Emergency Preparedness, Emerging Issues in Security, Facility Security, Policies and Training

How to Prevent and Prepare for Active Shooter Incidents

Security professionals should understand not only how to prevent active shooter incidents from happening on their properties but also how to adequately deal with these threats and other emergencies when they do happen. This is a growing problem; according to 2022 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics, the number of active shooters identified in 2021 is a 96.8% increase over 2017.

Everbridge, a global software company that provides enterprise software applications that help organizations better respond to critical events, hosted a three-part on-demand webinar series on active shooter preparedness in August. This comes after several workplace violence and mass and school shootings that occurred throughout 2022—most notably the Uvalde, Texas, mass shooting in Robb Elementary School on May 24. Specifically, the series featured several security and emergency preparedness professional experts, whose presentations focused on understanding the human factors behind active shooters, integrating smart technology to help respond to active shooters, and how to best respond before and after a mass casualty event

Warning Signs

“Typically, if we’re talking about school violence or if we are talking about workplace violence, it is a fellow student or co-worker who knows first, who sees and hears behaviors and are concerned but often is not sure what to do about it,” said Steve Crimando, the founder and principal of Behavioral Science Applications and the director of the Homeland Security Human Factors Institute.

Employees and students should understand what the company’s or school’s violence-related policies are; the types, sources, and indicators of violence; and how to report concerns and threats.

Specifically, security professionals should encourage students and staff to report the following:

  • Physical violence toward people or property
  • Direct or indirect threats of violence
  • Extreme beliefs and conspiracy theories with a sense of grievance
  • Bizarre behavior such as stalking or fixation with mass murder or weapons
  • Shooters studying other shooters and saying they will improve their tactics
  • Troublesome online rants and posts
  • Statements or behaviors that indicate suicide or murder
  • Threats, throwing objects, or making statements about harming others

For more information on preventing an attack, visit “Making Prevention a Reality” on the FBI website.

Preparation

Security professionals should ensure their facilities have easy access to essential medical equipment such as casualty throw kits and wall-mounted kits to stop a victim’s bleeding before emergency medical services (EMS) arrives. Additionally, train colleagues to provide psychological first aid by helping victims calm down during moments of terror or up to 48 hours after an incident by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Security professionals protecting facility employees should consider the following, according to Matt Schmid, the Senior Manager of Solution Marketing at Everbridge:

  • Panic buttons
  • Shot and weapons detection systems
  • Public address systems
  • Camera systems
  • Artificial intelligence face recognition

Special preparations should be made for those who work in a hybrid environment.

“Digital nomads are the hardest folks to protect,” Schmidt said, adding that 15.5 million people worked remotely in 2021.

Security professionals should use the following technological communication channels to inform remote employees:

  • Full-screen desktop alerts
  • Mobile-enabled SOS buttons on mobile apps
  • Mobile push alerts
  • Text messaging
  • Voice calls

Information on local police, fire, EMS, and hospital locations and contact information should be readily available to all employees.  

Technology helps:

  • Assess: Determine the context and severity of what is or may be happening.
  • Locate: Identify who is impacted, who needs to know, who and can help.
  • Act: Manage response, including informing, collaborating, fixing, and recovering.
  • Analyze performance to report, comply, learn, and improve.

Eric Alberts, the Senior Director of Emergency Management at Orlando Health, Inc., advises security professionals to be prepared for any type of emergency through:

  • Risk assessments: hazards and risks of each location.
  • Emergency planning: Utilize reality planning by looking at current resources and supplies.
  • Policies and procedures: what to do and not do during a crisis, which is regularly reviewed and updated.
  • Communications plans: Identify how to communicate with customers, vendors, and contractors; law enforcement; fire rescue; and emergency management.
  • Trainings and testings: how plans are practiced and to identify areas that need improvement.
  • Agreements and understandings: contracts and letters of intent.

Alberts, who responded to several emergency situations, including the active shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016, advocates for collaboration and creating relationships with various emergency departments such as law enforcement, health departments, medical centers, and the National Weather Service.

During an Attack

In the event of an active shooter attack, Crimando says people should run, hide, and fight:

Run: Evacuate, if possible, and keep hands visible.

Hide: Go to a safe place silently, lock the door, and call 911 when it’s safe.

Fight: Only if your life is in danger, use objects as weapons.

After an Attack

Security managers should also prepare immediately after an attack by creating family reunification centers, working with family assistance centers, planning for community vigils and memorials, helping survivors transition from hospital to home, and partnering with hospital staff. Days to weeks after the attack, they should coordinate services with providers for emotional support, anticipate funerals and memorials, and work with victim support agencies. Beyond this point, they should anticipate litigation, create an after-action report, update policies, and plan for annual anniversaries.

In all stages, security professionals should work with law enforcement agencies, including incident command and public information officers; monitor media coverage of the incident and response; and ensure victims, survivors, and responders get both mental health assistance by referring them to the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) and ongoing rehabilitation services.

While they should be prepared for active shooter incidents, security professionals should also prepare for other emergencies they could face, which could include severe weather, all types of workplace violence, civil unrest, and cybersecurity.

For more prevention tips, please read the recent expert article “Preventing Workplace Violence Through Situational Awareness.”