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Best Practices: Active Shooter Preparedness

This month’s mass shooting inside the Paris offices of the popular French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, is a harsh reminder that the workplace is not always a safe place. Even in the corporate environment, where it’s almost always business as usual. Certainly no one expects the absolute worst-case scenario – an active shooter event – to unfold.

Yet this is exactly what happened on January 7, 2015, after two masked gunmen – known Islamic terrorists – stormed a meeting of the publication’s top editors and artists. In the end, around 20 staff members were wounded, four critically, and 12 people were confirmed dead. Among the victims were two Paris police officers, fatally shot while responding to the incident.

The shooting inside the offices of Charlie Hebdo is France’s worst terror attack in 50 years. The last atrocity took place in the 1990s when eight people were killed and 150 were injured after the bombing of a commuter train in metro Paris.

But terrorists aren’t the only ones threatening harm inside the world’s businesses, or even the community at large. Active shooter events more commonly involve everyday people – students, co-workers, even military comrades. And, the number of these lethal situations is steadily on the rise.

In fact, a recent FBI study of 160 active shooter events occurring between 2000 and 2013 revealed an average of 16.4 incidents annually over the last seven years. Disturbingly, this number equates to roughly one active shooter event every three weeks!

The study, which also included a breakdown by location for these 160 incidents, showed that nearly half of them took place in businesses or malls. Nearly a quarter happened at schools and universities; while another ten percent took place on government properties. Only 4.4 percent happened at home.

Among the most unforgettable of these active shooter events are:

• Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012, 27 killed and two wounded

• Cinemark Century 16 Theatre, Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, 12 killed and 58 wounded

• Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center, Fort Hood, Texas, November 5, 2009, 13 killed and 32 wounded

• Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, April 16, 2007, 32 killed and 17 wounded

And, our nation will never forget the Columbine High School Massacre in April 1999, which claimed the lives of 15 people, including the two perpetrators, and caused injury to 24 others.

If you think your business, school, or neighborhood is immune to this worst-case scenario, think again. Just this week, a man packing three revolvers opened fire in Florida’s Melbourne Square Mall, killing two. And, an armed man fatally wounded a cardiac surgeon inside Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Just across the border, Canada’s Parliament found itself on lockdown in October 2014, after three people, including a soldier at the National War Memorial, were shot. Overseas, in 2011, 77 people were killed in two separate attacks in Norway (a bombing in downtown Oslo and a shooting massacre at a youth camp outside the capital).

These and other deadly incidents prove that an active shooter event can happen any place at any time. And, while we cannot live our lives in constant fear, missing work and avoiding social situations, we can all take certain precautions to improve our overall safety.

Consider the following five universal recommendations posted in the April 2014 edition of Security Magazine:

– Increase awareness of employees in high-risk professions so they are more situationally alert and able to avoid violent incidents.

– Increase the penalties for workplace violence incidents and change the designation of these incidents so they are classified as more serious crimes (i.e., changing classification from a misdemeanor to a felony in the U.S.)

– Increased emphasis should be placed on denying these individuals access to weapons and increasing support for mental health services.

– Increase awareness programs for families and communities to watch for the warning signs of individuals who may how a major personality change, become paranoid, or start to neglect personal hygiene.

– Increase security controls to mitigate the threat of workplace violence and active shooter, such as panic and duress alarms, keyboard alarms, active monitoring of security cameras and improvements in facilities access controls.

Likewise, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) aims to enhance active shooter preparedness through a “whole community” approach by providing training, products, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders on issues such as active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence. Other organizations, including the FBI, OSHA, and the CDC are following suit, as are popular trade associations such as ASIS (for industrial security) and APCO (for public safety).

While some continue to debate the Run-Hide-Fight concept in response to active shooter events, one thing is clear. Fast and reliable communication can mean the difference between life and death in these and other volatile situations.

To better safeguard your business, your community, your family and yourself, check out the valuable sources of information below, and consider the adoption of an emergency notification service. It will be time, and potentially money well spent, if your organization is faced with this very real and absolute worst-case scenario.