workplace shooting

Active shooter incidents are an unfortunate reality, and employers have become increasingly concerned about how these threats could affect their workplace.

According to an FBI study1 of 2017-2021 data revealed an upward trend in the number of active shooter incidents. There was a 52.5% increase in active shooter cases from 2020 to 2021 and a 96.8% increase from 2017.  

These findings highlight the need for employers to remain vigilant about active shooter awareness and prevention efforts. However, preparing for an active shooter can be a challenge for employers, and many barriers stand between a business and a concrete plan of action. To help navigate these challenges, it’s important to be educated on common roadblocks, as well as best practices for creating and implementing an active shooter plan.

The Challenge for Employers

While businesses often understand the need to prepare for active shooter incidents, many never establish an effective plan. This can occur for a variety of reasons, but it’s often related to the following:

  • The employer lacks the resources or know-how necessary to create an effective active shooter plan
  • The employer has other priorities that are critical to their day-to-day operations

It’s not uncommon for businesses to hear about an active shooter incident in the news and begin to create a plan, only to have the process stall before procedures are formalized. To get over this roadblock, businesses need to make preparing for an active shooter incident a priority.

Active shooter incidents should be treated like other risk management concerns. Employers should demonstrate a top-down commitment to safeguarding their organization, employees, members and clients from the threat of violence. Only then can businesses truly take the steps necessary to build an active shooter prevention plan.

Creating and Implementing an Active Shooter Plan

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the threat of an active shooter event and the subsequent trauma and litigation it may bring, proactive organizations are in a much better position to respond to an incident. To mitigate costly lawsuits and liabilities created by active shooter incidents, employers should consider the following best practices for creating and implementing a plan:

Leverage Expertise

It’s true that most businesses won’t have the expertise they need in-house to create an active shooter plan. However, employers can leverage a variety of outside resources to draft a plan that’s right for their operations. Employers can seek the assistance of law enforcement, fire departments, trade organizations and the Department of Homeland Security. These entities have the knowledge and insight that employers need to appropriately plan for an active shooter incident. For instance, a business’s local police department can help conduct drills that simulate an actual active shooter event.

Customize the Plan

While active shooter plans have common elements, they need to be customized to meet the unique needs of the business. Essentially, what works for a manufacturing company with multiple locations might not apply to a nonprofit or school that works with vulnerable populations. Employers need to do a complete risk assessment and carefully consider every aspect of their plan to ensure it addresses active shooter exposures unique to their operations.

Integrate the Plan

When developing an active shooter plan, employers should integrate it into business continuity plans, risk management plans, workplace violence prevention programs and zero-tolerance workplace violence policies. The latter two are most crucial, keeping the following in mind:

  • Workplace violence prevention programs — Written programs for workplace violence prevention, which are typically segments of an overall safety and health program, provide a proactive approach for reducing or eliminating the risk of violence in the workplace. A prevention program focuses on developing workplace-appropriate procedures for preventing and mitigating violence. It should have clear goals for preventing workplace violence, be tailored to the company’s size and be flexible enough to apply to various specific situations.
  • Zero-tolerance workplace violence policies— In most workplaces, the risk of violence can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections that employers can offer their workers is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should provide a commitment to protecting all employees against workplace violence of any kind. It must also be a policy of zero tolerance, meaning any violation of the policy would result in termination.

Train Employees

While creating a written active shooter plan is critical and ensures that policies and procedures are well documented, employers must also train their employees and conduct regular active shooter drills. These training initiatives and drills provide step-by-step instructions to employees, ensuring that they know what to do in the event of an incident. The more drills and training an employer provides, the more prepared their staff members will be. Even remote employees or individuals who typically work in the field can benefit from active shooter training. This is because pillars of active shooter safety (e.g., threat recognition) apply regardless of whether the employee is on-site or off-site.

Training and drill plans should be reviewed frequently to account for any organizational or policy changes, as well as to evaluate employee performance during previous active shooter drills. Again, employers will need to keep vulnerable populations in mind when creating and improving these drills. This is particularly important when you consider that these populations (e.g., children, elderly, dementia/cognitively impaired or individuals with disabilities) may not be able to evacuate when faced with an active shooter threat and will require unique safety plans.

When reviewing these strategies, employers should recognize that active shooter plans are not one-size-fits-all: They’re living and breathing documents, and employers must be willing to tailor their approach to meet the specific needs of their workplace and workforce. Doing so allows businesses to hone their active shooter procedures and safeguard their most valuable assets: their employees.

Key Takeaways

  1. Active shooter incidents have been steadily increasingover the years
  2. Active shooter incidents should be treated like other risk management concerns
  3. Creating a written active shooter planis critical and ensures policies and procedures are well documented.

Take the Next Step

Learn more about active shooter incidents by visiting the Department of Homeland Security’s website.



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