2017 was a devastating and terrifying year. 2017 brought some of the most severe and devastating natural disasters in modern American history. It also saw the deadliest mass shooting that has ever occurred in the U.S. when a gunman opened fire on concert goers in Las Vegas from his position inside a nearby hotel. Sadly, the Las Vegas shooting was only one of 317 active shooter events that took place last year—the equivalent of almost one shooter event for each day of the year. The increasing frequency of active shooter events and the variety of open, public locations in which shooting events have occurred is raising awareness of the threat that communities face from violent individuals aiming to endanger the lives of large populations that have gathered in outdoor locations. While many of the most recent and devastating shooter events have occurred at schools and places of worship or business, local government parks and rec departments are now asking themselves how they would react if a mass shooting event were to occur in a public park or during a local event where hundreds or thousands of citizens have gathered.
No matter the location of your community, every single city, county, village, and township across the nation needs to have a plan in place in the event of a local emergency or act of terrorism. While no municipality can fully protect its citizens from dangerous situations, all are empowered to put plans in place to work with local law enforcement agencies and communicate with citizens in the event of local terrorism. Such planning reduces the risk of citizen exposure to life-threatening situations and enables an expedited and efficient response to transpiring events.
The Importance of a Proactive Plan
An emergency response plan may not seem like the responsibility of a parks and rec department, but in an era where an active shooter could threaten citizen lives in any open public setting, parks and rec departments should work with their public safety officers to put a proactive response plan in place. History has shown that no facility or venue is completely safe from an active shooter event. With mass casualties occurring in locations as disparate as churches, shopping malls, and chain restaurants, safety experts consider all public spaces to be “soft targets,” which means they pose a high risk of mass casualties when a dangerous mind decides to take lives. Collaborate with safety experts to build an emergency response plan and provide adequate safety and response training to all members of your department. The plan and any correlated training should outline the steps needed to:
- Contact emergency response teams and provide actionable details to expedite assistance
- Evacuate the scene and quarantine the shooter to minimize citizen risk exposure
- Issue mass communications to all citizens in the vicinity or traveling toward it
Incorporate the following steps into your emergency response planning initiatives:
Outline Active Shooter Scenarios
Work with your public safety office and police or sheriff’s department to assess all the public spaces under your department’s purview that may pose a risk to mass casualties in an active shooter event. This process should include your public parks and large community facility venues. Build safety evacuation plans for each venue and ensure that there is not only a way for victims to quickly escape from a shooter but multiple ways for emergency personnel to reach the scene. For example, if one of your public parks only has one main pedestrian and vehicle entrance road, consider if there are other private access routes emergency personnel can use to bring police, fire, and medical vehicles to the scene.
Establish and Communicate Evacuation Procedures.
In the event of a disaster that requires the evacuation of event attendees or facility users, your parks and rec department will need established mass evacuation procedures that are intuitive or easily facilitated during a crisis. As part of your facility and parks descriptions on your department website, include emergency evacuation maps so that citizens can familiarize themselves with all major and alternate evacuation routes that lead out of public areas.
Practice Emergency Notifications with Your Public Safety Office
Once your team has effectively established emergency response protocols, you will need an effective mass communication system to notify citizens when a disaster has occurred or is imminent. If your public safety office is already utilizing a mass notification system, work together to create templated emergency evacuation messages and test them at least twice per year. Remember that in the event of an active shooter event in one of your public facilities or parks, you will need to notify not just those individuals physically located in or near the area, but those who live or work nearby and may be heading toward the scene.
Encourage Emergency Notification Signups
Work with your public safety office to encourage citizens to sign up for your emergency notification system. Together, you can expand the reach of sign up reminders education and increase the number of citizen subscribers. Include a sign-up link in all facility registration materials and educate citizens, especially parents, of the importance of receiving emergency notifications if a local emergency unfolds in your public areas or during a community event.
Prepare to Provide Details to Emergency Responders
Educate all coaches, facility supervisors, and public park staff on who to contact in the event of an active shooter event. Personnel should first ensure they are in a safe location and should then 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)
- Their 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
By sharing this information with all employees during required safety training seminars, you maximize the opportunity for a life-saving phone call to reach emergency responders as quickly as possible.
Hold Regular Active Shooter Drills
Coordinate an active shooter drill with your local law enforcement to allow staff to practice the safety precautions and responses outlined in your emergency response plan. 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. By also involving citizens, they too can becoming familiarized with the steps needed to take cover and evacuate a dangerous situation safely.
No community can predict a mass casualty event, but every community should be prepared for one. By developing an emergency communication plan you hope never to use, you can confidently focus on delivering to citizens engaging, educational, and valuable public events, activities, leagues, and classes so they can safely take part in your community offerings.