How to build an active shooter preparedness training program

Aug 06, 2020

One message was repeated over and over during the virtual Wipfli National Training Conference session on active shooter preparedness training on August 4: run, hide, fight.

Organizations and staff may think workplace shootings will never happen to them, but that’s what everyone thinks until it does happen, said trainer Dru Carney, MBA, CFE, a Wipfli consultant who spent 16 years in law enforcement and eight years as a security manager in the U.S. Army Reserves.

“It will happen, it could happen, and there’s no point in even trying to deny its possibility … so you must be prepared,” Carney said. In fact, 42% of active shooter events happen at a business, while 21% happen at an educational institution and 14% occur in an open space, according to the FBI.

There are two primary types of workplace shootings: one in which the shooter is going after one or more specific people for revenge, like after an employee gets fired, and a situation when the shooter is trying to kill as many people as possible and likely doesn’t even know the intended victims.

While most organizations’ employees are working from home during the pandemic, eventually buildings and worksites will reopen and employees will need this training. “What we want you to train your employees to do is to not be a victim,” Carney said. “You have to be aware of your surroundings. You can’t be timid, submissive.” He recommended active shooter response training be conducted at least once a year.

5 steps to building your program

As organizations look for a company to conduct active shooter response training, Carney said not to get bogged down in acronyms and the seemingly different methods companies offer. The messages share the same main principle: run, hide, fight. A similar concept is called the Four Outs, but it also boils down to run, hide, fight, according to Carney. (The Four Outs are get out, hide out, keep out and take out.)

“You don’t look for the most robust program; you look for the most sensible,” he said.

Carney outlined the five steps organizations should take to build their active shooter preparedness training program:

  1. Conduct a security vulnerability assessment. Determine the worksite and organization’s weaknesses and strengths. If you already have a plan in place, when was the last time it was conducted? Have new employees been trained?
  2. Develop or adopt an active shooter emergency response plan.
  3. Develop or adopt an active shooter training preparedness program.
  4. Train staff on how to respond to an active shooter event.
  5. Plan for recovery. This includes a plan for how to respond to an incident financially, mentally and emotionally. It also includes an immediate debrief, but more debriefs with staff will be needed in stages. Everyone reacts differently and “there’s no right timeline for anybody,” Carney said.

Tips on how to run, hide, fight

Organizations that have consistent, ongoing training are preparing employees to react appropriately — and not freeze up — if a shooting happens, Carney said. He outlined the “run, hide, fight” concept: First, employees should run. Don’t take your belongings. Head to the exit. Kick off your shoes if it helps you run faster. If you pass a fire alarm, pull it to alert all employees to exit and to notify the shooter that law enforcement is coming and their time is getting shorter. If you see someone hiding, encourage them to run with you. But don’t go out of your way to look for co-workers.

As you are running with colleagues, use the “bounding overwatch” military tactic in which one or two people in front look for the safe escape route (peering around corners, down halls) to move the group safely from cover to cover until you are in a safe location. Individuals can “leapfrog” or take turns being in the front.

If you cannot run, then you should hide. If possible, go into a room, secure the door and barricade the door with anything in the room. Turn your phone off or on silent, and turn off the lights. Remain quiet. Work to get your breathing or crying under control so you can be as quiet as possible. Look for items to fight with.

If you come face-to-face with the shooter, fight with whatever you can find — a stapler, a fire extinguisher, a chair. Playing dead is not advised unless absolutely necessary.

Of shooter events in which a timeline is known, 70% ended after five minutes or less, according to the FBI. Thirty-seven percent ended after two minutes or less. Sixty-seven percent ended before police arrived. These events usually end when the shooter commits suicide. The second most common way is that law enforcement arrests or kills the shooter.

When police arrive, their first response is to stop the threat, not tend to victims or to survivors. Leave police alone and follow all their instructions.

As organizations build their active shooter preparedness training program, they should keep in mind that they are educating people’s minds and training their hands so that the appropriate response will become a muscle memory, Carney said. When it comes to training, remember to review, improve and repeat.

“Practice so that when it happens, you’re prepared,” he said. “Understand it can happen. We’re going to all hope that it never does, but if it does, you’re going to have the preparation and the mindset to get through it.”


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