FCS specializes in strategic planning and execution that are critical components of every organization’s overall security and risk management strategy, including Workplace Violence/Active Shooter plans. If your organization does not have such a plan, we hope this plan we have been teaching for several years helps you. If you are a church, school, or non-profit organization in one of the market’s where FCS has an office (see Locations tab) we will provide training based on this plan to your team, at no cost to you.
Workplace Violence and Dynamic Situations
The Active Shooter Plan
An Active Shooter is a type of Dynamic Situation that is all too common in the workplace, at school, and in other widely attended locations including shopping malls and sporting events. Generally, an Active Shooter is defined as an individual (usually, but not always a lone individual), who initiates an armed attack against a number of innocent civilians and the event is not concluded until the attacker flees, is killed or captured by police, or commits suicide.
It is true to note that as a phenomenon, the concept of an Active Shooter is modern (post the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas), but the numbers of active shootings do not go up every year. Since 2000, there have been 153 incidents in the United States, but there were twice as many in 2009 as in 2011, so the numbers of incidents do not escalate every year, contrary to what might be reported in the media.
It is extremely difficult to attempt to profile an active shooter before the fact. However, we know from looking at the profiles of past active shooters what their general characteristics look like. With the exception of a terrorist attack (such as the Fort Hood and San Bernardino attacks which involved radicalization,) active shooters in the United States have all had significant mental health challenges. Most have substantial mental health issues including a history of paranoia and even psychosis. The motives and mental health of the Nation’s deadliest attack at Las Vegas in 2017 are still under investigation. Mass shooters are typically male, tend to be loners, (although not all are), between the ages of 17 and 30, and closer to the event, their symptoms related to mental illness tend to escalate. Some of their symptoms mirror those of individuals who commit suicide, (such as letter-writing, making final plans, etc.), which is likely related to the fact that nearly 40% of attacks end with the suicide of the shooter. After the fact, many people will report having observed troublesome behavior by the attacker, but almost no one, including close loved ones, will have observed all of the individual’s problems before an incident. Other factors might include the role of dark or violent video games, music, or literature being relevant, but the evidence is still being evaluated on this aspect of the problem.
Of the 279 active shooter incidents in the United States since 1966, 24% occurred at a school, 23% at work (12% in a factory or warehouse and 11% in an office building), 24% in another open commercial facility, and 29% in another facility. Thirty six percent of shooters carried more than one weapon, and in several cases, they carried multiple weapons. Concerning the attackers, Dr. Joshua Sinai describes the “Six Phases of an Active Shooter Attack” as:
- Cognitive Opening– Mindset, despair, worsening personality changes, withdrawal.
- Planning– Target selection, acquiring a weapon, travel, considering date and time.
- Preparation– Rehearsal, surveillance, prepositioning of weapons.
- Approach– Developing a plan, load and fix weapons, travel to location, look for surveillance.
- Implementation– Execute the attack
- Mitigation– Law enforcement intervention, suicide.
Less than one percent of active shooters flee the scene, 40% commit suicide, 43% are wounded or killed by police, and 16% are captured without force. If you are a member of management or security – here is the most important takeaway:
If an active shooter incident happens in your area of responsibility, it is going to be fast, violent, and will probably not end until the shooter is incapacitated by the police or he commits suicide. This is an event you need to be darkly pessimistic about the effects of, give considerable thought to ahead of time, and train for diligently.
The Department of Homeland Security teaches a self-explanatory continuum of “Run – Hide – Fight.” While this might seem like an obvious course of action, there are numerous examples of victims who should have run before hiding, and who might have considered fighting before being killed. Nobody wants to second guess the innocent victim of an active shooter after the fact, but those facts include that in the past ten years even law enforcement has radically changed their initial response to active shooter scenarios. Up until the early 2000’s, the initial law enforcement response was to secure the scene and await specialized tactical teams. Today, realizing that lost time will most likely equal more lost lives, law enforcement’s response is to immediately enter the scene and attempt to capture or kill the shooter as fast as possible.
