How organizations can prevent deadly shooting incidents

Preparing for violence takes serious planning, training and know-how

Police respond to violence in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Kevin T. Doss, Level 4 Security LLC)One of the most serious threats to organizations these days is the threat of violence. Violence comes in many forms, but the most serious acts typically involve the use of deadly weapons. These incidents can have a tremendous impact on an organization and may result in their complete collapse.

Why do organizations ignore such threats that can lead to their insolvency and ruin? After years of research and examination, I have concluded that there are three main reasons why organizational leaders do not proactively mitigate such threats. They think:

  1. It won't happen here
  2. We don't have the budget
  3. We will deal with it when it occurs

All three of these reasons are understandable from an organizational perspective; however, from a liability standpoint, they will not offer a solid defence in a court of law. How can the organization provide the safety and security that they are required to provide for everyone who comes under their duty to protect?

In matters involving violence, prevention is always the best option. Prevention implies a proactive stance and results in deterring or preventing the crime. 

Prevention and preparedness should be approached from two perspectives:

  • The first is what every organization should do to protect those under their care.
  • The second is using a common sense approach that considers a balance between the mission and available resources. This balance is key to building and maintaining a program that is both manageable and effective.

Every organization and each site is different and should be approached using a mission-based site-specific plan. For example, a house of worship differs from a retailer, which differs from a secure non-public facility. Each of these examples faces unique challenges; but there are also some basic tools that should be considered and employed by all.

Responding to internal threats

To prevent shooting violence, it is important to understand the threat. Threats can come from the inside or the outside and may involve collusion between the two. Bad hires, poor management, and improperly screened employees, contractors and volunteers along with a myriad of relationship issues have all resulted in acts of deadly violence from internal sources.

The author’s new book

Workplace violence is second only to cybersecurity as the top threat faced by organizations today, according to Pinkerton, the world’s leading provider of risk management services. Incidents involving active shooters in the workplace are on the rise and becoming more violent and deadly. Active Shooter: Preparing for and Responding to a Growing Threat, published in August by Elsevier’s Butterworth-Heinemann, provides the tools to identify potential violent individuals, along with the options and responses needed to save lives, reduce corporate liability, and recover from an active shooter event should it happen.

The authors show why many perpetrators initiate attacks, what they often are thinking, and some of the indicators that could have been identified prior to the attack. They describe how organizations can develop an active shooter program, walking readers through the entire process including training exercises to test the efficiency of the program. And they illustrate how to communicate with law enforcement, government agencies, and the media in the event of active shooter incident, and how organizations can recover promptly, which is crucial for operational survival.

Author Kevin T. Doss, CEO of Level 4 Security, has over 25 years of experience providing protective services in high-risk environments worldwide. Author C. David Shepherd, has more than 45 years’ experience in security, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, risk management, crisis management and active shooting.

It is important that organizations are aware of potential threats to their operations and people. Whether these threats are posted on social media, verbal or written, having an understanding of potential threats is often half the battle when it comes to preventing attacks. Typically, it is not a complete surprise to the people of an organization when someone snaps and chooses a gun to do their talking. Although this is not always the case, many times there are warning signs and strong clues to what the shooter is thinking long before they actually use violence to be heard.

Here are a few basic options an organization can deploy to limit exposure to internal acts of violence:

Complete a Risk Vulnerability Assessment. When properly performed, this will provide the necessary information to develop a plan, choose the corresponding security countermeasures and determine the training requirements for the organization.

Verify backgrounds and criminal history of all employees, contractors and volunteers (and guests in some cases)

Employ good management practices for standards of behavior, employee recognition and promotions and for disciplinary action and removal. Treat everyone with respect and offer support programs when appropriate (e.g., counseling and job placement services).

Train leadership on conflict resolution, coaching, interpersonal and counselling skills.

Consider developing the following policies and others as necessary: harassment and bullying, weapons, pre-employment and selection, acceptable conduct, travel, physical security, equity and diversity, mental health, grievance and reporting, rewards and recognition, corruption, salary, benefits and leave, performance and promotions, and crisis management.

Responding to external threats

External threats can also be very difficult to protect against because many times the organization isn’t even aware of the potential threat. The threat may materialize from a mentally ill person who is upset about something, or it could be someone with a personal vendetta against a specific person. As with internal threats, the organization should monitor social media and take all written and verbal threats seriously.

There are a myriad of reasons shooters choose to attack; at times, victims are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is why the proper planning, choice of countermeasures and training is so critical: a shooting can happen anywhere and anytime — and it is up to the individual to make a wise choice as to what to do at that very moment.

