Active Shooters in the Workplace

Colleen Frislid
Colleen E. Frislid, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Table of Contents

It’s something none of us want to think about, but workplace violence is real, and HR must take the lead in preparing for and mitigating it. Have you prepared your organization for workplace violence? An active shooter in the workplace is a worst-case scenario, but unfortunately, it does happen. Reduce anxiety and negative outcomes by having clear policies and education.

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What Is an Active Shooter Incident?

An active shooter incident is a scenario in which an individual is actively trying to kill others in a common or populated area of your facility using a firearm.

Why Is It Important to Be Prepared for an Active Shooter in the Workplace?

Active shooter incidents are inherently volatile and dangerous. The situation changes rapidly, and they don’t always end quickly. It’s important for employees and management to understand how they can best proceed in such a situation.

  • Potential for workplace violence always exists. Workplace violence is a reality. It surfaces in many forms, unfortunately including active shooters. Certain industries may be at higher risk, and environmental factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have exacerbated the issue. There is no way to successfully predict whether your workplace will be targeted, so it’s important to make sure that your employees are prepared should you find yourself in that situation.
  • Preparation can minimize casualties. Individuals that understand the dynamics of an active shooter event are better able to adapt when it happens. They know what options they have and have better chances for survival.
  • Individual knowledge. Your employees have lives outside of the workplace that could also be impacted by an active shooter. The training you provide them could save their lives or others’ outside of the workplace as well.
  • Upholding security protocols. Employees who recognize that workplace violence is a possibility will do their part to ensure that company policies regarding security are upheld. They want to keep the workplace safe and likely want the knowledge on how to do so.

Signs of an Active Shooter in the Workplace

There is no fool-proof way to predict whether your workplace will be targeted by an active shooter, but there are some signs to be cognizant of that could indicate a risk. Employees should be trained in what to do if they recognize these behaviors in a colleague.

Noticeable Shifts in Behavior or Performance

Increasingly abnormal, drastic, or risky behavior or moods, radical changes to performance, or intentionally violating company policies could indicate that an individual is at risk.

Major Change to Personal Circumstance

A significant or abrupt change to someone’s home life, such as loss of income or loss of a loved one, could trigger a potential risk. Other signals include decreased concern for personal hygiene and drug or alcohol abuse.

Seeking Vengeance for Perceived Wrongdoings

Reacting violently or dramatically to company changes, aggressively expressing grievances, or making statements about getting revenge or punishing others for perceived wrongdoing are all signs of risk. Empathy for those who have committed similar crimes or increased talk about violence could also be indicators.

There is no exhaustive list of risk factors, and not all employees who experience or exhibit these behaviors will take it to the extreme of workplace violence.

Strategies to Prepare for an Active Shooter in the Workplace

It may feel an overwhelming responsibility to lead your company’s efforts in this area, but there are lots of resources and help, including these basic strategies.

Training

Train your workforce on indicators, proper safety, and security protocols, what to do in an active shooter incident and your business continuity plan. There are some organizations and individuals that will come to your workplace to conduct training and there are other resources available online to help you build training.

Role Play

Have active shooter drills. This exercise allows employees to practice their responses in real-time. There are resources available to help you build exercises for active shooter scenarios. Local law enforcement also can be a great resource. Your drill should include training on what to look and listen for (i.e. gunshots, yelling, etc.), how to respond, when to call 911, learning their environment, preparing for where to go, and what to do when law enforcement arrives.

Emergency Response Plan

An emergency response plan should outline how you want your employees to behave in a major incident. It includes where and how to report emergencies, evacuation procedures, safety areas, security and law enforcement information, local hospitals, and how to notify others of an incident. The plan should be developed in advance with other stakeholders from your company, and all employees should be aware of its contents as well as where to locate it.

More information and resources on how to develop an emergency response plan can be found on government agency websites such as OSHA.

