Active Shooter Best Practices: How to Keep Your Campus Safe

Protecting your workplace from today’s threats can seem like a daunting task. With mass shootings in the press on a regular basis, it seems like a tragedy could happen anywhere, to anyone. According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, there have been 150 mass shootings in which 4 or more people were killed since 1966, with over 1,000 victims. Further, a recently released report from the FBI confirmed that there were more active shooting incidents in 2017 than any other year recorded.

Incident locations have spanned schools, offices, stores, places of worship, and military bases. Given the high level of public anxiety, false alarms are commonplace and taking the steps to prevent such incidents has become a priority for law enforcement and security personnel.

When I was a security consultant, my corporate clients regularly asked what steps they could take to ensure the safety of their employees and guests in the event of such an incident.

While prevention is top of mind, preparing for the worst is also a worthwhile activity.

In the early days of my career, there was a limited appetite among corporate clients for active threat-specific planning and drills to avoid stoking employee fears, but in recent years such efforts have become the centerpiece of any effective security program.

On the preparedness front, there are several key actions that will help an organization respond in an effective manner should the worst transpire. First, every building, school, campus, office building, and stadium should have an active threat response plan. This plan should take into account unique facilities and security systems; incorporate security assessments that address vulnerabilities; identify evacuation routes and designate shelter-in-place locations; and be reassessed annually to account for changes or lessons learned from past incidents.

Preparedness steps should also include reaching out to local emergency response agencies to establish points of contact. Any facility can invite local first responders to tour the campus and meet the security team to form working relationships in advance of any incident. First responders can also address concerns and provide additional advice and information. Managers and employees should also be trained to effectively respond to incidents. Training should cover how to call for help and to whom, and how to interact with law enforcement, account for colleagues, and inform responding officers of their knowledge or awareness of the location of a suspected active shooter.

Evacuation and shelter-in-place drills and exercises are also pivotal. Employees must not only be aware of emergency exits and evacuation routes, but the security team should hold regular drills for employees to practice using designated evacuation routes so this becomes second nature in the event of a real emergency. Facilities should also hold annual shelter-in-place drills so employees and guests can practice occupying and remaining in designated shelter areas.

Concerned employees play a key role in keeping their workspaces safe, and should remain alert for clues and warning signals displayed by troubled colleagues.

Examples include increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs; unexplained increase in absenteeism; recent firing or job termination where the person has expressed violent intentions; escalation of domestic problems into the workplace; and expressions of empathy with individuals committing violence. Employees should know to immediately report any unusual behavior, actions, or comments from a fellow employee or visitor.

Lastly, managers and employees should review the emergency response plan and provide feedback to the security team. In security consulting, we changed plans after receiving feedback that a room designated for sheltering in place wasn’t large enough, an evacuation route was used for storage of trash, or a meeting location was on the other side of a busy intersection. All employees should know the run, hide, defend steps and think about where they would run, where they could hide, and, in the worst case, how they would defend themselves. And learning calming techniques such as tactical or “combat” breathing will keep people from freezing in the event of an incident.

Employees are the first line of defense for any business and by remaining vigilant, everyone can contribute to keeping their workplace safe and secure. 

Blog post written by Elizabeth Carter, CSO of Armored Things. She previously led WMD planning for NYC Emergency Management and was a Senior Director at the Chertoff Group.

Kristin Butler