Active shooter training educates employees on indicators of potential workplace violence and prepares them to take appropriate action in an active shooter situation. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded 277 active shooter incidents in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, the majority of which occurred in commerce and educational environments (65% combined). In 2021 alone, the FBI reported 61 such incidents, a 50% increase over the previous year. 

Given the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S., active shooter training should be included in a company’s risk management and workplace safety strategies.

Are businesses required to conduct active shooter training?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act’s General Duty Clause, employers are legally required to provide a safe workplace for employees, including safety from workplace violence like shootings. 

Yet, employers outside of the healthcare and social services industries have a lot of leeway in how they keep their workplaces safe. OSHA does not specifically require workplace violence prevention training, let alone for active shooters. Plus, federal law doesn’t dictate what topics must be covered in such training. States like New York, however, require public employers to create and implement workplace violence prevention training.

Regardless of their location or specific industry, employers should implement active shooter training as part of a broader workforce violence prevention program. This initiative helps fulfill obligations to keep employees safe.

Also read: Navigating Injuries in the Workplace

How to prepare your business for an active shooter

Employers are required to have an emergency action plan (EAP) in place for more general emergencies. The EAP is a good starting point for building prevention and response plans for an active shooter situation. Beyond that, employers can take these steps to be prepared for a worst-case scenario:

  1. Develop clear policies
  2. Educate employees on potential indicators of workplace violence
  3. Establish a structure for reporting incidents and concerns
  4. Create an emergency response team
  5. Collaborate with external organizations and resources
  6. Refine the emergency response plan for an active shooter situation
  7. Evaluate the need for active shooter drills

1. Develop clear policies

HR should develop policies related to workplace harassment, violence, and weapon possession on company property. These policies should be informed by general workplace safety best practices but also tailored to the company’s industry and culture.

Workplace harassment

Workplace harassment can quickly spiral into physical harm, so implementing strict disciplinary and anti-harassment measures is important for addressing a problem before it escalates into workplace violence. Harassment can take the shape of verbal threats, bullying, and other behaviors that make an employee feel psychologically or physically unsafe.

Workplace violence

It’s good practice to enforce a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy that covers all workers, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who interacts with company personnel. HR needs to enforce the policy if a violation arises in order to demonstrate the company’s commitment to keeping employees safe.

Weapon possession

If possible, implement a zero-tolerance weapon possession policy. Concealed and open carry restrictions for workplaces vary from state to state. However, an employer’s best bet is to assume a firearms prohibition on company property and look for state-specific limitations that may apply. Companies operating in multiple states can provide state-specific policies that define who may carry a firearm, when, and where.

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2. Educate employees on potential indicators of workplace violence

Employees should be trained on the warning signs of imminent workplace violence that include but are not limited to:

  • Erratic, unsafe, or aggressive behaviors and severe mood swings.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Intentional destruction of property at work.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Changes in work performance.
  • Violations of company policies.
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to hygiene and appearance.
  • Sudden and dramatic changes in home life or personality.
  • Financial difficulties.
  • Holding a grudge against others in the organization and expressing a desire to get revenge.
  • Unsolicited comments about weapons and violent crimes.
  • Empathy with individuals committing violence.

The U.S. Department of Labor Workplace Violence Program offers more details on these and other workplace violence indicators.

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3. Establish a structure for reporting incidents and concerns

A survey conducted by the International Labour Organization and Gallup reported that nearly half of the respondents (45%) in the Americas said they were unsure of reporting procedures for instances of violence or harassment.

These findings suggest that companies need to establish and raise employee awareness about available reporting outlets, so employees know where to turn if they experience or witness harassment or violence at work. A robust reporting structure increases the chances of early, effective intervention before the situation potentially escalates into violence.

The same survey revealed that 62% of respondents thought reporting incidents of harassment or violence was a “waste of time.” This ushers in a broader discussion about company culture and fostering trust between employees, their managers, HR, and company leaders.

Employees need to trust that their employer will take their report seriously. Stakeholders can cultivate a culture of respect and trust by reaffirming and living out company values and following through on the company’s anti-harassment and workplace violence policies and response procedures.

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4. Create an emergency response team

An emergency or incident response team is a company’s internal first line of defense against workplace violence. It typically consists of an interdisciplinary group of employees from different departments, such as HR, legal, security, and executive management.

Contrary to the name, an emergency response team is not merely responsive; it also proactively works on company-specific policies and procedures to prevent and de-escalate incidents of workplace violence. Each member plays a defined role and adheres to a clear policy.

Communication between the response team and the rest of the workforce is critical. Employees need to know the purpose of the team, how and when to contact them, and how the team is connected to reporting outlets that might be in place, like an anonymous portal.

This team is also responsible for consistently communicating emergency response measures to employees and soliciting their feedback. Employee awareness and input every step of the way helps to create an action plan that’s best suited for the company.

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5. Collaborate with external organizations and resources

Your company should not be left to its own devices when launching active shooter training. A company can and should work in conjunction with local law enforcement to develop an effective active shooter response plan.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) — a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — offers an Active Shooter Preparedness Program as a resource for organizations that focuses on:

  • Behavioral indicators.
  • Attack methods and techniques.
  • Emergency action plans.
  • Active shooter preparedness.

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6. Refine the emergency response plan for an active shooter situation

Human resources, the emergency response team, and an outside training agency can collaborate to refine the emergency response plan for an active shooter situation and, more importantly, educate employees. At a minimum, the DHS advises that an active shooter response plan includes a run, hide, or fight protocol.

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7. Evaluate the need for active shooter drills

Training drills may help employees feel more prepared to take action in an active shooter emergency, but they may also contribute to employee stress levels, especially for those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, and other mental health concerns. However, there are a variety of drill types to choose from, each with their advantages and drawbacks.

On one end of the spectrum, drills can be simulations that are realistic, down to the graphic details of an actual active shooter scenario. This puts an emergency response plan to the ultimate test to see how prepared an organization truly is.

However, simulations are a controversial training approach because of their potential to traumatize employees and increase workplace anxiety and stress. Employers considering simulations should announce test situations beforehand and make them voluntary.

On the other end of the spectrum, employers can announce a practice run of evacuation routes and procedures in the event of an active shooter. Routine evacuation practice is a low-intensity way of ensuring employees are familiar with escape routes and response methods.

The TRT, broader workforce, and local law enforcement can help guide the organization in deciding whether to institute drills and, if so, which types to practice.

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Why is active shooter training important?

Active shooter training is important because it helps fulfill an employer’s obligation to protect its employees. Plus, it gives employees peace of mind to know what to do in the event of an active shooter. If an incident occurs in a workplace that’s unprepared for an attack, employees can sue the company for negligence, and the company can face fines for not having taken reasonable preventative action.

Federal law is vague about what an employer should reasonably do to ensure a safe workplace, so it’s up to employers to develop solid emergency training and response plans for a variety of scenarios, including an active shooter.

Given the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S., companies need active shooter training as part of their comprehensive risk management measures. Such training prepares and helps protect employees from a worst-case scenario.

It’s impossible to completely eliminate the threat of violence. However, there are strategies that employers can take to substantially mitigate the risk of active shooter situations at their workplace. A good place to start is by identifying toxic workplace behaviors.

Browse our LMS Software Guide to kickstart your employees’ workplace violence prevention training.

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