When an Active Shooter Event Hits Home

When an Active Shooter Event Hits Home

The recent active shooter event on May 31 in Virginia Beach hit home for me. That’s my hometown. Two of the twelve victims attended the same high school as me at the same time—I had been friends with one.

We regularly now hear about active shooters—in schools, in churches, at shopping malls, in the workplace.  Hopefully, as the frequency of these events seems to increase, we won’t become numb to their significance or begin to view them as commonplace.  But to the hundreds of individuals who experience them—or the many other family and friends affected – they will surely not be numb to the pain these events cause.

As news stories continue to mount of active-shooter events and bystander deaths, such an event will soon hit home for practically everyone—whether it relates to someone’s relative, friend, former coworkers, child, or their own workplace. Given this trend, we’ll need to get accustomed to either remaining unguarded and unprepared or, instead, building the skills and confidence that, if needed, we can do something to protect ourselves and others.

In the US in 2017, 729 people were killed in active-shooter events. These events accounted for only about 5% of homicides by gun violence. Conversely, each year, US fire departments respond to roughly 3,400 office fires, which lead to lead to an average of four deaths and 44 injuries per year.  Yet every workplace has a fire emergency program, including fire drills and fire extinguisher testing. While the situations are not quite equivalent, we might ask how many more fire deaths would occur if employees were not trained on reporting and evacuation procedures.

[fn1] “The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting,” Washington Post, October 1, 2017, (and ongoing updates).

[fn2] “U.S. Structure Fires in Office Properties,” National Fire Protection Association, August 2013.

Like fire and other emergencies, we can become prepared for active shooter events. This is a lesson from two recent incidents where, separately, two students rushed school shooters, either disabling the shooter or taking him down long enough for others to escape—apparently saving the lives of many classmates. Unfortunately, each student lost his life in the process. [fn3] But how many lives did each save? How much worse could it have been had the student not rushed the shooter?

[fn3] “List of mass shootings in the United States in 2019,” University of North Carolina at Charlotte, April 30, 2019; STEM School Highlands Ranch, Colorado, May 7, 2019; Wikipedia.

In the Virginia Beach incident, one of the unharmed employees indicated that the City’s active shooter training led one coworker to direct others to barricade themselves in an office, which she indicated saved their lives.

You can read the full article here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/virginia-beach-shooting-survivors-say-active-shooter-training-helped-save-lives/

If preparation is key to surviving the continuing onslaught of active shooters, then what should training look like? The US Department of Homeland Security, along with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency and FBI, advocate a popular framework: Run, Hide, Fight.

Further, strong preparation can involve the following:

  •         Provide training that gives the learner confidence in their ability to respond to an event
  •         Encourage coworkers and departments to coordinate a shared plan
  •         Provide managers with guidance about how they can help to lead during an event
  •         Reinforce the training message so that the skills (and confidence in these skills) do not wane
  •         Provide an employee with a way to self-refresh/reinforce the training when needed

Finally, because active-shooter events have so crowded the news cycle, we continue to hear about the stress and anxiety that individuals experience due to the news and “heavy-handed” training. Employers should consider training that minimizes the stress and anxiety while building confidence in the learner that they can be prepared and take rational actions in a chaotic situation.

Syntrio’s new Workplace Intruder: Smart Preparation for Personal Safety training program helps workplaces and their employees best prepare for the possibility of an active shooter. This training uses an approach that de-emphasizes attention on shooters and guns to lessen learner stress and anxiety while building their capability and confidence in their ability to respond during such an event.

Jason has worked in ethics and compliance for over twenty-five years, consulting with Fortune 500™ companies across the business ethics and compliance spectrum, including assessing and strengthening corporate values initiatives, instituting leadership engagement efforts, developing and revising codes of conduct and policies, designing and implementing related procedures, developing monitoring systems, conducting risk, culture and program assessments.

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