Filed Under:Markets, Commercial Lines

Mitigating active shooter risks

An active shooter situation can evolve quickly in any setting, and workers should know what their options are in such a situation. (Photo: Shutterstock)
An active shooter situation can evolve quickly in any setting, and workers should know what their options are in such a situation. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The number of incidents involving active shooters has steadily increased over the last 15 years, and preparing your staff and your clients now takes on new significance.

In 2000, there was one active shooter incident, and in 2015 there were 20. According to the FBI, the largest number of active shooter incidents occur in a business setting, followed by schools, open spaces and non-military government property.

The FBI defines an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people In a populated area such as parks, schools, houses of worship, medical facilities, transportation centers, workplaces and other public gathering sites.

Related: Strategies to reduce workplace violence

At the recent Workers’ Compensation Institute conference, Keith Plaisance and Kelly Bernish of Global SHE Solutions, LLC, shared their experiences with implementing active shooter preparedness for the city of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Plaisance explained that implementing an active shooter program is similar to preparing for a fire drill, and he stressed that survival depends on having a plan with three specific options: run, hide or, fight.

Active shooter options

(Photo: Shutterstock)


“If you can get out – do it,” advised Plaisance. “Always try to escape and evacuate, and don't let others slow you down with their indecision.”

He said fleeing workers should leave everything behind — purses, computers, personal belongings and the like. The priority is to get out of harm’s way. He also empahsized the importance of preventing others from walking into the danger zone and calling 911 once evacuated to a safe area.

Related: The real threat of workplace violence

woman hiding under a table

Workers who can't escape should find a secure place to hide that provides some measure of protection. (Photo: Shutterstock)


For workers who can’t get out to safety, the next best option may be to hid somewhere in the building.

“Act quickly and quietly, and secure the place as best you can,” he instructed.

It is important to silence cell phones to minimize the chances of being discovered by a ringing phone, and to lock the doors to the office or classroom if possible. He also recommended hiding behind large objects to provide some measure of protection from any gunfire, and to remain quiet and calm.

disarming a gunman

Employees who choose to fight can try to disarm the shooter or use any items they find as a weapon. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Confronting the shooter

Fighting is a last resort, stated Plaisance. He said to find items that could be used as weapons and “commit to taking the shooter down, no matter what.” He stressed the need for individuals making this choice to be physically aggressive in their attack.

Plan ahead for a variety of dangers Plaisance advised the audience to always be aware of their environment and to have an exit plan. He said these types of situations can arise quickly and first responders are not there to evacuate anyone trapped in the building. Their sole focus is to stop the shooter. “Your actions can make a difference to your safety and survival,” he added, “and training is critical.”

Training & exercises

Preparing for an active shooter scenario involves the development of a workplace violence policy and plan, emergency response plans, training and exercises, as well as providing physical security onsite such as a cameras, badged entry or even security guards.

As part of the workplace violence policy, the employer sets the standard for acceptable workplace behavior, affirms the company's commitment to take action and provide a safe workplace for employees, and addresses not just physical violence, but also factors like threats, bullying, harassment and the possession of weapons.

“There needs to be ‘zero tolerance’ for these behaviors,” said Plaisance, “but the level of discipline will vary.” It is also important to have some sort of reporting mechanism for employees so they know who to approach with questions or concerns.

Related: Holding bullies accountable

assessing risk outside of the boxCompanies assessing their risks need to consider all possible scenarios and identify plans to address them. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Risk management strategies

Plaisance also recommended creating a threat assessment team within the company comprising individuals from human resources, employee assistance, safety, risk management and any relevant partners, professionals or key resources such as law enforcement and mental health professionals.

An emergency response plan should be created for all hazards — fire, flooding, emergency evacuation, and active shooters to name a few. Again, a team involving staff from HR, training, security, the facility owner or operator, property managers and others should be designed. The plan should address:

Methods for reporting different types of emergencies Evacuation policy & procedure Escape procedures and route assignments Contact information for mandatory point of contact Information on local hospitals Emergency notification system — e.g., announcements, cellular system, emails.

risk management assessment

Once the plan is developed it should be tested to identify any weak points. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Road testing the plan

After it is developed, the plan should be tested to see how well it works and identify any problems or breakdowns in communications, as well as any other issues that could arise. Once the plan is finalized, it should be presented to the staff through regular training and exercises. “It’s not a matter of practice makes perfect,” said Plaisance, “it’s perfect practice makes perfect.”

The training should be relevant, realistic and safe. When training exercises are conducted, the staff and any visitors to the company should be aware that it is a training drill and not an actual shooting event. Employees should also accept what their role and survival mindset will be in a real active shooter event.

Office security system

Companies should carefully evaluate all aspects of their building security. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Security assessments

The company should also conduct a detailed physical security assessment. The goal of physical security is to deny unauthorized access and protect property, personnel and operations.

Employees can be a company’s best source of training because they can help identify vulnerabilities and solutions. Questions to consider as part of the assessment include:

  • How easy is it for people to access key personnel in your business?
  • Who gets access in the company or to what buildings?
  • What landscaping around the business prevents a clear line of sight of who's around or entering the building?
  • How do you control access after-hours?
  • Are cameras available around the property?

A vital aspect of a holistic security strategy focuses on deterrence, prevention, mitigation and recovery. Physical security measures can include access and control systems, CCTC/surveillance, an emergency notification system, first aid, and physical impediment tools which are designed to impede/prevent an active shooter from gaining access into office spaces.  

The key is to develop a plan that will prevent a shooter from gaining access and provide employees with the training to respond if a shooting event arises. “There needs to be a balance between physical security plans and the danger,” concluded Plaisance.

Additional resources on active shooter preparations are available from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Related: Is trouble brewing in the workplace?

Patricia L. Harman is editor-in-chief of Claims magazine. Contact her at

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