So far this year, there have been 297 mass shootings in the United States. Seeing as how November 1st is the 305th day in the calendar year, it would appear that the spike in active shooter events in recent years will not slow down any time soon. While schools redefine their safety protocols and implement programs that prepare students for these events, employers throughout the United States are also beginning to understand the importance of preparing their workforce for an active shooter event.
The year of 2017 broke the record for the most mass-shooting deaths every recorded—112 deaths, well exceeding the amount in any other year in recorded history. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a report that showed another spike in workplace homicides. According to them, there were 83 workplace homicides in 2015, a number that skyrocketed to 500 for the year of 2018 alone. A terrifying 79% of those cases were the result of an active shooter. As a result, the desire for employee active shooter training has never been higher, with NPR reporting that as of 2016, 75-80% of employers are seeking qualified active shooter training to protect their workforce.
The Department of Homeland Security has a myriad of resources on their website for dealing with active shooters. One of them is a pocket-card that outlines the characteristics of an active shooter event, “Victims are selected at random. The event is unpredictable and evolves quickly. Law enforcement is usually required to end an active shooter situation.” Active shooters may fire at random, using no discernible criteria for their victims, but that arbitration should not be misunderstood. Perpetrators are deliberate, focused, and simultaneously detached from their task, creating a fatal perfect storm.
The Department of Homeland Security also have their own guidelines to how private citizens should react during an active shooter event: Run—hide—fight.
At the onset of an active shooter event, individuals should immediately identify an escape route, most likely a fire exit. While keeping their hands visible, they should leave their belongings behind and run to safety as quick as possible, assisting others if needed.
Once they’ve reached safety (or if escape is impossible) the Department of Homeland Security recommends hiding immediately in a location out of the shooter’s line of sight. Individuals should block the door or manner of entry into their hiding spot and silence their cell phones and pagers. Sit very quietly and wait for first-responders to find you.
The Department of Homeland Security lists this option as an absolute last resort in the event of an active shooter in the workplace. Your life should be in immediate danger, and you should be well-positioned to act with physical aggression and incapacitate the shooter.
Many third-party security companies also endorse the methods of Homeland Security, but there are others that take a different approach. Laurence Barton, a workplace violence expert, recommends employers seek training programs that promote a culture of safety and preparedness—not fear. In lieu of careful research regarding active shooter training, many employers opt for the simple, cost-effective route by showing employees the prolific training video produced by the city of Houston, which features graphic depictions of employees being shot. “When some companies have created these videos that show blood and guts—that’s not in any way the kind of learning that stays with people. In fact, it repulses them…employees get scared,” Barton says, “I just don’t believe scaring people is the way to teach them. It just promotes anxiety.” Aric Mutchnick, the president of a risk management firm called the Experior Group, agrees with Barton, “Cops or military guys like to have it very realistic because they think the more real it is, the more they can find out. That is true if you’re a tactical team, but you can’t apply tactical training to a civilian population.” Mutchnick points out that the equal distribution of choice laid down by the Department of Homeland Security—run, hide, or fight—is not only dangerous, but unrealistic, “It should be 90 percent run, 8 percent hide until you can run, and then as for fight, really? Are you kidding? I don’t know how you would even train on that.” Companies like Experior Group also recommend that a base knowledge of firearms should also be part of the training, not so employees can operate firearms, but so their knowledge can inform their escape. Civilians who are ignorant of basic firearm operations can easily be paralyzed by fear because they are uncertain of a weapons range or magazine size. This gives an active shooter ample opportunity to change their position and reload without fear of retaliation.
Frozen with fear—it’s something we can all relate to. After all, many working people today are not acclimated to the viable, potential threat of an active shooter in the workplace. Aggressive, hyper-realistic training can compound the anxiety triggered by the increased probability of being involved in an active shooter event. That’s why Barton and other like-minded professionals epitomize on a feeling of safety, with straightforward and honest training that will leave any employee feeling prepared. “The chief learning officer has a huge opportunity to lead a discussion about workplace safety. [Employees] are yearning to be informed about how the world is changing and how threats get processed at work…You want to have a subject matter expert who works with law enforcement and can speak the language of all employees.”
One thing that employers often overlook when considering active shooter training programs is a company that curtails the training to their individual brick and mortar location. As part of what they call “red ball drills,” Experior Group will evaluate the property to identify the specific issues that might present during an active shooter event. “The problems of a commercial building are not the problems of a hospital or a school,” Mutchnick says. “Run, hide, fight is s giant blanket they throw over the problem as a response, but it doesn’t deal with any site-specific issues.” All training dispensed by Experior Group is tailor-made for the culture and physical context of any business. When these issues have been identified, the instructor can direct employees the best manner of exit, should they have that option.
The last thing to consider when choosing an active shooter training program is the credibility behind the operations. Some of the most prolific risk management and security companies are headed by former members of law enforcement or the military. This experience with weapons and chaos not only validates the content for many employers, but also leaves employees empowered with credible knowledge. However, former navy seals and swat team leaders are not the only option when it comes to the instructor. Lauren Perry, the vice president of operations for Trident Shield, often addresses training groups. Her specific style and feminine touch opens the dialogue in any room, allowing individuals who might not respond to an aggressive, alpha males to remain engaged in the training, retaining the information that might one day save their lives.
Many employers often grapple with the cost of active shooter training for their employees. With many training programs averaging in the realm of thousands of dollars, employers often question whether or not active shooter training is even necessary. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 says, “Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards.” The rise of active shooter events in the United States is most certainly recognized, with every event further inflaming the political world and conversations surrounding gun control. Given the statistics we’ve seen here, it appears as though it’s not a matter of if an active shooter even will occur, but when.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on private investigation and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.