Active Shooters in the Workplace: 10 Insights that Improve Safety

Facility managers and their employers are responsible for the safety of all building occupants.   January 5, 2023

By Bo Mitchell, Contributing Writer

With all the media reporting on the hundreds of workplace active shooter incidents over the last decade since Sandy Hook, one would think that facilities managers would have been offered insights on why these workplace tragedies occur and some clues on how to respond.  

Sadly, there is plenty of data but no insights. Here are 10 insights that facility managers should consider to improve safety at their buildings.  

1: Almost all incidents are over in eight minutes. The vast majority are over in four-five minutes. Thus, police can’t respond to your workplace in time to stop the killing. 

2: If police can’t respond in time, then police are not the first responders. Guess who are the first responders? Facility managers and building occupants. Managers want to deny this, but they can’t change the physics. Occupants are always the first responders to any emergency. Whether it’s a medical, tornado, flash flood, fire, bomb scare, explosion, suspicious package, or an active shooter — all employers and their employees are on their own for the first 4-plus minutes when all the bad stuff happens.  

3: The shooter is almost always someone known at the facility. An employee; a separated employee; an intimate partner of an employee; a contractor or fired contractor; someone with a grudge. Are there ways facility managers could have recognized ahead of time the shooter’s intention? “Yes,” say all the federal agencies who have researched active shooters. 

4: Amateurs talk emergencies; professionals talk Command, Control and Communications. The law requires facilities have an emergency response team (ERT). Facility managers should organize employees to respond in the first four minutes — and for hours afterward. Who is in command? What’s the chain of command? What are the job assignments? How does the facility manager enable the ERT to instantly communicate orders in a four-minute world — across all the space — to all occupants and continue to quickly do so for a shooter on the move? 

5: The state’s fire code requires that the employer alert all occupants that any emergency has started. Facility managers do this daily with fire alarm boxes. Anyone can create a fire alert instantly by pulling the fire alarm box. Is there a box on the wall for an active shooter? Suspicious package? Tornado? No. so, how do facility managers alert occupants about an active shooter? How do you alert them instantly? Remember, this is a four-minute world, so managers have to alert occupants that the shooting has started but also where he/she is. Occupants can’t decide to run or to hide or to fight if they’re not alerted to the shooter’s position.  

6: Facility managers are in the 100 percent business. When children come home with a test score of 98, parents are proud at the mission accomplished. In workplace emergencies, facility managers are in the 100 percent business when it comes to injury or death. Anything less than 100 percent is a failing grade for alerting, responding and accounting for employees. Headcounts during an active shooter incident are critical. It’s the first question emergency responders will ask. That’s why alerting and headcounts are required by law. 

7: Facility managers need a plan. I get calls all the time asking “Can you train our people for an active shooter.” My standard response: “Sure. What’s your plan for responding to an active shooter?” Invariably, there is a long pause followed by “Plan? We need a plan?” Yes. We train to a plan — that is site-specific — that details how employees respond, which is locked into effective Command Control and Communications. All of this is required by law. If managers have run a YouTube video for occupants and believe that is a plan and training, they will fail. The law requires every employer in the U.S. to have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) where occupants will find site-specific, active shooter procedures and Command, Control and Communications. The site-specific EAP is required by law for every employer no matter size, number of employees or business model. 

8: Great plans are a smart thing; training is everything. If facility managers don’t get their plans off the paper and into occupants’ heads, then they have failed. The law requires employers to train everyone from CEO to the just-hired unpaid intern. Employers are required to train in a classroom setting — on-screen training alone is illegal. It is required to train when the plan is created, at hire and annually thereafter. Employers are required to employ a “qualified” trainer — qualified by experience and training. If facility managers think that inviting the police department to “train” occupants is all they need to do, they have failed. Should establishments confer with police? Of course. But, the police will brief on what they’re trained to do. That is not the same as a facility manager training occupants to their plan, at their workplace, regarding their response procedures. The police and fire departments should be happy to explain how they respond. They have no duty of care to plan and or train the facility’s occupants.  

9: There is nothing in local, state or federal law that asks or requires the landlord to create the plan or train occupants. The landlord/property manager does not have a plan. The landlord has no duty of care to create a plan or train occupants. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to create a plan and train occupants. 

10: Every employer in the U.S. has a duty of care to keep all employees safe at the workplace. That duty of care extends to contractors, visitors — any person on the premises. “Each employer shall furnish…a place of employment…free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” [29 USC 654 §5(a)(1)]. This is not a foggy interpretation. This is not a guideline. This is not a regulation. This is a law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President — in 1970. 

Facility managers can fight all this. They can run from all this. But they can’t hide from any of it. Create or recreate an Emergency Action Plan and train all occupants. Today. 

Bo Mitchell is president and CEO of 911 Consulting. He is the former police commissioner of Wilton, Connecticut and has earned 21 certifications in homeland security, emergency management, disaster recovery, business continuity, safety and security. He will be presenting at NFMT Baltimore in March. His session is titled “Active Shooter in Your Workplace: How to Respond, Limit Liability and Long-term Consequences.” Register at www.nfmt.com/baltimore.


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