From “Shots Fired” to “Shooter Down” and Beyond: A Comprehensive Approach to Managing the Active Shooter Risk
Crisis Communication & Response
Written by Steve Crimando   

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While extreme gun violence in the workplace remains statistically rare, the number of mass shooting incidents in the U.S. has tripled in the past few years. Since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, in December, 2012, there have been twelve more major mass shooting situations. These incidents cost lives, disrupt operations at businesses and schools, and have significantly impacted the national discourse on issues such as gun control and mental illness.

It may not be possible to stop every act of violence, but it is very likely that a violent actor can be disrupted, distracted, discouraged or deterred at several different points along the pathway to violence. The Comprehensive Active Shooter Incident Management (CASIM) model helps prepare individuals and organizations to detect and deter would-be perpetrators at every possible opportunity.

CASIM is the application of the classic four phases of emergency management in a specific, evidence-informed way to the very unique and serious challenges posed by an Active Shooter scenario.

Active Shooter incidents are occurring at a frequency that suggests they are no longer considered rare “Black Swan” events, but rather, foreseeable risks. As such, leaders and decision-makers must be aware of the standards and recommendations for addressing this risk and begin developing effective recovery countermeasures to increase the safety and security of their environments and those who work and study in them.

By planning for the most serious forms of violence, it may be possible to identify and address problems before they escalate. Most incidents of violence stem from “smoldering” crises, not “sudden” crises. People do not simply snap. There is a recognized pathway to violence and often detectable behavioral indicators along that way.

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Mitigation

Mitigation entails efforts to reduce the likelihood or severity of adverse events. Such efforts must begin at the most senior level of management in any organization, but the Active Shooter issue is often so emotionally charged that leaders may be reluctant to even broach the subject. Concerns about alarming or even traumatizing employees by introducing Active Shooter policies, plans and procedures can chill the process of tackling this risk. While they are low probability events, they are also potentially very high consequence events that cannot be ignored.

Active Shooter mitigation steps include, but are not limited to:

  • Executive Buy-In. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) released the first national industrial standard for workplace violence prevention, including addressing the active shooter risk, in September, 2011. The standard has quickly become the plaintiff’s attorneys’ touchstone in the courtroom in litigation stemming from job- related violence. Senior leaders are often not aware that such a standard exists, that the OSHA sees workplace violence as a foreseeable risk covered under the General Duty Clause, or that OSHA can and does inspect and cite businesses for failure to have adequate measures in place to prevent such events. A review of OSHA’s “Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Work- place Violence Incidents” issued in September, 2011, clearly specifies areas of risk. Ultimately, the most important aspect of executive buy- in is the impact on organizational culture. An atmosphere of respect and a clear organizational position that violence in any form will not be tolerated in the workplace is critical to the success of any violence prevention program.

  • Policies, Plans, Procedures. In a survey of U.S. businesses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 70 percent of workplaces do not have a formal program or policy to address workplace violence. The ANSI Standard on violence prevention can serve as a useful template.
  • Risk Assessment. Violence is a very specific sort of hazard and the assessment of this risk should be conducted separately but then integrated into the organization’s overall hazard vulnerability assessment. There are several assessment tools, and many violence prevention experts can be helpful in identifying factors known to increase the risk of violence. Such an analysis include all five sources of violence:
    - Type I: Criminal activity such as robbery, theft and trespassing that can escalate into a violent encounter with a perpetrator who has no legitimate relationship with the organization
    - Type II: Violence committed by customers or clients during the routine delivery of services...an especially high risk in the healthcare and several other sectors
    - Type III: Co-worker to co-worker violence, including violence directed at supervisors by current or former employees
    - Type IV: Intimate partner or domestic violence that spills into the workplace
    - Type V: Ideological violence driven by extreme political, religious or philosophical views in which the perpetrator believes violence is a justified and necessary way of expressing or defending their values

Preparedness

Training and Threat Management Team development and exercises and drills are all important parts of preparedness. Training should be tiered and saturate all levels of employment in the organization. Executive level training should address the legal, regulatory and financial aspects of violence, as well as the potential impact on brand and reputation. Training for senior executives can be brief, but it is essential that the organization’s leaders be made aware of this unique risk and thoroughly understand and support the process of dealing with potential violence.

