Preparing Your Local Government Employees for an Active Shooter Event

Written by Jonathan Wiersma

It’s another typical day at the office. Or at least it should be. You stand at the watercooler with coworkers you’ve known for years, warm cups of coffee in your hands, sharing stories from your weekends about your families, your hobbies, and your children. Then the unthinkable happens. Deafening, rapid fire popping noises, like nothing you will be able to describe later to emergency responders, incapacitates your hearing. You see coworkers running through the halls and have a sense that someone around you is screaming. Until you realize that you’re the one screaming.

For too many Americans, this nightmare scene has become a reality. In 2016, shootings accounted for 394 of 500 (80 percent) of workplace homicides (source). Workplace shootings are on the rise, in alignment with all mass shootings, and the risk of an incident in your office is keeping your employees up at night. As we struggle as a nation to find solutions to mitigate workplace violence, human resource managers are working to educate their employees on the safety precautions and actions they should take to minimize the chances of workplace violence and protect themselves if a nightmare scenario ensues.

How to Minimize the Risk of Workplace Violence

Educate and Enforce

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as:

Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.

Human resource managers are encouraged to educate employees on this definition and ensure policies are written and enforced that protect employee welfare.

Escalate Issues

To minimize workplace violence, employees must feel enabled to report suspicious or threatening behavior, and human resource managers must have protocols in place to quickly alert security and safety personnel before a situation escalates to an act of violence.

Understand Potential Risk Factors

According to Dr. Lynne McClure, a nationally-recognized expert in managing high-risk employee behaviors, there are eight categories of high-risk behaviors that may indicate the risk of workplace violence and should trigger a human resource intervention:

  • Actor Behaviors: The employee acts out his or her anger by yelling, shouting, slamming doors, throwing objects, or other reactive actions.
  • Fragmentor Behaviors: The employee takes no responsibility for his actions and sees no connection between what he does and the consequences or results of his actions.
  • Me-First Behaviors: The employee does what he wants, regardless of the negative impact on others.
  • Mixed-Messenger Behaviors: The employee behaves negatively, despite making positive comments.
  • Wooden-Stick Behaviors: The employee’s behavior is rigid, inflexible, and controlling.
  • Escape-Artist Behaviors: The employee deals with stress by lying or taking part in addictive behaviors such as drugs or gambling.
  • Shocker Behaviors: The employee suddenly acts in ways that are out of character or inherently extreme.
  • Stranger Behaviors: The employee is remote, demonstrates poor social skills, or becomes fixated on an idea or an individual.

How to Protect Employees in the Event of an Active Shooter Event at Your Office

Enable your employees to know how to react and respond in the event of an active shooter event by proactively providing safety training and resources. Human resource managers should also know what role they need to play in safety and response procedures during an act of violence.

Provide Active Shooter Safety Training

While many of us think of recent active incidents and recall the devastating events that have taken place in schools and places of worship, mass shootings in offices and retail establishments are more common. Every office should provide employees with active shooter training that includes how to react and what evacuation route(s) to take if an active shooter event occurs in their office. Partner with your municipality’s Police Department or Sheriff’s Office to hold annual educational sessions that include safety demonstrations. Your emergency educators will likely provide the following safety response tips based on the Run-Hide-Fight safety strategy:

  • Run: If an active shooter event is taking place, your first step should be to run to safety if possible. Safely evacuate the area and call 9-1-1 when out of the line of fire. Help others evacuate when possible and stop anyone from entering the active shooter zone. Keep your hands visible so that responders on the scene can see that you are an unarmed civilian
  • Hide: If you cannot run to safety, barricade yourself as best possible and stay quiet. Lock the door or block an entrance with a heavy object. Remember to silence your phone completely, and dim your screen if possible.
  • Fight: If you have no other recourse, fight to protect your life. Improvise weapons from your surroundings and throw heavy objects at the shooter.

Hold an Active Shooter Drill

Coordinate an active shooter drill with your local law enforcement to allow staff to practice the safety precautions and responses that they learned from your education session. Like a fire drill, an unexpected active shooter drill will test employees’ recollection of the safety skills they learned and will be an impactful way to recall safety measures in the event of an actual emergency.

Provide Details to Emergency Responders

In the event of an active shooter event in your office, if you are in a safe location, call 9-1-1 and provide as much detail as possible, including:

  • The location and number of shooters
  • A detailed description of the shooter(s)
  • Your current location
  • A description of the events that are occurring
  • The number and types of weapons used
  • The number of people in the impacted area
  • Any actions taken

Share this information with all employees during your safety training to maximize the opportunity for a life-saving call to reach emergency responders as quickly as possible.

Maintain Personnel Emergency Contact Information

Make it a priority to maintain an easily accessible database of employee emergency contact information that you can provide to local authorities in the event of an active shooter event.

For more information on the growing threat of active shooter events, and to learn how an emergency management communication system can keep your community safe during a local emergency, click below to watch a recording of our active shooter webinar, hosted by our public safety experts.

Crisis Communication in an Active Shooter Situation