A Serious Threat

— By Jay Hart —

How businesses can plan for the growing concern of active shooters and workplace violence.


Active shooter incidents used to be rare. But now, people realize they are more likely to be involved in an active shooter incident as the frequency of such events increases. According to a 2018 FBI report, 21 states around the country, from California to Maryland, saw active shooter incidents in the 2-year period from 2016 to 2017 — 10 more than in the previous 2-year period. The report found most of the incidents occurred in places of business, such as a shopping mall, followed by open spaces, such as a park, outdoor concert venue or school.

Jay Hart, Force Training Institute

With the daunting task of providing critical information as quickly and effectively as possible, leaders from organizations large and small are faced with the same question: how does one even begin to train active shooter mitigation? Although active threats and the environments in which they take place can vary, the common threads found throughout can be woven together to create the fabric of an effective and successful safety program. Thankfully, the same training utilized by first responders can easily be adapted and incorporated by any group, regardless of size or type.

As organizations seek to adapt to the growing concern of active shooters and workplace violence, a greater focus is being placed on what a person can do to be safe and how to impart this vital information.

Breaking through the barrier of discussing uncomfortable subjects, understanding common characteristics, learning from past incidents, and mental (if not physical) preparation are all essential to equip individuals with the tools necessary to respond to a critical situation.

Avoid Avoidance

More often than not, active threat training is the elephant in the room. Everyone has heard of incidents, but decision-makers can be reluctant to take the steps toward mitigation and response training. The reasons may vary. Some believe active threat training will make employees more fearful rather than empowered. Others worry the training might not be “right” for the team. However, looking the other way is not a solution to any problem, much less one with potentially fatal consequences.

The aforementioned statistics illustrate the probability of an active threat incident, making it less of an “if” and more of a “when.” Unfortunately, violence doesn’t discriminate where it can take place, so the entire enterprise — be it headquarters, warehouse or storefront — should take preventative measures. Breaking through the barrier of apprehension begins with a holistic approach: one team, one goal. Leadership should evaluate the type of training fitting for an organization’s culture, articulate the vital importance of such training to employees and clearly explain how the training will be implemented.  In addition, this type of training provides employees with a “gift of safety” they can carry with them beyond their workplace to their “lifeplace” — shopping centers, movie theaters, concerts, etc.

Recognize Warning Signs

Empowering employees with tools on how to identify and communicate to leadership possible high-risk indicators such as signs of growing anger, depression or erratic behavior can be just as, if not more, effective as decisive action during an active threat.

The Clackamas Town Center Mall shooting in 2012 is an example of “See Something, Say Something” warnings and indicators that seem apparent in hindsight but were overlooked at the time. The shooter in this instance wore a hockey mask and was loading his rifle in the parking lot as shoppers passed him by. In interviews following the shooting, these individuals said they thought the assailant was wearing a paintball mask and had a toy gun.

Although playing paintball is not something people normally do at malls, it is common for the brain to process unusual circumstances as something more familiar, as unlikely or impractical as it may be. Discussing what to be on the lookout for can better prepare employees to know when to say something about what they see or hear that could indicate a risk.

Teach Principle-Based Concepts

Violence is seldom a cookie cutter affair and as such a “one size fits all” response is likely an ineffective solution. Conversely, having too many threat-specific responses can be confusing, if not outright dangerous. While different threats do warrant varying responses, a series of “stovepipe” procedures can cripple a person with tunnel vision during a high-stress scenario.

All active threat response plans should be built upon the same principles so even if the details are lost in the heat of the moment, team members can still make informed decisions to help ensure the safety of themselves and others. A simple concept utilized by premier agencies known as “Run, Hide, Defend,” is a good place for companies to start building a clear and coherent plan.

Discussing exit plan strategies, such as why you might need to avoid your routine route or what to do if a particular exit is blocked, is an example of a principle-based approach response plan. Instead of telling employees exactly what they must do if the main exit is blocked, get them thinking about alternative options so in the moment they can fall back on these varied ideas instead of being frozen into an “if this, then that” response.

Identify a Defensible Area

If employees cannot “run” from the threat, it is vital to address how to “hide” in a defensible area. Identify locations in your place of businesses that can be locked and blockaded to shield employees and customers from the threat. Also, discuss items in this space that can be used as makeshift weapons if the space must be defended such as chairs or fire extinguishers. Consider placing first aid kits and other tools in this area that can be used during a threat. Items can include a pre-paid cell phone and the Multi-Threat Shield. The Multi-Threat Shield is a compact and discreet ballistic shield that folds up like a laptop bag for easy storage. During a threat it can be held up as a 3-foot shield that will block bullets and knives or even hung up over a window or door.

Every active threat situation will unfold differently. By being proactive about what can be controlled, such as implementing sound training strategies and principles, companies can be prepared to respond to an active threat. Through the empowerment of its most valuable assets — its people — companies can mitigate risks and protect the safety of employees, customers and community.




— Jay Hart is the director of the Force Training Institute. He has worked with numerous global and Fortune 500 companies on creating and implementing active shooter mitigation programs. Hart began his career in threat assessment and site security as a member of the United States Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team. Additionally, Hart sits on a federal think tank panel with the Department of Homeland Security providing new and innovative solutions to matters of safety and security in the workplace.

Tagged under