Active Shooters Are a Very Real Threat

Workplace shootings continue to increase and turning a blind eye could be a costly and devastating mistake.

Early morning on Feb. 27, 2014, an East Coast processing machine builder and PMMI member experienced the death of an employee when a coworker walked into its facility and shot him.

 

“They were best friends, and not a word was spoken between them that morning,” says the machine builder who spoke to OEM Magazine on the condition of anonymity.  

 

This February, a mass shooting occurred at the Henry Pratt manufacturing facility in Aurora, Ill., where a disgruntled employee with a criminal record pulled out a gun after being fired, killing five coworkers and injuring several more.

 

Four shootings also occurred the week of July 28, caused by one disgruntled Walmart employee in Mississippi, two shooters who were connected to supremacist texts—one at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, the other at a Walmart in El Paso, TX.—and a shooter with unknown motives at a popular nightlife district in Dayton, OH. These shootings resulted in 34 deaths and more than 50 injuries.

 

Active shooter situations are becoming more common. In 2017, the FBI released data analyzing active shooter incidents in the U.S. between the years 2000 and 2017, and found that 42% of shootings happen in businesses and commercial settings—including manufacturing facilities—with the other 58% of shootings occurring in spaces like government facilities, schools, residences, and churches. In total, these incidents resulted in 799 deaths and 1,418 wounded, not including the shooters themselves. The data show an overall steady increase of active shooter incidents and, 33% of the killed and wounded combined occurred during 2017 alone.

 

2000 to 2018 Active Shooter Incidents

  • Business and Commerce (including manufacturing facilities)—42%
  • Schools—20.8%
  • Government Facilities—10%
  • Other (including churches, residences, healthcare facilities, etc.)—27.2%

 

Despite these startling statistics, a recent survey of PMMI member companies, the Crisis Management Quickie Survey, concluded that the vast majority of OEMs think it’s unlikely they will experience an active shooter situation at their facility.  The survey also indicated that this perception may be the reason why the majority of respondents currently do not have an active shooter prevention plan in place. Crisis Consultant Group’s CEO and founder, Brendan King, confirms, “There is not a lot that we see being done, at least to this point, in the manufacturing space.” Yet, King notes that over the last four to six years, his company—that helps implement crisis prevention, de-escalation training, and response programs—has seen a rise in companies from other industries requesting active shooter training.

 

WHEN THE GUN GOES OFF

 

Once an active shooter enters a facility and the gun is fired, chaos erupts. In a matter of seconds, multiple employees could be down, some will hide behind the closest cover, others will run, and perhaps someone will try to stop the shooter. It may take police more than 10 minutes to arrive and attempt to apprehend the shooter, and it may be even sooner that the media will show up demanding answers.

 

After the shooting has occurred, police investigations will shut down operations for some time, and the company will turn to the care and welfare of its remaining employees by offering free counseling and making changes in management and workloads for employees directly affected by the loss of their coworker(s). A company must also reach out to the families of those who were wounded or killed during the incident.

 

 “You still have to terminate your employees, even the deceased one, and you don’t really realize that, but it’s part of the process,” says the East Coast machine builder, reflecting on the aftermath and the process of getting his company back to usual business, which was extremely difficult, and took about a month.

 

FBI Tips for Protecting Yourself from an Active Shooter

 

The FBI’s “Run, Hide, Fight” procedure, like “Stop, Drop, Roll,” is a list of simple, direct, and easy-to-remember directions to lessen the panic for those caught in an active shooter situation.

 

Andrew Tirmenstein, senior project manager at Keramida—a crisis management and emergency response planning and training company, which specializes in working with manufacturers—gives a detailed outline of what these steps look like:

 

RUN out of the nearest pre-determined exit to as far away as possible from the event, running from place of cover to place of cover until safe, then dial 911. Leave all belongings behind, except for cellphones. This would be the best option, but there should be several alternatives already established with regard to exit options.

 

“If possible, help others to escape and stop anyone from entering as you exit the building,” says Tirmenstein. “Always keep hands visible as you are leaving the area so that any law enforcement does not mistake you for the shooter.”

 

HIDE behind protective cover that can stop bullets shot in your direction, as a second best option. People tend to hide behind the first thing they can find, which may not be bulletproof. So, try to find cover that could stop a bullet. Your cover should not trap you or restrict your movements.

 

If inside the building when hiding, ensure doors are locked and/or blocked as a way of barricading it, windows should be covered, and lights turned off to make it appear as though no one is in the area. Then, silence your phone and remain quiet.

 

FIGHT the assailant, as a last resort. “Fight with everything you’ve got,” says Tirmenstein. “Act aggressively and improvise a weapon—it could even be a pencil, chair, or belt. Attempt to incapacitate the attacker by any means necessary while yelling as loud as you can for distraction. Commit to your actions and follow through with your attack until you no longer feel threatened. Your life will depend on this.”

