Active shooter events occur without warning and in unexpected locations. For the purpose of this discussion, active shooter is interchangeable with active threat, active assault, or workplace violence. Yes, shooter indicates there is a gun. However, the response is similar.
The mantra of “run, hide, fight” taught by the FBI is a good starting point for discussion. But, just talking about actions will not aid in surviving an attack.
Instruction, walk-throughs, and drills, conducted on a regular basis, are the only answers for survival in a workplace violence incident.
Perpetrators of these incidents come from a wide range in age, race, and religion. The only common factor is that they are typically male. This is not a study of the mind of a mass killer. But these perpetrators do display characteristics that indicate they may be troubled and planning to do harm.
There are many subtle indicators that, if discovered, could help security managers stop an attack early in the planning phase.
Howler vs. Hunter
Howler: someone who controls the emotions of others. They typically display aggression through words. However, they rarely act on those words.
“Howlers want to be seen and heard, but they don’t necessarily want to harm others physically. Instead, they want to control their victims’ emotional state. Howlers are very overtly in your face…Their goal is to frighten you. Their behavior is identifiable and recognizable.”
Hunter: stealthy and cunning. These assailants plan, conduct surveillance, and rehearse before carrying out physical harm on others. They are difficult to detect prior to an attack. It may be subtle, but they usually let someone know their intentions prior to an attack.
“By identifying a problem individual as a hunter, the effective threat manager can use the steps along the path to intended violence to disrupt the hunter’s plans and preparations or to persuade the potential hunter to abandon his or her trek.”
–Frederick Calhoun and Stephen Weston
A quarterly, 30-minute video on active shooter incidents is not enough. An upset employee or domestic situation can unfold into an active shooter event with little or no warning.
The unpredictability of active threats changes the way we work and think. Realistic training, systematically conducted throughout the year, will mitigate the loss of life during a hostile action.
Training should follow the idea of “crawl, walk, run, sustain”. This means that leaders set up a workplace violence training program of teaching and rehearsing. Most established firms have policies in place to mitigate workplace violence.
Policies are documents in a folder somewhere that employees review upon hiring. After that, there is little attention paid to how to react to a violent situation.
Policy in Action
A written policy on a piece of paper is useless unless management includes active threat training. Depending upon the facility and number of personnel, an active threat training program should be established in three distinct steps.
Step 1: Awareness and Mitigation Classes (Crawl)
This is where employees are in the classroom learning about current trends, causes, and ways to mitigate active shooter and workplace violence incidents.
Step 2: Walk-through and Talk-through Drills (Walk)
Walk-through and talk-through drills include following the likely path of a perpetrator with employees. These exercises allow employees to see how small actions can save lives. Walk-throughs allow security managers to identify areas in need of hardening.
Step 3: Realistic Training Scenarios (Run)
At this point, trainers coordinate with local police and have role players act out violent scenarios. This step of training is vital to allowing employees to understand how to escape, where to hide, and if necessary, how to fight. These drills also expose communication failures that are vital to survival during a violent encounter.
Management Buy-in Means Team Buy-in
If taught properly, active shooter training can be interesting. Instructors should start by instilling that this is now part of life. Similar to how security screenings are part of life before boarding an airplane, active threat training becomes part of life in the workforce.
Realistic training scenarios create a team environment and ownership in the firm. Team members develop the mentality of “not in my office” or “not in my school”. This hardens the facility from a personnel standpoint.
Communications prior to, during, and after a violent event are critical. Annunciators give early warning and phone lines (primary and back-up) inform authorities and help security teams gain situational awareness.
Include communications into the training scenarios. One of the first things to fail during a crisis is the ability to communicate. Phone lines become packed and depending upon the threat, electricity may fail. Include communications into training to expose limitations and allow management to correct shortcomings.
How Often Should You Train?
There is no solid answer. If heavy lay-offs are occurring, training should increase. If your location holds high value assets (i.e. cash, precious metals, valuable intelligence) then you should increase your active threat training activities. Schools and places of worship should consider training every 90 days.
- Active threat/shooter events occur often and need to be planned for
- Active shooters come from a wide range of ages, races, and socio/economic backgrounds
- Proper planning and training are the answers for saving lives
- Consider the three-phase training concept to ensure policies are actionable and not just pieces of paper
- Consistency is important with active threat training
- The training timeline depends upon the assets protected and size of the organization