Many organizations are vulnerable to attack, especially if the threat is calculated and the adversary plans the attack in advance. Having the mere appearance of security seems to be the norm when it comes to protection schemes – but will it deter or stop a motivated attacker? Simply holding a door open for a non-authorized person, whether the person is known or not, may compromise the entire protection program. 

The ability to protect against outside threats is the responsibility of every employee, contractor and guest. Every authorized person should be trained and retrained on security awareness and procedures, emergency actions, the reporting process, and any other site specific requirements in regards to safety and security. A few options to consider in addition to the ones listed under internal threats are:

  • Implement physical security countermeasures (lighting, barriers, locks and access control, video, intrusion detection, security officers, security procedures and guidelines, etc.)
  • Prepositioning of specialized equipment for first responders that provides rapid access and supports their response (maps/floor plans, chemical masks, bolt cutters, keys/badges, tactical breaching tools, door stops).
  • Strategically place medical items around the site and provide training on their application (tourniquets, blood-clotting bandages, airway tubing, etc.).
  • Verify/test all communication systems and prepare a message. Test the entire site for operable one-way and two-way communications, and consider individual real-time communication technology such as ELERTS. In addition, the organization should have a previously prepared message to alert and inform everyone on site.
  • Provide training, awareness education and exercises. Training for a shooting is different than most emergency scenarios as it involves a rapid individual decision on what to do and when to do it. Awareness education can give each participant knowledge about potential triggers and motivations that could initiate an attack, along with best practices for communications and actions to be considered in response to a shooting. Exercises help test the overall plan using realistic scenarios, find vulnerabilities, and improve coordination and collaboration with first responders.

Active Shooter Plans, training and exercises

An Active Shooter Plan can be a separate standalone document or it can be a part of the organization’s Emergency Action Plan. No matter where the plan is located, it should be relevant to the specific site, and the organization should provide training and exercises on a regular basis. Every employee, contractor and property guest should be aware of their responsibilities, the communication process and possible actions to take in the event of a shooting incident. 

Performing training and exercises under realistic conditions is the key to understanding the speed, level of violence and related stress involved in a shooting incident. The Advanced ALICE Training Course,* which I took part in as a participant recently, walks participants though several potential scenarios involving a shooter, using a soft-air gun to determine how a person would react to a shooter and how to potentially survive an attack. Training such as this can help prepare one's mindset and help them understand their individual physical and physiological limitations, which may help to streamline their decisions during an actual attack. In an active shooting, seconds are often the difference between life and death.

A functional or full-scale exercise provides a means to determine response capabilities and identify gaps or vulnerabilities. Most importantly, it provides essential coordination and communication between the organization, first responders and community resources. Although such exercises can be time consuming and costly, they are invaluable when it comes to an active shooting and often provides a comprehensive analysis and a collaborative problem-solving process that is vital for prevention, preparedness and response to such threats.

While no plan or strategy is fool-proof when it comes to asymmetrical threats like an active shooter, organizations can reduce their exposure to such acts, better protect their people, mitigate their losses, effectively respond to the incident, and recover more quickly if they have properly planned, implemented and trained for such tragedies. Prevention begins at the organizational level and ends with the individual. We all must play our part in preventing these tragic and deadly crimes.

* Author Kevin T. Doss has provided consulting services for ALICE, but not on the training program he refers to here.

Shooting facts from the FBI

  • Active shooter incidents have more than doubled over the last 7 years.
  • Casualities have nearly tripled over the past 7 years.
  • 53% of casualties were wounded and 47% killed during active shooter incidents.
  • 46% of the shootings occurred in a place related to business/commerce.
  • 24% of shootings occurred at educational institutions.
  • Several school shootings involved the highest casualty numbers.
  • 67% of the incidents ended before law enforcement arrived on scene.
  • Where measurable, 69% of incidents ended in 5 minutes or less. These incidents include those with a law enforcement officer present at the site at the time of the shooting.

Source: Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W: “A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013,” Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation (2014)

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Kevin T. Doss, MS, CPP, PSPKevin T. Doss is the CEO of Level 4 Security. He has over 25 years of experience providing protective services in high-risk environments worldwide. His expertise includes risk, vulnerability and threat assessments; emergency planning; security program development; and the application of physical protection systems. He has experience developing infrastructure protection programs and emergency action and recovery plans for US government agencies and commercial organizations on a global scale. He was part of an expert team that performed a Threat, Vulnerability Risk Assessment of the entire 51-mile Canal Zone in Panama.

Doss was also an instructor for the US Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter Workshop, and he teaches workplace violence, active shooter, risk management and security related courses worldwide.

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