The recent killing of nine workers by a fellow employee at a Northern California rail yard was among the most recent mass shootings at a U.S. workplace. That tragedy came little more than a month after a similar incident in Indianapolis when a former FedEx employee killed eight people before killing himself.
The fact is, mass shootings are statistically extremely rare, but we seem to be hearing about them more often these days. Part of the reason is that there were fewer such incidents when things were shut down during the pandemic. With businesses opening up, more people are out and about, and, unfortunately, there are more opportunities for shootings. Added to that is the undeniable stress the pandemic has inflicted on many people.
While employers take steps to keep their employees safe from COVID-19 and other health and safety risks, training to protect them from the unlikely but potential threat of an active shooter situation should be one of the strategies used to welcome employees back to the workplace.
Run, hide, or fight is the advice of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when faced with an active shooter. It’s important to understand what and when to do each of these. Also, there are nuances and ways to do each that make them most effective.
The best option to avoid being hit by a shooter is to run away. But there are several things to keep in mind when doing so:
- Sound travels differently inside of a building. It is not uncommon for those trying to escape a shooter to unknowingly run toward him rather than away. It’s important to take a moment and figure out where the shooting is actually coming from, then run in the opposite direction.
- The larger the group, the easier the target. Rather than running with a herd, those fleeing should try to split up.
- Bullets can ricochet off walls. Hallways should be avoided where possible. If they are the only way out, employees should stay in the middle.
- Small openings in doorways or windows can be choked by too many people trying to get through. That can cause a delay, giving the attacker extra time. The larger the door or window to exit the building, the better.
- The more movement, the harder the target. Instead of running in a straight line, using a zig-zag pattern will make it more difficult for the shooter to anticipate the victim’s movement.
Employees should be well versed in all available exit sources. They should be strongly encouraged to use different ways of egress to the extent possible on a day-to-day basis and familiarize themselves with multiple exits.
When running away is not an option, the next best strategy is to make oneself invisible to the attacker. That requires being completely hidden and soundless. Tips include:
- Hide behind a large object, such as a refrigerator, bookshelf or thick door.
- If hiding in a room, turn off all lights and cell phones and lock the door. Avoid staying too close to doorways where bullets might come through.
- Stay out of the line of sight. Crouch on or close to the ground, or up high to prevent being seen at eye level by the attacker.
- Barricade the door in a linear approach. While TV and movies often portray victims piling up furniture on top of each other in front of a door, this can be easily pushed over and the door opened. Instead, place heavy objects from the door to the back wall to make it more difficult to open the door at all.
- Avoid small, dead-end spaces. A supply closet with no hiding places should be used only as a last resort. Restrooms should also be avoided.
The least desirable solution in an active shooter situation is to fight back. This is difficult, as it requires the victim to be more aggressive and more violent than the attacker.
If this strategy is used, employees should first mentally prepare themselves to engage with the perpetrator with the idea that nothing is off-limits. The goal is to get the weapon away from the shooter, or at least pointed away.
- Find something that can be used as an attack weapon, such as a fire extinguisher. A set of keys with one key between each of the fingers in a closed fist can also be used.
- Work as a team if in a group. Each person can have an ‘assignment,’ such as one person to grab the legs, while another goes for another body part. Such actions may at least slow down the shooter, which could save lives.
- If the weapon can be reached, try to get it out of the attacker’s hands. At the very least, try to point the barrel away from anyone in the room.
So far in 2021, there has been a 23 percent increase in the rate of mass shootings compared to the same period last year. The vast majority of organizations will never experience such a tragedy. Nevertheless, these can and do occur just about anywhere.
The various factors to keep in mind when faced with an active shooter situation are clearly not top of mind for most employees. But ideally, the training on ‘run, hide or fight’ and how to do each should kick in when necessary.
Training for active shooters should be done at least annually and for new hires. Conducting it more often may better prepare employees for such a situation. However, it’s important for employers not to have drills too often either, which may increase the anxiety level of employees. Finding a balance can protect workers if such a tragedy does occur.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center, which offers the Certified Master of Workers’ Compensation national designation.
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