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From Fear to Empowerment Active Shooter Training Leads the Way

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Most of us cover fire drills and emergency procedures as part of new employee orientation.  We explain how to report a workplace injury, how to dial 911 from an office desk phone.  How to avoid slips, trips and falls.  How to use protective equipment.  These trainings and practices ensure OSHA compliance, keep employees safe, lower our insurance premiums and make risk managers smile. 

But is active shooter and situational awareness training part of the conversation? 

September 16 was the four-year anniversary of the Washington Navy Yard Shooting.  That shooting in 2013, and others, including the San Bernardino County Public Health Department shooting on Dec. 2, 2015 motivated many organizations to implement active shooter and situational awareness trainings for employees. The anniversaries of such events make us ask ourselves, “How do we empower employees to create a culture of safety?” 

Often when employees think about safety, they think about security. Door codes, bullet-proof glass and security cameras.  Many organizations don’t have the funds to install such equipment in all reception areas, and even the best security system cannot withstand a shared door code, a pilfered key or just a rock wedged in a door to let in some air.

The goal should be to empower employees, enhance their awareness, give them tools and establish expectations before it is a survival situation.  Safety is critical in all that we do and situational awareness is important not only at work, but off-duty as well, when employees travel, shop, walk to their cars across a parking lot, at a store or at home.

Situational awareness training should give employees the guidelines and tools to take appropriate and quick action for safety in the event of an emergency no matter their location.

So how can you go about creating or enhancing such a training?  First, seek the assistance of your sheriff’s office or local law enforcement.  The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Program at Texas State University has trained more than 114,000 law enforcement first-responders in what has become the standard for active shooter response.  Additionally, Citizen Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training is a valuable tool your agency may be able to provide with internal trainers.  

Second, create a team to thoughtfully develop training consisting of information about situational awareness and active shooters, along with table-top scenarios and discussion while considering your staff, culture and environment. 

Third, develop scenarios and use internet resources such as the FBI’s webpage on active shooter resources, the City of Houston Active Shooter Run Hide Fight video and

YouTube has many good resources, including the video of Virginia Tech Survivor Kristina Anderson sharing her story and video of the Panama City School Board Shooting.  Note: if you use YouTube as a resource, be careful, as some of the video available is very graphic. (Generally, the video title will include the word “graphic.”)

Fourth, tell employees that the training is to inform and empower, not upset or cause fear. You want employees to create mental scripting regarding such scenarios and have them listen to their gut.  At the beginning of the training, let them know what they will see in the training and encourage them to walk out if they feel that they need to do so.  

Setting expectations is a key take away of such a training.  It is everyone’s responsibility to get themselves out of an active shooter event. 

Supervisors need to understand that they need to get themselves out of danger and encourage others to follow them to safety.  It is not the supervisor’s responsibility to get everyone else out or check each conference room and restroom.  Employees need to know that they can get themselves out of a dangerous situation without waiting for chain of command permission or the supervisor telling them to leave. 

If everyone has the same expectations, they can act more quickly.  Can they call 911 without asking a supervisor?  Yes.  Can they break a window to get out of an office?  Yes.  Can they leave their desk unattended?  Yes. 

Can they dig through dry wall to make an exit if one does not exist?  Yes.  Can they exit the room through a ceiling tile?  Yes.  If they see a suspicious package, can they call 911?  Yes.  Can they exit through a door that is labeled “emergency only alarm will sound”?  Yes.  Is customer service more important than personal safety? No. These are critical conversations to have as part of a training or during a staff meeting.  The conversations empower employees to protect themselves and take action.  

Here is a sample training scenario that can get the dialogue started:

A well-dressed woman comes in the door and up to your reception area.  She has appeared before, angry about something she cannot define.  Staff have spoken to her before and because she wanted nothing specific, could not assist her and eventually asked her to leave. 

But this time, she begins to berate the closest staff member with her voice rising and visible angry posturing.  She is again asked to leave the building by staff due to her behavior and is informed that if she does not leave, the police will be called to escort her out of the building.  Instead of leaving as she has in the past, the woman sits down and begins to cry.  As staff again try to assist her, she leaves abruptly. 

What jumps out at you in this scenario?  The woman is familiar, she has appeared before and she is well dressed, which may cause staff to be less situationally aware.  However, this time is different.  She is angry about something she cannot define; her voice is rising and her behavior is different.  Does anyone watch her leave the building or the property? 

Discussing scenarios like this helps people prepare for real world challenges.

And finally, do you have a threat management team in your organization?  An engaged and active threat management team is a valuable resource.  It may consist of representatives from the sheriff’s office, facilities management, human resources, risk management and the county attorney’s office.

They convene whenever needed to assess risk, advise on safety procedures and issue safety notifications for known threats. These warnings can be in response to threats by customers, or could be about restraining orders.  

The threat management team can also work to ensure active shooter and situational awareness training remains part of mandatory training. 

They can debrief after situations with staff so that response is always improving.  They can identify areas of risk that may benefit from different or new safety processes or equipment.  They can remind employees of the need for situational awareness, even if those threats come from an employee, an employee’s spouse or a former employee.  

Let us honor those who have lost their lives in tragic shootings by committing to be more aware and more empowered, by using situational awareness to try to prevent active shooter events and by being thankful for every day. 

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