Do You Know What to do if Someone Opens Fire at Work?
Acts of violence can happen in any work setting; some of the deadliest,
most high-profile incidents involve an "active shooter."
An active shooter, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
is a person "actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people
in a confined and populated area." FBI studies show the number of
active shooter incidents in the U.S. has increased, from 6.4 per year
in 2000-06 to 16.4 per year from 2007-13.
Between 2000 and 2013:
--160 active shooter incidents were reported in the workplace
--More than 80% of all active shooter incidents occurred at a workplace
--Not including the shooters, 486 people were killed and 557 were wounded
--45.6% of shootings occurred in commercial businesses, 24.4% in school
settings and 10% on government property
--Most females shot in the workplace were attacked by a relative or domestic
Usually, victims are selected at random. Being alert and aware of your
environment is key.
Who is Most at Risk?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,
more than half of workplace homicides occur in retail and service industries.
Many shooting incidents are motivated by robbery; areas where money or
prescription drugs change hands are higher risk. Employees working alone,
in isolated areas, late at night or where alcohol is served also are at
Run, Hide or Fight
A lot can happen in the chaotic minutes before police arrive. According
to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it is imperative to stay
calm and exercise one of three options: evacuate, hide or, as a last resort,
If there is an accessible escape route, leave your belongings behind and
get out, assisting others if possible. Once outside, don't let unsuspecting
individuals enter the building. When safe to do so, call 9-1-1 and provide
the location of the shooter(s), physical description, type of weapon and
other information. The first officers on the scene are there only to de-activate
the shooter, not to help you or tend to the wounded. Keep your hands in
If evacuation is not possible, find a hiding place where you won't be
trapped should the shooter find you. Lock and blockade the door with heavy
furniture if possible. Silence your cell phone, remain quiet and hide
behind large items.
If you can't evacuate or hide, as a last resort and only when your life
is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the shooter by throwing
items and improvising weapons, yelling and acting as aggressively as possible.
If possible, call 9-1-1 and leave the line open so the dispatcher can
listen to events unfolding.
A "survival mindset," which involves awareness, prevention and
rehearsal, is key, according to the FBI. That means taking the time to
understand any changes in the workplace environment, being ready to do
whatever it takes to survive the incident and planning mentally and physically
to gain confidence and reduce response time.
With proper training, employees can learn to spot concerning behaviors
in their co-workers, become more aware of their surroundings and, in the
event a shooting takes place, learn how to stay alive. Include local police
in your training if possible.
--Create an emergency action plan that includes an evacuation procedure,
contact information for all employees, information about local hospitals
and an emergency notification system to alert law enforcement and others
--Conduct a mock training exercise with local law enforcement to learn
to recognize the sound of gunshots and how to react quickly, as well as
what to do when police arrive; customers and clients are likely to follow
--Assemble crisis kits that include radio, floor plan, staff roster, first
aid kits and flashlight
--Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers
workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone on premises
Profile of a Shooter
What makes a person walk into a place of business and begin shooting innocent
people? Often they are motivated by revenge, robbery or ideology, with
or without a component of mental illness.
There is no single pattern of an active shooter, and certainly not all
are employees of the business they attack. But you can be aware of behaviors
in coworkers that might be a warning sign of future violence:
-Stressful life situations
-Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
-Sloppy or dirty appearance
-Depression or withdrawal
-Resistance to chages at work
-Violation of company policies
-Empathy with violent people
-Comments about firearms and other weapons in conjunction with violent
Employee background checks can turn up a history of violence.
You Can Learn to Protect Yourself
You may wonder if we are living in more dangerous times than our parents
and grandparents, or if our perception of violence has increased. In the
end, it really doesn't matter. While human behavior is not always predictable,
all employees must become stakeholders in their own safety and security.
Other Resources for Employers
--The Occupational Keynote at the National Safety Council Congress &
Expo will discuss this issue
--DHS Booklet: Active Shooter: How to Respond
--DHS Active Shooter Webinar
--FEMA video, Active Shooter: What can you do?
--Safety+Health article: Armed & Employed
--NIOSH course for healthcare workers, "Violence on the Job"
--Bureau of Labor Statistics: National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries