We never thought we would want to write about this topic, much less need to write about it. Unfortunately, it is the reality we live in. We all spend much of our day in office areas with dozens of co-workers, a good portion of us are parents with school-aged children, and we spend a large part of our lives in congested areas (shopping malls – while they still exist, hospitals, churches, etc.) – each potentially susceptible to attack
Adapting to an unfortunate reality
Active shooter situations are occurring at an alarming rate and don’t appear to be limited to a specific race, culture, demographic, or even physical region. What makes active shooter situations so frightening is that there is no real outward rhyme or reason as to when and where they occur. They are unpredictable by nature. They typically involve only one or two shooters that have a plan (well developed or not) and, after that, everything else is ad lib. During an active shooter situation, the shooter or shooters may be current or former employees, family, friends, or complete strangers. The shooter(s) is the only one that has an idea of who is targeted, if anyone is targeted at all.
Although active shooter situations are unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for one. Does your facility have a spill response plan? A fire evacuation plan? An inclement weather plan? All of those are unpredictable events that you plan for, so you should treat an active shooter situation with the same respect and preparation. Each office space has its own set of obstacles to work around and own set of resources that can be beneficial when reacting to an active shooting occurrence.
OSHA Emergency Response Plan
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not currently require businesses to have a plan in case of an active shooter event. However, OSHA’s “catch-all” general duty clause indicates that if a feasible method to abate danger exists, then employers are legally obligated to provide a workplace free of conditions from activities that are recognized as hazardous, harmful or likely to cause death to employees. However, OSHA does have a requirement for an Emergency Response Plan. Part of that plan is identifying potential workplace violence hazards and identifying a plan to respond to those hazards. Obviously, some industries are more likely to have workplace violence issues (prisons, jails, meth labs outside of Albuquerque, etc.) and plans must be evaluated at a site-specific level. The applicability of this clause to an active shooter situation is still up for debate, but OSHA does have some guidelines it recommends. If your facility has an Emergency Response Plan and there are persons at your facility that could be observed to be dangerous, the facility could be in violation of the General Duty Clause.
When creating a written plan, begin by considering the following:
- Suspect behaviors – Look for employees or employee family members/friends with increased alcohol or drug consumption and erratic or unstable behavior. This includes mood swings, depression, increased or graphic discussions of violence or weapons, etc. Keep in mind that while you may not be able to evaluate everyone that enters your facility, you can ensure your employees are made aware of these warning signs and suspect behavior.
- Number and location of exits – be familiar with the all the exits in your workplace.
- Routes to the closest exits – be familiar with the routes to each of the exits from the various areas within your workplace.
- Location and direction of locking doors – identify rooms or areas behind doors that lock from the inside to congregate in.
- Location of windows – windows can be used to peek and track a shooter or relay information (e.g., an alert for help) to the outside. However, you do not want to stay in the visible area of the window for too long.
- Number and location of people normally in the office.
- Shooter Alert – how is your facility going to alert its employees that an active shooter scenario is occurring? How is your facility going to alert the police?
- Office gun policy – are your employees allowed to carry or possess guns in your office area? If so, who typically carries them? It is important to know who might have guns in their area for various reasons: 1) to potentially rely on that person to respond, and 2) to exercise extreme caution when that employee or a potential active shooter(s) returns to where the firearm might be.
The Recommend Protocol
I recently attended an American Society of Safety Professionals meeting and the speaker was an officer for one of the larger DFW-area school districts. He relayed a great number of statistics and illustrated a handful of potential scenarios, but the overarching and most crucial message he gave was that regardless of your decided protocol in an active shooter situation, you must commit to it, do it, and do it quickly. If you are in an area where you can run to the exit, run to it as fast as you can in a zig-zag line. If you are in an interior room, shut the door, barricade it (even if only with the lock and a door stop) and hide out of sight from any windows. Hide when it makes sense.
He uses the acronym ADD for:
Avoid – The best scenario is to avoid the situation if you can. In an ideal world, particularly in schools, entrance into the building should be gained after checking in at a security or administrative office that can be on the look for large bags, or visibly disgruntled visitors. However, once a shooter is in the building, if you are able to run from the area, run to a safe place. Look for alternate and protected routes. Look for areas with restricted access or bottlenecks that could slow down or help corral a shooter.
Deny – If you can’t avoid the situation or leave, then deny the shooter access to where you are. Shut and lock the door, barricade it, hide out or sight, etc. By turning off the lights, it makes it appear that the room has been empty for a while, making the room less attractive to a shooter. If you are hiding, spread out so it makes it more difficult for the shooter. Turn off all noises on your phones and be as quiet as possible. Communicate with the police department through text or social media pages so as to remain quiet.
Defend – As a last resort, if the active shooter is in the room with you, and you can’t get away, look for ways to defend yourself. Put a barrier between yourself and the shooter but be prepared to “attack the gun” if the shooter gets close. An ambush-style attack is the best method to surprise and disarm a shooter. If you are hiding around a corner or located near a door, be prepared to leap into action. Find items that can be thrown or used to restrain or disorient the shooter like chairs, books, blankets, rope, or even shoes or belts. Loud noises have been proven effective when trying to disorient a shooter. Use whatever you have access to in your favor.
Protect your Employees
Even if you do not create an active shooter response plan, it is important to educate your employees about what they can and should do if an active shooter enters the building. Make sure they know where the exits are, where to run to or hide, and to lock doors and stay out of sight. Every second counts when responding to an active shooter.
If you have any more questions, please contact Nick Foreman.