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Preventing an active shooter tragedy and saving your life

By Lynne Curry  bio

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicides are on the rise. Forty-four or 69.8% of the sixty-three incidents for which analysts have determined the incident’s duration ended in less than five minutes. Twenty-two incidents ended in less than two minutes. Sixty percent of the incidents ended before police arrived on the scene.

In other words, if you, your employees, and your patients want to survive workplace violence, you may be on your own.

What do you need to do and know?

Be a hard target

Decide that you’ll become a hard target. Hard targets keep their wits about them—easy to say, hard to do—unless they’ve preplanned. Look around your workplace right now. If a bad guy came through the door, what would you do?

You can’t afford to waste time; it could mean your life. You need to make a split decision—will you run, hide or fight? If you run, in which direction can you most safely head? Soft targets often run directly and in a straight line for the exit. They inadvertently choose what’s described as the fatal funnel, as killers often aim their bullets toward the exit doors.

If you think you might hide, where? In the same way you identify the nearest exits when you get on a plane, you want to pick out locations that offer concealment so you don’t to waste time desperately looking around when you hear gunshots.

Will you fight? In twenty-one of the one hundred and sixty incidents between 2000 and 2013, unarmed citizens took down an active shooter. What could you use? Scissors? Bear spray or mace? Is it handy?

Less than five minutes, often less than two minutes

The average Active Shooter incident lasts less than five minutes, which is an agonizingly long time if you’re confronted by violence, but far too short to allow you or your employees to plan how to handle the shooter unless they’ve preplanned.

According to HR consultant Scott Stender, who has more than two decades of law enforcement experience, including a stint as Director of Public Safety for a city and three years as a SWAT Team Tactical Commander, “Employers need to arm themselves and their employees with an Emergency Action Plan that incorporates external and internal threat assessment. If they then train their staff and conduct timed drills, they greatly increase their employees’ and customers’ chances of survival.” As just one step, employers need to orient employees with a response plan for “run, hide or fight” based on their company’s physical layout.

See through bad guy eyes

Do you walk by an unlocked car full of valuables without thinking of stealing? According to workplace consultant Richard Birdsall, who spent nine years in law enforcement, “If you want to protect yourself or your company from violence, you have to look at your workplace as a criminal might. Criminals see an unlocked car as an invitation. They’re opportunists.”

So, take a step back and view your actions and workplace as a bad guy might and do whatever you can to eliminate vulnerabilities. For example, if one of your employees is the only one in the building and her solo car in the parking lot signals that fact, she needs the protection of a locked door.

According to Birdsall, here are some ways you can eliminate those opportunities:

  • Install lights. Darkness presents opportunities for criminals to hide. What changes can you make in parking lot and external lighting?
  • Position staff strategically. Safety increases with the number of eyes on deck. Are your employees arranged in positions of over-watch or is everyone positioned with their backs to the public?
  • Train staff to look alert. Do the employees present themselves as prepared and aware or unprepared and complacent?
  • Secure the premises. How secure are your doors, windows, and high-value items? What do your windows showcase?
  • Install security cameras. The cost for security cameras is low compared to their deterrence value high.

Listen to your employees

Sixty-nine individuals died in the twenty-three incidents that occurred in recent years in workplace environments. Fourteen of these twenty-three incidents involved a current employee. Four killers had been fired the day they opened fire on their former managers and coworkers. Four of the other killers were former or suspended employees.

According to Birdsall, multiple danger signals preceded seven of the eight workplace killings that have occurred thus far in 2017. In other words, some of those deaths could have been prevented.

Do you have a forum that invites employees to share their concerns if they notice a coworker’s strange behavior? Do your employees feel comfortable letting a senior manager or the HR officer know if they’ve requested a restraining order against someone they consider dangerous? Once employees voice their concerns, do you listen and act? Have you trained your supervisors to document and report all violent and potentially violent acts? Does your HR officer or a third-party consultant immediately investigate when an employee threatens violence or acts out in an abnormally aggressive manner? 


“Every employer that hasn’t yet experienced workplace violence thinks it couldn’t happen to them,” says Birdsall.

Except, then it does. Are you ready?

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, author of Beating the Workplace Bully and Solutions and Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for the Avitus Group, consults with medical practices to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Her company’s services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services.  You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, , her website or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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