Learning & Development

Teach Employees Situational Awareness in Advance to Help Prepare for Workplace Violence and Other Emergencies

Every security officer’s top priority is keep their facilities and workforce safe. While advances in technological solutions such as access control and surveillance systems have helped accomplish that goal, they are not completely fail safe. According to security experts, when creating a good security plan to deal with for their organizations, security officers need to better marshal their largest resource: their workforce. One of the easiest ways to get the buy-in they need from the workers in their facilities is to actively train them in situational awareness.

Active Shooter

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Security expert Greg Shaffer suggests that situational awareness training will not only help people recognize “pre-incident indicators,” but to also recognize and cope with increased levels of stress that accompany violent situations.

Shaffer uses an updated version of firearm expert Jeff Cooper’s color code system to breakdown the mindsets and associated physical conditions. The system presents 6 conditions (states of awareness), each associated with an increase in both psychological stress and heart rate. Cooper’s original system contained 4 conditions: white, yellow, orange, and red. Over the years, combat experts have added 2 new conditions (gray and black) that account for the dramatic increases of fear and rapid heart rate experienced by people not trained for combat (such as those caught in an active shooter situation).

The Color Code System

According to Shaffer, the color code system is a good way to initially address how situational awareness can bolster facility security with employees, who may otherwise be stuck in a “it’s never going to happen to me” mindset. Here’s a quick summary of the color-coded conditions:

  • Condition White: A young woman on the bus at night dozing in her seat. A couple using a ride sharing app on the sidewalk after dinner out. These are folks that are blissfully unaware of what is going on around them; if they were to be faced with an immediate threat, they would be caught completely off guard. In condition white, people are relaxed and have a normal heart rate, but are zero awareness of what is happening around them, a state Shaffer refers to as “existing in a world of rainbows and unicorns.”
  • Condition Yellow: Like Condition White, people in Condition Yellow have a normal heart rate and are relaxed, but alert. A person’s head is up, and their eyes are open. There’s no immediate threat, but they are unlikely to be caught off guard by something. If they’re in a building, they know where the exits are and when someone enters or leaves a room. Shaffer suggests that you should be in Condition Yellow any time you leave your house.
  • Condition Orange: Here, a person’s attention is drawn to something that seems out of place. Maybe they smell smoke, see a person walking toward them while acting strange. Maybe it’s someone in the water having trouble staying afloat. Condition Orange is associated with an elevated heart rate that comes from initially recognizing a potential threat. At this stage, a person should be creating an action plan in their mind to deal with a potential situation, according to Shaffer. Whether calling 911 or bracing themselves to run for an exit—they are not acting, but are actively assessing the threat.
  • Condition Red: At this stage, the potential threat the person was assessing in Condition Orange has become very real. There is a fire, someone is drowning, there are gunshots in the office. This is where they need to put the action plan they created into action. Their heart rate jumps up to around 115-145 beats per minute (BPM), and their ability to react is heightened. In the event of an active shooter, Condition Red is where people would start to either Run, Hide, or Fight (Shaffer prefers Avoid, Deny, Defend).
  • Condition Gray: This is a murkier area, but research shows that in Condition Gray, while a person’s physical abilities might still be optimal, their cognitive abilities start to decline. As their heart rate pushes above 145 BPM, they might develop tunnel vision and have difficulty distinguishing a threat from a non-threat and may not pick up on environmental cues.
  • Condition Black: At this stage, heart rate is well above normal at 175 BPM or more, and a person’s body is reacting negatively to the increased stress. Essentially, a person has become paralyzed by fear and overwhelming stress. Shaffer notes that Condition Black is the state that most active shooter victims are in when they are shot. They can’t move, and their mind can’t process the events that are unfolding.

Training Employees to Recognize Threats

It might not be feasible or cost effective to hire an outside expert to come in and train your employees to deal with an active shooter or other workplace violence situation every few months. That said, there are several activities you as a security officer can do to keep the need for situational awareness in the front of your worker’s minds.

One suggestion Shaffer had for an activity was to have a weekly security day where you hide an item (his example was a colored envelope) somewhere in the office. It could be in plain sight, like in the lobby, or in a conference room or other gathering place. The first person to find the item and email the security officer gets a prize, like a $20 gift certificate. Shaffer says that for no more than $100 a month, you’re getting buy-in from the workforce, who is learning to recognize things that are out of the ordinary in the workplace, and, where to report them to.

Greg ShafferSecurity Expert Greg Shaffer is the founder and President of Shaffer Security Group, a global security, risk management and tactical training specialty firm based in Dallas, Texas. Greg is recognized as one of the nations’ leading and respected policy experts in the prevention of domestic terrorism and active shooter events.

Prior to founding Shaffer Security Group, Greg served for over twenty years in the FBI, with positions including supervisor for the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, Counter Terrorism Supervisor, and as a member of the elite Hostage Rescue Team.