Mid-level managers and supervisors are in a unique position to help identify and intervene with individuals of concern. Training for this group should introduce warning behaviors, the organization’s policies and the mechanism for carefully assessing a risk of violence and getting the right sort of help to prevent violent behavior.

The general workforce benefits from a clear understanding of what workplace violence is and isn’t, the organization’s policies, how to report concerns of potential violence and how to seek help themselves if they are struggling with powerful emotions or stressful situations that can lead to aggression or violence.

Everyone in the organization should be introduced to the basics of the run, hide or fight model of Shooter Response advocated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and know what to do in an actual “shots fired” situation. Several of the recommended actions are counter-intuitive and require explanation and rehearsal. Do not assume that people will know what to do or not do in such a high-stress situation.

Multidisciplinary Violence Prevention Teams or Threat Assessment Teams are a common and effective way to address concerns of violence within an organization. Training for the members of such a team should be much more detailed and focused on skill development so that initial screening of at-risk individuals can happen quickly in-house.

Response

In response to a real or perceived threat of violence, several action steps may need to occur quickly, and at times, simultaneously. These include:

  • Threat Assessment. Rapidly convene the Violence Prevention or Threat Assessment Team to initiate inquiries or investigations when the behavior or communication of a Person of Concern suggest the possibility of violence.
  • Threat management. Based upon concerns about a violent outcome, the measures initiated to prevent or contain potential violence may include notifying police, hardening on-site security, warning potential targets and others.
  • Notification. Communicating risk may be important before an actual act of violence but critical during a violent event. Like communication during all types of disasters and emergencies, there are several options, but roles and responsibilities, as well as the means of communications should all be established and tested long before a violent situation.
  • Emergency Actions. Lockdown, shelter- in-place and evacuation, as well as possible bystander intervention, such as attacking a shooter, require careful thought, preparation and practice. Such emergency actions should be detailed and introduced to all employees.

Recovery

An Active Shooter incident is likely to be highly chaotic and traumatic. Once the shooter has been neutralized, it is important to consider the immediate needs of survivors and victims, the interface with the on scene incident command system, establishing a Family Reunification Center, and assisting those involved, as well as their loved ones, with rapid emotional support.

The immediate environment may remain an active crime scene for days. Consideration of alternate work sites and other continuity measures should be anticipated and built into response and recovery plans. Media management and crisis communications will be essential.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) and other sources of psychological support will be very important in the days, weeks and sometimes months and years after a violent event, but research increasingly highlights the importance of rapid emotional support. Psychological First Aid is considered the intervention of choice in the 0-48 hours of such a crisis and is an every person skill-set that can be introduced to the organization in order to create an initial cadre of peer supporters to help out in the wake of a tragic or traumatic event.

Unfortunately, we have seen too many Active Shooter incidents devastate otherwise peaceful and productive workplaces. Fortunately, we can learn critical lessons from each of these events that can help us more effectively recognize, respond and recover. Although even the discussion of extreme violence on the job can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, applying a simple and straightforward structure, such as the 4-phase Comprehensive Active Shooter Incident Management model can help us get a handle on what otherwise can seem like an unimaginable and overwhelming risk.

 

About the Author

Steve Crimando, MA, CTS, CHS-V, is the Principal of Behavioral Science Applications. He provides consulting and training on corporate, campus and community violence prevention, and is the author of the Active Shooter Action Plan (ASAP) smartphone app. He can be reached at steve@bsaonline.net .


Sources

“American National Standard in Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention (ASIS/SHRM WPVI.1-2011)

OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-052, (2011, September 8). Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents.

Nixon, W. Barry, The Financial Impact of Workplace Violence, National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence, Inc., ISBN 0-9749403-4-8.

Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, News release U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005.