While nobody should consider carelessly fighting with an active shooter, we have seen recent examples where unarmed civilians have successfully stopped a confrontation and saved innocent lives. “Fighting” is a last-ditch alternative to an obviously deadly assault on you or other innocent persons, where striking back at the attacker is a marginally better option than doing nothing.”
Here is the thing though; in a deadly crisis like an active shooter situation, an individual has to have thought ahead of time that they might consider fighting back rather than face obvious death. Tactical instructors and special forces refer to this concept as “the body going where the mind has already been,” and it is a critical element of training. Now would be the time to think about how you might react in such a difficult situation.
Review an overall Crisis Management Plan. The information provided is generally generic enough that it can be implemented for any crisis that affects the workplace (weather, business failure, cyberattack, etc.). Review your organization’s SOPs on workplace violence and harassment since many active shooter situations are related to employees or former employees who have displayed past tendencies toward violence at work. Treat and report to law enforcement, all instances where individuals threaten or intimate they have thought about, or are acting like they are preparing to become an active shooter. The analogy here is close to that of an individual who threatens to commit suicide; while many individuals do not go on to do so, the threat is a sign something is very wrong and needs to be quickly followed up on by professionals.
A Crisis Management Plan should contain:
- An evacuation – planning diagram for all floors and offices.
- Emergency evacuation plans including wardens.
- Designate “The Individual” who is responsible for calling 911. This is critical because while eventually a number of people will call, time will inevitably be wasted until these calls are made. The responsible individual should identify themselves to police as the designated individual, and stay on the phone.
- Identify shelter locations with thick walls, solid doors with locks, first aid kits, and communications devices.
- Configure safe routes for building occupants to get to the shelter locations or develop plans for occupants to shelter in place if it is not safe to get to the shelter locations. Depending on the size of your organization, designate shelter captains who are responsible for knowing who is present, and who is not. They should be among the first to talk with law enforcement. Turn off cell phones (or dial 911 and leave them on with the volume down.) Try and keep everyone quiet. If you are outside, consider running to daylight instead of into a building with a crowd. The shooter might follow everyone into the building.
- Develop a communications message with coded phrases that will notify employees about a specific active shooter scenario via PA system, email and text message.
- Assemble building plans including blue prints and store them in a location that is quickly retrievable so they can be given to responding authorities as soon as they arrive.
- Understand that when law enforcement arrives, they will do so in overwhelming numbers, with overwhelming force. Understand that everyone must immediately comply with law enforcement instructions including following their orders, and having their hands in the air. Everyone will be considered by law enforcement to be involved in the incident until authorities safely conclude otherwise.
- Do not try and communicate with law enforcement unless they ask you questions first. Do not try and assist the wounded. Do not expect law enforcement to immediately help the wounded; their first and momentarily only objective is to stop the violence.
- Consider sharing your crisis management plan with law enforcement and invite them to train in your workplace.
- Most importantly, rehearse your Crisis Management and Active Shooter plans with all employees at least once a year.
It is highly unlikely an active shooter scenario will ever happen in your workplace, church, school or organization. If in the statistically small chance it does, it will be a traumatic event for you and your employees, many of whom will never get over it emotionally if not physically. However, the best possible thing you can do to plan for a crisis – is to plan for a crisis. Remember that if you are a supervisor or in a position of leadership, your subordinates will mask, and then amplify your behavior. If you appear to be calm and in control of the situation, your subordinates will respond in a calm and controlled manner. If you are frantic and out of control, they will act more frantic and out of control than you. Learn, remember, and embrace the phrase, “Calm is Contagious.” Finally, develop a plan, implement the plan, and practice the plan.
Jim Casey is the Executive Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer at FCS – First Coast Security headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. Previously he was Vice President for Asset Protection at the national retailer Stein Mart, Inc. He was a law enforcement officer for 32 years including serving as a police officer in Arlington County, Virginia, and as an FBI Special Agent for 25 years. During that time, he was involved in almost all phases of law enforcement operations including investigations, counterterrorism, crisis management, SWAT, and senior executive management. In 2004-2005 he was a Director of Intelligence Programs on the National Security Council (NSC) at the George W. Bush White House. In 2012 he retired as the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Field Office. Contact Jim at email@example.com