What to Do If There’s an Active Shooter in the Workplace

Law enforcement experts recommend steps to take if there’s an active shooter in the workplace. It’s important that your workforce be able to manage the situation to increase chances of survival.

Run

If you are able to run to escape the active shooter, that should be your first response. Evaluate the situation quickly to determine if there is a clear path to safety and that running is a viable option. If the path is clear and you are able to run, leave all your belongings behind (except a phone, if possible) and leave as quickly as possible. If you can, help others get out of the building and stop them from entering the area where the shooter is. Always keep your hands visible so that others, including law enforcement, can quickly identify that you are not the shooter.

Hide

If you are not able to escape, find a place to hide. Your hiding place should be out of sight, and you should do what you can to barricade entry to your hiding place. Try not to restrict your options for escape as much as possible, stay quiet, turn off lights, shut doors, and make sure that your phone is silenced. Stay in your hiding place until law enforcement comes to get you. Unless you must, do not come out of your hiding place or open the door, if it’s an office. Be cognizant of the fact that some shooters pretend to be law enforcement to get people to come out of hiding.

Fight

If all else fails, fight back. This is the last resort; only fight if you must. This option requires commitment because you need to be willing to incapacitate the shooter through physical attack. Find whatever objects around the office you can use as weapons to hit, throw at, or otherwise harm the shooter.

Call 911

Call 911 as soon as you can do so safely. Remain alert to developments in the situation and provide the pertinent details to law enforcement. You should be prepared to provide the location of the incident and the shooter(s), the number of shooters, physical description of the shooters, their identities if you know who they are, the number of and types of weapons, and the number of potential victims. They may have other questions or need additional information. Stay calm and answer their questions to the best of your ability.

After

Once law enforcement arrives, their priority is to stop the shooter and any other threats. Once that’s done, they will clear the office or building and a team will find individuals in the building. They will assess and treat injuries, collect statements, ask questions, and take any needed steps to control the situation. Employees should remain calm, put down any weapons or objects they are holding, keep their hands raised and visible, and avoid making rapid movements or loud noises. They must follow the directions given by law enforcement and should not leave the designated areas until they are instructed that it’s okay to do so.

After the threat has been eliminated and the situation is under control, company leaders or HR should account for all employees to make sure that everyone is safe. If people are missing or injured, they need to let law enforcement know and determine how to inform family members of the incident. This includes notifying families of any casualties.

The designated leaders should also do what they can to evaluate the mental and emotional state of their employees. Refer employees to medical or other health care providers, and provide all employees with information and access to your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) if applicable. Lastly, document the situation, consider contacting your workers’ compensation carrier to inform them of the incident and get resources to help impacted employees and update your company’s emergency response plan with any new information or steps.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Active Shooters in the Workplace

All threats should be taken seriously. If your company receives a threat, immediately contact local law enforcement to make them aware of the threat and to seek guidance. Depending on your business, you may be able to close your workspace, have employees work remotely, or enact a special security protocol.
Yes. Having active shooter drills helps prepare employees beyond what classroom training alone can do. This is where employees are able to put into practice Run Hide Fight, understand what to listen and look for, and start to evaluate their workspace in a way that may protect them in the future. There are resources available, such as professional services, local law enforcement, and information on government agency websites (OSHA [https://www.osha.gov/workplace-violence], DHS) that provide information on how to conduct workplace violence training.
OSHA does not currently have a mandate for workplace violence (including active shooter) preparation. However, OSHA does recommend preparation for this type of event and provides resources and information(https://www.osha.gov/workplace-violence) on workplace violence.
Colleen Frislid
Colleen E. Frislid, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Colleen manages a team of HR consultants that work with a variety of industries, specializing in the fields of human resources, strategic planning, and human capital management. Colleen applies expert knowledge, industry experience, and relentless energy to solving companies’ issues. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management as well as women in leadership groups. She is PHR, SPHR, and SHRM-SCP certified. She has an awesome pet cat, Attila and, when she’s not working she loves to travel, enjoy the great outdoors, and volunteer with different local charities.

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