 

Tirmenstein adds a fourth step, which is to BELIEVE that you are going to survive. Remaining positive and considering nothing else but making it through the ordeal could help individuals’ emotional and mental health in the midst of the crisis.

 

FROM THEORY TO ACTION

 

The FBI has a set of recommended procedures to keep individuals safe during an active shooter incident (see sidebar), but in large spaces like manufacturing facilities, where there are multiple entrances and oftentimes large areas exposed to the outside, this tactic may not be enough. This is why manufacturers are eyeing crisis prevention plans, which can further prepare a company by providing simulation coaching and active shooter drills, as well as media training, and tactics companies can use to identify potentially dangerous situations and workplace behaviors.

 

Although the basis of crisis prevention may stay the same, the preparations and response to a situation will depend on the kind of company and its facility. From a church to a school to a manufacturing facility, the shooter would have a very different layout and population to deal with.

 

“Some of the biggest factors in an active threat situation are logistics and the environment, essentially where the gunman is in comparison to the people being targeted,” says King. “In a manufacturing facility there is often times a lot of equipment. An open area with a lot of machinery could potentially stop bullets in flight and offer your folks an opportunity to reposition themselves in a safer location due to the thick steel and equipment.”

 

After the incident that happened in the East Coast OEM’s facility, the president hired a third-party consulting group to help him implement business continuity and active shooter prevention plans. These plans generally take three to six months to implement, depending on the size of the company—though training would be ongoing to maintain awareness and effective function—and typically cost $25,000 per site. Though it costs time and money to implement, as he points out, “What’s the price if you don’t?”

 

To mitigate taking time away from production and daily duties, the OEM focused on training employees in trauma care with basic tourniquet application through readily available objects and active shooter drills by implementing them into the company’s monthly first aid training and natural disaster drills.

 

As he explains, these trainings helped the employees make a habit of the safety procedures the OEM put in place, “like a fire door, open it’s useless, closed it works. Having no open doors in the building is a challenge, especially in summertime when you want to cool the building down. But you just can’t have open doors anymore.”

 

Dan Weedin from Toro Consulting, a company that uses an immersive simulation model for active shooter training, says running employees through a high-pressure simulation allows a company to see its weak spots. “Let’s see what people do when not knowing how to react in advance,” he says. “From that, we can learn where the company struggles the most and make the prevention plan accordingly.”

 

Things manufacturers must keep in mind while making a prevention plan, according to Keramida’s Tirmenstein:

 

  • Where is the affected building located with regard to public access? Is the surrounding area wooded or in an urban environment? 
  • How many levels are inside and where are all the exits? 
  • How are the offices arranged in regard to where the manufacturing floor is situated?
  • Have control points been established? 
  • Are there any blind spots or special interest areas that might require attention?
  • Is there a notification system, like text broadcasts, push button alerts, panic alarms, voice broadcasts, or computer screen warnings, to obtain the attention of the employees?  Note that fire alarms should never be used for this purpose.
  • Are roles and responsibilities for key employees established and are all employees aware of them?
  • How is training provided and tracked? 
  • Do the local authorities have access to the site?  Are they familiar with the interior of the building and the processes involved?
  • How many employees are affected and what is their average age and health? 
  • Does anyone have special needs or require assistance in the case of an emergency?
  • How many work shifts does the place of business have? 
  • Do employees have visible identification? 
  • In the event of an emergency, are all contractors, suppliers and vendors accounted for?

 

AND THEN THE MEDIA ARRIVES

 

Another overlooked aspect of dealing with an active shooter situation is handling the media, which crisis consulting groups can also assist with.

 

Occupied with the shooting and its victim, the East Coast OEM says the company was surprised and unprepared to deal with who arrived on the scene shortly after the police and emergency response vehicles: the media. “You’ve got to prepare to go from life-saving and the trauma of what just happened to standing in front of a camera, which a lot of people don’t think of,” he says. “When you’re in front of that camera, you only have one chance. You don’t want to say, ‘No comment’ and run in. Be careful of what you say.”

 

CommCore media training consulting group’s president and CEO, Andrew Gilman agrees, “You should never say “no comment” to a media request—and there are probably 10 different ways to say “no comment” without actually saying it. Any version of “no comment” will give the implication that there is something wrong, or that the company is at fault. People assume the worst these days.”

 

Gilman brings up other media-related concerns in the event of a crisis when he talks about company social media policies. People can’t be forced to put away their smart phones and not contact their loved ones to let them know that they are alright during a crisis. However, CommCore’s stance is that a policy should be in place to discourage the use of social media during these situations, because traditional media can widely publicize social media content. Particularly in a shelter-in-place situation, employees don’t know what’s going on and the goal should be to avoid rumors and misinformation. A company must be monitoring its news, otherwise the effects could be damaging to the event and the reputation of the facility.

