In 2020, the United States saw a 47 percent increase in mass shootings with a record-breaking 611 critical events and 513 deaths. These figures—both tragic and alarming—represent a growing trend in violence and a call for organizations and educational institutions to heighten protection and response strategies.
The lamentable truth today is that violence threatens every organization. In the case of active shooters, this means dealing with attackers that are “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill” colleagues, faculty, or students you know and care about. And unlike some natural disasters, these active shootings escalate rapidly and are hard to predict. What’s more, organizations have a greater responsibility to prepare employees since much of an attack happens before police arrive.
Despite challenges, preparation is possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the private sector, public sector, or a specific industry; everyone can benefit from a few proven emergency preparedness strategies.
Here we present five best practices based on recommendations from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. They include advice for prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
1. Prevent Critical Events Before They Strike
Prevention is the least glamorous and yet, most valuable strategy for protection. After all, an effective prevention strategy is designed to be invisible, stopping threats before they appear.
Active shooter preparedness manifests itself in the training and tools that bolster employee safety and wellbeing. During a crisis, quick and coordinated communications are needed, and there is little to no time for planning. This urgency demands staff already have proper training through education and drills. Proper preparation also means an organization has defined reporting methods, and an emergency manager has tools in place for a tactical response.
Reports are vital to an effective analysis and response. Common types include checklists, action plans, response playbooks, situational reports (SitReps), and After Action Reports (AARs). Each of these forms should be thoroughly vetted to ensure your organization is recording and reporting data of value. No innovative technology can compensate for poor or missing data.
Rather, digital systems are designed to enhance critical data during and after an active shooting event. Organizations should have a digital reporting method to handle reporting, communications, and assessment. The bundled set of tasks is vital to prevent delayed responses, communication gaps, and inaccurate data. The system should have robust features that can connect easily with first responders, incorporate an intuitive user interface, and have the capacity to manage workflows easily.
2. Protect Staff Through Emergency Action Planning
The next strategic step to protect your organization is to create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This plan is an emergency response playbook for staff. EAPs help staff react quickly, improve decision-making, reduce panic, and help organizations spot potential emergency management obstacles before they turn into problems.
In a report detailing the best methods to respond to active shooters, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describes a few key components in EAPs:
- Reporting: Staff must know how to report an active shooter to first responders and colleagues.
- Evacuation: All exit routes and procedures should be outlined.
- Emergency managers: Specific staff should be assigned emergency management roles to facilitate an efficient response
- Hospital information: Details of local hospital accessibility, resources, and contact information should be included.
- Emergency notification system: Companies must have a system to alert staff and monitor the situation.
“To best prepare your staff for an active shooter situation, create an EAP, and conduct training exercises,” DHS says. “Together, the EAP and training exercises will prepare your staff to effectively respond and help minimize loss of life.”
Organizations often leverage a crisis and emergency management platform to put an EAP into action. WebEOC is one such platform that aids collaboration and communication between the private, public, and healthcare sectors. This work is done through a dashboard with real-time data, providing a resource hub and communications for a proactive, coordinated response.
3. Create a Threat Assessment Team to Mitigate Damage
Most emergencies don’t call for a superhero. Typically, they demand a team of superheroes.
This is the case when confronting the threat of an active shooter. Organizations can benefit from professionals in different sectors, geographies, and industries. They also benefit from individuals with diverse skill sets. For these reasons, the FBI recommends creating a Threat Assessment Team (TAT), a group of professionals that works with law enforcement to forecast risk and provide recommendations.
A TAT strategy can be used even with one emergency manager on staff. For an active shooter, this means building a team — whether paid experts or experienced community volunteers — that analyzes an organization, its staff, and stakeholders, and provides an objective, data-driven risk analysis. TAT members conduct interviews, gather information, evaluate threats, aid in decision-making, and follow up to re-assess strategies and impacts.
A TAT connected to a digital network and operational intelligence is even more useful. Juvare has seen this first-hand across diverse industries and organizations. An emergency intelligence network can provide a consistent and comprehensive view of operations, highlight essential resources and deliver updates. Data visualizations, mapping, third-party data, and custom dashboard analytics increase awareness and ensure a targeted response. This applies to one person or many people tasked with handling operations.
WebEOC creates the most comprehensive, accurate, and consistent common operating picture possible with an enhanced dashboard, data visualization and mapping, external data, and relevant analytics. The insights are an essential foundation for critical event planning, quick responses, and strategic recovery efforts.
4. Centralize Systems for a Rapid Response
For the fastest response, it’s imperative to reduce unnecessary decision-making and unneeded tasks. Organizations respond with speed when there is an emergency plan in place, regular employee training through education and drills, and an effective emergency response management system.
A centralized crisis and emergency management system has the power to accelerate and simplify processes. These systems do this by eliminating the need for multiple software applications and manual work. Further, they quicken emergency response by automating reporting tasks and communicating in real-time with first responders for additional support. All key stakeholders during an active shooting—be they law enforcement, medical teams, or leadership—can be apprised of critical events as they develop.
Juvare Exchange, which is powered through the WebEOC platform, allows users to communicate with state and local agencies and share critical information during an emergency. It connects public, private, and healthcare sectors in real time.
When an organization has a clear picture and a fast response to an active shooter, it can provide law enforcement with vital details that save lives.
5. Review Data for a Resilient Recovery
Recovering from an active shooting event is one of the most challenging things an organization can go through. Many staff will be trying to cope. Leadership must notify loved ones in the case of injury and casualties. There will be pressure from the media and authorities to get an accurate account of what happened.
To effectively plan for the future, the DHS recommends organizations analyze the incident in-depth and create a report that assesses how critical events transpired. The report recommends organizations look at the successes and failures for improvements. It also suggests that leadership re-examine its Emergency Action Plan and look at data to make improvement recommendations. Digitizing this effort can alleviate some of the stress and work tied to this “after-action” report. Emergency response software breaks down when authorities were contacted, details how updates were delivered, notes losses, and identifies impacted facilities.
If you are searching for effective active shooter preparedness tools, Juvare experts are happy to assist. You can learn more about the technologies Juvare has to offer here.