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Business leaders know that active shooters can be anywhere. As employees return to the workplace, it’s time to prepare for the possibility of an active shooter at work.

Atlanta spa shootings | Eight people died. One injured. 

Boulder grocery store shootings | 10 died. One (shooter) injured.

Indianapolis FedEx shootings |Nine died (including the shooter). Seven injured.

Following the U.S. FBI definition of mass killings (where three or more people, not including a shooter, die of gun violence), these are only three of the more than 175 mass shootings in the U.S. between January 1 and April 30 this year. All three are examples of mass shootings at a workplace.   

Sadly, today’s business leaders agree that active shooter incidents can happen anywhere. Now, against a backdrop of stressors from the pandemic and confronting institutional racism, there is an increased potential for at-risk individuals to harm others. Especially as you bring employees back to work, now is the right time to prepare for the possibility of an active shooter at work. 

Why You May Need an Active Shooter Prevention Plan

A mass killing at work is still a rare occurrence. Even so, here are five reasons to create an active shooter prevention plan for your business:

  • Active shooter incidents are on the rise. Despite widespread remote working across the country due to the pandemic, mass shootings increased in 2020. Last year, there were 615 incidents – up from 434 the year before. As national security advisor Patrick V. Fiel points out, “The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, job losses, unemployment, and the economic crisis is a potential for a disaster which could lead to an increase of violence at the workplace.”
  • Employers have an obligation to provide a safe and secure work environment for employees. Employers have a legal “duty of care” to protect their employees and, while many shootings are unpredictable, they will be expected to identify, prevent and/or respond to behaviors that could predictably lead to violence at work. 
  • Employee wellbeing has become a business issue. Cultural shifts have driven wellbeing into the realm of a workplace priority. This brings businesses one step closer to ensuring that disgruntled employees get the support they need BEFORE they act out. It also places businesses one step closer to domestic violence that could spill into the workplace. 
  • A mass killing incident is a business disruption. Though still statistically rare, mass killings are becoming one of those threats that businesses are assessing and planning for as part of their business continuity planning. Prevention is always less expensive and less disruptive than an emergency or incident. Like major storms and technology interruptions, there is a body of work to guide businesses through active shooter prevention, mitigation, and response planning. 
  • Local collaboration takes time. When an incident happens, it’s too late to build relationships and plans with local authorities and businesses. The best plans will be specific about who to contact, for what, and when. In addition to coordinating with local law enforcement, collaborate with nearby businesses for a safe evacuation or “safe house” plan, so you identify in advance where there may be safe spaces for employees and loved ones to stay during and after an event. 

How to Introduce Active Shooter Prevention at Work

Securing the physical space of your workplace is one common step to reduce disruptions at work. But it’s not enough for those businesses that need ready access to the public. Plus, if the shooter is an employee, the threat is on the inside of the secured space. Here are four steps to help build the skills and competencies of leaders and employees – with an eye toward preventing an incident from happening in the first place. 

  • Update your business continuity plan. Assemble your business continuity and risk experts. Apply your well-established business continuity planning processes to assess risks, review and update your plan, and outline how to prevent, respond to, and recover from an active shooter situation. 
  • Update your job competencies. Capture the skills and competencies your workforce needs to support your revised plan. Update your competency model and job descriptions so everyone knows what skills they are expected to master. 
  • Communicate. Transparent communication is a hallmark of great leadership. Talking about the threat of an active shooter and preparing for the risk has been proven to help save lives. People who are prepared for the possibility of an emergency will react faster and better than those who are unprepared. 
  • Train Employees and Managers. After 9-11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched an “If you see something, say something” campaign, urging citizens to report suspicious activity to local law enforcement. When training employees and managers on preventing workplace violence, one goal will be for them to competently identify and report suspicious behavior of disgruntled employees, disgruntled former employees, and current employees with escalating violent relationships at home. Start with a skills assessment to identify the skills and competencies employees need to build. The training – along with your policies, procedures, and (most importantly) your culture – should all support those who notice, speak up, and act.

Active Shooter Response

There are many specialized, proven training tools to prepare workplaces and employees to respond to active shooter incidents. At the end of this article, we’ve included a number of active shooter resources for businesses. We humbly defer to this specialized training and guidance. What we do want to emphasize is that preparing now will give your people the best outcome possible in an active shooter response situation. 

  • Run. Hide. Fight. Most active shooter response training emphasizes this order of response for individuals faced with an active shooter. Your company’s job is to train your workforce to “know” this truth without even thinking about it. 
  • Drills and Exercises. As part of planning and training, an increasing number of companies are following in the footsteps of schools across the nation that conduct active shooter drills for children, teachers and staff. The drills help people envision and practice how to respond in the specific setting of the workplace. 
  • Employee Wellbeing. Back to employee wellbeing: Be prepared to acknowledge that even the drills may be unsettling to employees. Certainly, an actual shooting incident will be traumatizing to some employees. Build in employee support as part of your drills, response, and recovery.

Are you updating your business continuity plan to include active shooter prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery? As you revise your competency models and job descriptions to encompass necessary employee skills and competencies, check our Competency Management Toolkit for some tips and best practices. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your effort. 


FBI | Active Shooter Resources
Ready.Gov | Attacks in Public Spaces
SHRM | Active Shooter Preparedness and Response
U.S. Department of Homeland Security | Active Shooter: How to Respond