – 95 percent of these shooters were either current or former employees.

These statistics all paint a pretty alarming picture in the minds of business owners and employers. Fortunately, there are a number of things an employer can do to prepare their staff for active shooter incidents and minimize the potential loss of life should an active incident occur at their workplaces.

  • Prepare an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
    Your business may already have an emergency action plan in place as part of its workplace safety program, even if it doesn’t yet cover active shooter incidents. The EAP is the business document that outlines what employees should do in the event of any emergency (fire, flood, hurricane, etc.) If your business doesn’t already have an EAP, consider preparing one as soon as possible.
  • Conduct active shooter incident trainings
    Just as the best way to train people on how to respond to a fire is to conduct regular fire drills, the most effective way to train your employees on how to respond to an active shooter incident is conduct a mock active shooter incident training. Training components might include recognizing the sound of gunshots, responding quickly to the alarm or sound of gunshots, the best ways to react in different situations (knowing when they can safely evacuate vs. when they should stay where they are and secure their location), and how to get in touch with law enforcement.
  • Create a system or mechanism for employees to report signs of potentially violent behavior
    Because it is highly likely that the perpetrator in an active shooter incident will be a current or former employee, employers should make sure they have a process in place for employees to report suspicious or violent behavior in their colleagues. Your human resources team should spearhead this initiative.

Doug Heywood has more than 20 years of workplace safety experience, and has worked with employers across multiple industries, including construction, manufacturing and health care, to design and implement proven safety and accident-prevention programs.  Doug currently works as the director of safety for G&A Partners, a national HR outsourcing firm. @GAPartners