Magazine article Risk Management

Preparing for an Active Shooter Incident

Magazine article Risk Management

Preparing for an Active Shooter Incident

Article excerpt

In August, a disgruntled former employee from a southwestern Virginia news channel shot and killed two of his former coworkers and wounded their interview subject while they reported live on television. On the first day of October, a student at Oregon's Umpqua Community College killed nine people and injured another nine before turning one of his 14 guns on himself.

While these cases made headlines--and rightfully so--there were eight other mass shootings in the United States the week of the Oregon shooting alone, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced database that catalogs news reports of incidents where four or more people were shot in one event. By those measures, the Virginia shooting would not even be counted.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that the rate of mass shootings has tripled since 2011. According to a study released last year by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, active shooter incidents, where police arrive to a shooting in progress, are also on the rise. The FBI found that 160 of these incidents had taken place in the United States between 2000 and 2013, 70% of which occurred in either a business or educational environment. An average of 11.4 incidents occurred annually, with an average of 6.4 in the first seven years studied, and 16.4 in the last seven years.

"Somehow, this has become routine," President Obama said at his press conference after the Oregon shooting. "We've become numb to this."

Based on the numbers alone, risk managers clearly cannot afford to become so inured to these incidents. Rather, much like they do for other forms of crisis, from fires to tornadoes, they need to be acting now to train employees, develop emergency plans, and ensure business continuity provisions are in place.


Businesses universally could do better at preparing for active shooter situations, according to Lance Ewing, industry practice group leader for hospitality, leisure and real estate at AIG. Every industry could be impacted by such crises, but those open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year are at greater risk and should ensure there are increased training provisions to match. Smaller businesses are also farther behind in preparing because many struggle to justify the expense of more elaborate efforts for a relatively unlikely threat.

"I think most risk managers need to look at benchmarking information related to workplace shootings," Ewing said. "Historically, the statistics show real estate, such as shopping centers and malls, and educational facilities, such as universities and schools, tend to have more of these incidents, so they have to step up their training and do so more often."

Determining the best ways to train employees for such dynamic crises can seem a challenging and costly proposition. Full drills can be expensive and time consuming, as they often require creating a detailed scenario, bringing in law enforcement, and roleplaying an entire incident. Yet less thorough training may not be enough. "The time and expense of doing live exercises is quite onerous, but they're really valuable because they put people in positions where they're actually feeling the stress of having to react or physically do something or make a decision," said William Malone, director of global risk services at McManis & Monsalve Associates and a 26-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Developing an effective plan cannot be done in a vacuum--like any other emergency scenario, an active shooter in the workplace presents an unpredictable situation that requires a mix of thoughtful planning, well-communicated procedures, and repeated practice.

"In most cases, it's not a program, it's a process, and that process has to be ongoing," Ewing said.

He recommends that full drills be conducted at least annually, perhaps up to quarterly in some industries, and other tools used to supplement and reinforce these lessons. …

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