HR Management & Compliance

Active Shooter in the Workplace: How to Respond Effectively

“Active shooter”—the hope is you’ll never have to face that terrifying situation, but it’s wise to be prepared should the worst happen, says Attorney Edwin G. Foulke Jr. Organizations need a plan for how to respond to reduce the risk of devastating consequences.

Foulke is a partner in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP. He offered his guidance during a recent BLR-sponsored webcast.

Active Shooter Profile

An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined space or other populated area. In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims, says Foulke.

Active Shooter Situations

Foulke says these are the typical aspects of active shooter incidents:

  • They are normally unpredictable and evolve quickly.
  • Immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop shooting and mitigate harm to victims.
  • However, situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, which often means before law enforcement arrives.
  • Therefore, individuals must be prepared to deal with the situation.
  • Employers may want to consider training or informing family members.

Indicators of Potential Violent Employee

Foulke offers the following indicators of a potential for violence:

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene (starting to wear all black or suddenly exhibiting many body piercings)
  • Depression/withdrawal
  • Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
  • Repeated violation of company policies
  • Increased severe mood swings
  • Noticeable unstable, emotional responses
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Suicidal comments about “putting things in order” or going into detail about suicide plans
  • Behavior or language that is indicative of paranoia (“everyone is against me”)
  • Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons, and violent crime

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Responding to Active Shooter Situations

Here from Foulke (and from the DHS and FBI) are the three actions we can take, in preferred order:

  • #1 Evacuate: If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. (Typically, there is a fire evacuation plan and regrouping place. They typically have alternate routes in case one route is blocked.)
  • #2 Hide Out: If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you. Ideally, find a place that can be locked, and best, one with no window in the door.
  • #3 Take Action: As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.

Responding to Law Enforcement

It’s important to understand what will happen when law enforcement arrives, says Foulke. Law enforcement will usually take the precaution to assume that there may be more than one shooter. That means that you will be instructed to do certain things, for example, raise hands above your head—if you don’t do that, police may assume that if you don’t follow instructions, you might be an active shooter, so follow instructions to a T. That may mean hands up or behind the back, moving single file, or submitting to a pat down.

Next, says Foulke, be prepared to provide information to law enforcement or the 911 operator, for example, how many, description, what person(s) was wearing, handgun, rifle, semiautomatic, or shotgun, etc.

Emergency medical rescue teams will respond, but they won’t come in right at first, says Foulke. Police won’t let them in until safety can be assured and police have the situation under control.

Police will want you to have an assembly area for accounting for individuals as well as for identifying and questioning witnesses.

Your facility will become a crime scene and the employer will no longer be in control of the site. Law enforcement will determine whether you can occupy the site or not.

Finally, be aware that, especially if there is a hostage situation, you may encounter FBI, state police, and DHS representatives.

Response to the Incident

Foulke suggests that managers consider the following during their preparation for an incident.

  • Handling the incident is top priority
    • “Do no [more] harm”… the priority at all times is to eliminate the active shooter threat and to assure scene safety
    • Assure prompt, appropriate care for the injured
  • Response to employee concerns
  • Response to the needs of families of deceased or injured; reserve respect and dignity for the injured, all of the “involved,” the family, all others
  • Dealing with the news media
  • Handling requests from third parties
  • Making notifications of:
    • Corporate office and appropriate legal counsel
    • Appropriate governmental agencies
    • Insurance carriers including workers’ compensation
  • Handling OSHA and other governmental agency investigations
  • Conducting your own incident investigation
  • Managing document control
  • Dealing with surviving family members
  • Restoring “normal” operations
  • Dealing with attorneys and civil litigation
  • Managing business disruption, customers, and vendors
  • Preventing recurrence—fix any deficiencies found that contributed to the incident

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Many Parties to Deal With

You’ll want to try to coordinate the various interested parties, including law enforcement, workers’ comp representative, negligence carrier, property owner, attorneys from deceased employees, and clients and vendor, says Foulke. Every party wants to send in its attorney and its investigators, and you want to minimize that.

At the same time, be very careful of evidence. There could be a criminal charge, and that means the potential of a charge for spoliation of evidence if you move stuff around, says Foulke. The police won’t like that. They’ll bring something against you.
Put a document hold in place, and be sure that everyone knows that that includes       e-mail traffic.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Foulke’s 12-point action plan for managing violence in the workplace plus we introduce the unique guide just for smaller, or even one-person, HR departments.

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