 

At the same time, social media does have its place in a crisis. “Loved ones, vendors, the next shift, the mayor, the zoning board, investors in the company, and all other concerned audiences will look to social media to find out what’s going on,” says Gilman. “So, that’s one of the fastest ways the company can communicate to a larger audience.”

 

To reach those audiences effectively, many of the crisis prevention businesses that OEM Magazine spoke with, said that there needs to be a designated crisis communications person—not the CEO—who contacts the media, does the interviews, notifies corporate, and contacts all concerned audiences.

 

IS A SHOOTING BREWING AT YOUR COMPANY?

 

Keramida performed research on workplace violence and shootings that resulted in the following findings as potential causes: bullying, job-related stress, drug and alcohol addictions, rejection of a romantic interest, domestic violence spillover, and low self-esteem.

 

But how does an OEM know that any of these things are affecting one of its employees? Can they recognize when someone is acting differently? Do machine builders know what signs to look for? Though sometimes there is no warning of what an individual may do, Tirmenstein and King both spoke of behaviors that often precede violent action:

 

  • Acts of intimidation, expressions of anger, and bullying
  • Forceful beliefs of opinions on others and spreading rumors or gossip
  • Being argumentative and/or being unreasonable
  • Disregarding the health and safety of others
  • Openly protesting authority, the company and/or another employee, observable grievances with threats, and plans of retribution
  • Unaccountability and the need to blame others
  • Fixation on issues and addictive or obsessive behavior
  • Extreme depression and/or hopelessness and social isolation
  • Increasing paranoia, taking things as personal offenses, and/or suspicion of others
  • Substance abuse
  • Obvious changes in mood, behavior, work performance, appearance, and/or personal hygiene

 

Exhibiting one of these behaviors is not an immediate sign that an employee could be plotting an attack, but those demonstrating multiple behaviors at extreme intensities over a certain period of time should be of concern.

 

“Employees must be trained on not only what warning signs or behaviors to look for, but also how and to whom they should report concerns,” says Tirmenstein. “By not reporting a behavior you are enabling and allowing the potential for a condition to worsen.”  

As seen with the shootings that occurred at Henry Pratt and other manufacturing facilities, the shooter is not likely to be someone unaffiliated with the company, it will typically be an employee, their spouse, or another significant person in their life.

A question in PMMI’s Crisis Management Quickie Survey asked what OEMs thought the likelihood would be of witnessing an active shooter situation in their facility, and an answer that spoke to workplace behaviors was, “With individuals not really knowing whom they work with this cannot be answered for certain.”

This coincides with King’s most practical piece of advice for companies today, which is to smile, be approachable and start up conversations with fellow employees to get to know them on a personal level.

“We need to look to our left and right and get to know our coworkers on a more personal level,” says King. “The majority of workplace violence is committed by coworkers who are often struggling at home, with their relationships, and/or financial issues. If you take the time to get to know them, you will be able to pick up on a difference or change in their behavior. You’ll get to know about their family, their kids, maybe what’s going on in their life, and be more prone to detect a change in that individual.”

 

PROTECT YOURSELF

 

As PMMI’s survey concluded, the mentality that an active shooter situation could never happen at one’s workplace is prevalent, but this mindset could result in complacency and ultimately leaves OEMs very vulnerable. “If someone thinks this can’t happen at their workplace, let me tell you, it can happen anywhere.”

 

Because a high percentage of survey respondents indicated they will not be implementing crisis prevention programs, here are some actions OEMs can take to protect their employees, reputation, and facility in the event of an active shooter situation.

 

Employee assistance programs should be put in place, and a company must promote communication, mutual respect, and overall kindness throughout the organization. Each employee needs to see the importance of their role in the success of the company. This can also keep employee morale high and ensure no one is being left behind.

 

Perform risk/threat assessments of properties at least annually to determine where gaps may be present and what improvements are needed to protect employees in the case of a workplace violence or active shooter situation. Tirmenstein notes that this includes evaluating the company’s workplace violence risk management plan, employee awareness and response training, interior and exterior perimeter controls and parking lots, lights and entrances/exits, office placement, and other areas—which are assessments Kermida offers for potential external and internal threats to facilities.

 

Allow local law enforcement to train at your facility and develop a relationship with them. Law enforcement agencies are always looking for new places to train. OEMs can reach out to local law enforcement to offer resources, that way, if something were to happen, police officers would already be familiar with the layout of an OEM’s building.

 

Establish the role and responsibilities of your crisis communications person. Gilman says encouraging this person to practice out loud how they would react to the media in the event of a crisis and coordinating with the corporate office to establish a media procedure could be extremely helpful.

 

In addition to these steps, Crisis Consultant Group offers live on-site training as well as online programs available on smartphones and computers at activethreatresponse.com, with a free five-minute demo of the training.

 

Toro Consulting also provides two courses on business continuity and 21st century risk issues, including a crisis simulation exercise through LinkedIn Learning, which are free for those with Premium memberships and can be viewed for free by clicking on the 30-day trial membership.