Two million American workers report being the victim of workplace violence annually. Workplace violence ranges from harassment to assault to homicide and shootings.
Although thankfully rare, workplace shootings are an unfortunate reality and therefore emergency preparations must be made. There were 500 workplace homicides in 2016, marking an increase of 83 cases from 2015, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released earlier this year. Not surprisingly, cashiers incurred the largest number of workplace homicides in 2016 at 54 homicides, up from 35 in 2015, but other at-risk positions include first-line supervisors of retail sales workers, followed by law enforcement officers, the report notes. Others at risk for workplace death from violence are healthcare workers and taxi drivers.
The sad reality is that the majority of active shooter situations are over within a couple of minutes, meaning that law enforcement officials rarely make it to the scene in time to “rescue” victims. Instead, employers must be ready with a safety plan that will keep as many people as possible safe until help can arrive. Ensure that all employees are aware of the plan, a meeting place outside to account for everyone and practice the plan.
That flight or fight response that you always hear about will certainly kick into action in the case of an active shooter. The US Department of Homeland Security notes that leaving the building is the best option to ensure your safety. Specifically, they recommend that you:
- Have an escape route and plan to get employees outdoors, make sure everyone is aware of their nearest escape route. Practice it with your employees as you would a fire drill.
- Plan to evacuate, even if others choose to shelter in place. Time spent trying to persuade others to get out is time wasted.
- If folks want to evacuate, help them where possible.
- Leave everything behind – no purses, bags, laptops or even a sleeve of important files. Nothing is more important than getting everyone out safely.
- When exiting the building, follow instructions from law enforcement officers. Exit with your hands up to help them know that you aren’t a threat and do as they say, even if it runs counter to your previous plan.
- Prevent others from entering the building – only law enforcement should enter the building once you are out safely.
- Call 9-1-1 and provide your location, specific address, and any other information that may be of use to first responders.
Shelter in Place
If you can’t run, the next best option is to hide, according to security experts. For optimal protection, your hiding spot should be:
- Out of the view of the active shooter.
- Provide protection if the shooting continues, i.e. under a desk, behind a closed door.
- Where possible, find a spot that would not prevent someone from being trapped or restrict the ability to run should an opportunity present itself.
Once you’ve found a good spot, you need to do what you can to make it impenetrable to the shooter.
- If you are in an office or supply room, lock the door.
- If no lock is available, barricade the door with heavy furniture.
- Hide behind heavy pieces of furniture that can provide another line of defense.
- Turn off the lights, silence your phone and turn off any other sources of noise – you want the shooter to think there is no reason to believe people are in the room.
- Remain calm and quiet.
- If possible, call 9-1-1. To avoid giving up your hiding place, simply place it on speaker and turn down the volume so that the operator can hear what’s going on, but you can’t hear them.
When Running or Hiding Isn’t an Option
If evacuating wasn’t possible and you aren’t in a position to hide, your next option is to fight. Experts cannot underscore enough that this should be purely an option of last resort.
- Be aggressive towards the shooter. Throw items or use office equipment as weapons to create distance between the shooter and yourself.
- Yell, scream and shout at the shooter – it goes against everything that we’ve already said, but you stand a small chance of intimidating them just enough to retreat and buy yourself some more time.
- Don’t back down – you had no other choice but to stay and fight, so you have to follow through on this plan.
You and your employees may need to help each other until help arrives if there are any injuries.
The Red Cross offers a number of first aid and CPR courses geared towards office workers that take just hours to complete and can be the difference between life and death.
Once law enforcement officers arrive, they don’t know who employees are and they don’t know who the shooter is, so take steps to eliminate any confusion. Keep your hands visible, drop any bags or any item you may have grabbed as a weapon, and remain calm. Follow their directions and refrain from asking questions until they are satisfied that the situation is safe and under control.
If you have information that can help them in their immediate actions, tell law enforcement officials where you last spotted the shooter, how many shooters there are, what the shooter looks like, what type of weapon they have, and where your coworkers may be hiding.
Once again, no one ever wants to imagine that this could happen in their workplace, but active shooter preparedness is something that every office should include as part of its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and review during safety training exercises. If you need help developing a cohesive EAP that meets your needs, reach out to our Safety Manager and team of skilled experts in this field.