What Is the Best Way to Stop an Active Shooter?

Unfortunately, our country continues to be plagued by tragedies caused by individuals with unregulated access to firearms. What compounds this serious issue is the deadly consequences created by a society that allows people without the legal authority or proper mental capacity to possess weapons. There is no silver bullet or panacea to stem the tide of these horrific events that are occurring all too often, but we can take steps to create a safer environment.

An all-inclusive approach that cuts to the heart of this problem and attacks the genesis of these events is required, rather than responding to the aftermath of the event itself. Instead of focusing most of our attention, energy, and efforts on what can be done to stop an active shooter during one of these attacks, let’s step back and try to determine what caused the incident in the first place.

It All Begins at the Beginning

Your goal should be to identify individuals before they have the means, mindset, and motive to carry out their violence. These events are not spontaneous—people don’t just “snap” and set out on a killing spree. Instead they are premeditated, planned, and if you look closely enough, announced. Having your organization supported by policy is the foundation to an Active Shooter Plan. You need to have the capability to identify, assess, and control anyone exhibiting traits that can be categorized as pre-attack indicators, which without intervention could manifest into violence.

Horizontally, Vertically, and Across an Organization

“Power in numbers” is another remedial action that results in a multi-disciplinary approach with select people up, down, and parallel in your organization, designated to prevent active shooter incidents. Individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and experience will come together and work collaboratively to design a plan to mitigate this threat. After forming a committee of representatives from entities such as management, law enforcement security, medical, mental health, fire, legal, HR, and training, this group will be charged with the mission to collectively develop a strategy and processes for preventing, controlling, and resolving an active shooter scenario.

Addressing Workplace Violence Protects Against an Active Shooter

Because an active shooter event is the most serious form of workplace violence, you must focus on mitigation and creating the processes that prevent any behavior deemed irregular or inappropriate from occurring. To be adequately prepared, you need to direct your attention to security, personnel, policies, procedures, systems, and physical measures. Examples are private guards (security), clinical health professionals (personnel), code of conduct (policies), employee assistance program (procedures), blast text messaging (systems), and lock-operated access points (physical measures). All of these disciplines contribute to the framework of the plan.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Because each situation is unique, knowing the signs to look for using professional judgment or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary. Some of these signs are: disruptive behavior; physical injuries; absenteeism or tardiness; poor job performance; stalking a co-worker; inappropriate comments; threatening emails; and harassing phone calls. All of these signs could be an indication of a much more serious problem that may require identifying, assessing, and managing a potential violent situation.

Out With the Old and In With the New

The antiquated way to deal with a problem was to remove it. History has taught us that eliminating the source does not resolve the issue. It used to be that workplace managers fired, police officers arrested, and school principals expelled. None of these actions puts an end to the threat; they just delay it. Eventually, people get out of jail or return to the workplace or school to bring closure for themselves. Your best remedy is to have mechanisms that not only prevent, but also treat.

All of these recommended measures that I’ve presented have to be created, implemented, and when necessary, applied. Until then, a truly holistic program is not in place to protect your most valuable assets—your people—against the threat of an active shooter.

Emergency Management Is No Laughing Matter

Located in Chicago, the iconic comedy club Second City is renowned for its legendary comedians and famous alumni like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Tina Fey. Recently, Second City was in the news, but not for comedy. A fire started in the kitchen of a restaurant that shares the building with Second City, destroying the offices. The theater in the next building was spared, but tenants were forced to relocate. Because I am a security practitioner, my first thought after learning no one was seriously injured, “Was there an emergency management plan?

An all-hazards approach prepares for all kinds of emergencies since emergency plans rarely cover everything that might be required for an incident. Because the evacuation requirements for a fire may differ significantly from those for a hazardous materials spill, the plan needs to be adaptable to circumstances, innovative, and, when necessary, improvisational. An all-hazards plan provides a basic framework for responding to a wide variety of emergencies.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure      

Simply stated, the recommended approach to preparing for an emergency begins with the plan. Your plan should address the four phases of emergency management: (1) prevention, (2) preparedness, (3) response, and (4) recovery. The first phase of the plan, prevention, includes any activities that are preventative, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or mitigate the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. A practical example is an emergency notification system to alert people of a security- or safety-related incident in real time.

When You’re Prepared There is No Pressure

The famous Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, was once asked before a big game if he was nervous. Coach Holtz stated, “When you’re prepared, there is no pressure.” This mantra also applies to an emergency, and as long as you know that you have done everything you can to prepare for an incident, then you don’t need to be nervous about the outcome. The second phase, preparedness, details measures needed to prepare for an emergency. Training is at the heart of preparedness, and specific examples include a fire drill conducted to familiarize building occupants with emergency evacuation routes and the shelter-in-place stocking of items like water, food, and blankets.

Every Emergency Is an Incident, but Not Every Incident Is an Emergency

The third phase, response, has general actions including moving people to a safe room or assembly area and turning off gas lines in a fire scenario. A well-constructed plan also outlines specific roles and responsibilities for designated personnel to perform once an incident occurs and may prevent it from becoming an emergency. This orchestrated response not only mitigates danger, it also brings calm to potential chaos. If people know how to respond during an incident, it might not become an emergency. We want to be able to pour water on the fire, not gasoline; or in other words, douse the flames, not fan the fire.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

The saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” definitely applies to recovering from an emergency. Now that the event is over, how will you recover? How will you continue to serve and support your employees, as well as your clients? A well-crafted and thought-out plan has a recovery process to allow continuity of operations without disrupting business. Recovery from an emergency includes implementing actions to return to normal operations or to an even safer situation following an incident. Temporary housing, an alternate work site, and individual counseling are all parts of this process. Following these four phases will prepare you for all types of emergencies and may even allow you to crack a smile in the face of danger.