Nobody wants to prepare for an active shooter situation. Unfortunately, it is becoming normalized for schools and campuses across the US to run active shooter drills. Due to the frequency of mass shootings, it’s possible that a horrific situation involving guns might play out on your campus.
Preparing for an active shooter takes more than a tactical strategy to address the threat. Active shooter preparation requires a holistic approach. You must include consideration of the aftermath. Alerting and communicating to the community at large is serious business. Here’s how you can best prepare and protect your staff and students.
1. Develop a Communications Strategy
When a crisis arises, the first thing to fall apart is the day-to-day communication rituals of an organization. As a result, one of the most important things you can do is build a crisis communication strategy. Identify all of your communication dependencies. Verify how you will communicate that to students and staff on every part of campus. Should people shelter in place or evacuate? Document all assumptions, decisions, and potential communication shortfalls.
2. List Your Biggest Challenges and Areas of Concern
Before you move on to an active shooter drill, make a list of all of the areas for concern. This list should go beyond strategic response and should include considerations of every facet of the day of an active shooter. These concerns could include:
- Communicating to staff and students that they may be impacted
- Confirming the safety of individual members of staff and students
- Locating individuals who are in the building
- Understanding whether to shelter in place or evacuate
- Updating parents and the community on safety and current status in real-time
- Engaging local agencies and emergency responders as quickly and effectively as possible
3. Update All Employee and Student Data for Real-Time Accuracy
When an active shooter is on campus, concern for individuals who may be affected is paramount. To understand who is accounted for and who still needs help, you need accurate employee and student data. Manually input data often has inaccuracies: people move, quit their jobs, switch departments, etc.
The best-case scenario occurs when individuals can actively check-in and verify their own safety. Whether it’s by phone, email, mobile crisis communication app, or in-person headcount, find a strategy for individual safety verification. Educate your staff to maintain updated records because it could save someone’s life in a critical moment.
4. Make a Plan
When you’re crafting your emergency response plans, include active shooter procedures. They should be clear, concise, and include detailed communication systems. Account for equipment, resources, exits, and the availability of key personnel. Develop a checklist of important steps to take during an active shooter situation.
Your plan should include before, during, and after sections:
- Before - conduct training, report suspicious activity, identify exits, and map evacuation routes
- During - Run, hide, or fight
- After - Follow law enforcement instructions, evacuate, get others to safety, tend to wounded, and seek counseling
5. Conduct Tabletop Exercises and Drills
Once you have the framework of your plan in place, it’s important to put it into practice. These exercises will help you redefine priorities and establish action items that need to be taken. Your first attempt at drilling will always be hand-made, so you don’t want your first run-through to be a real active shooter situation. Drills and exercises serve the important purpose of educating students and staff on how to stay as safe as possible. Shooting events are not generally preventable, but effective drilling can mitigate the severity.
The Department of Homeland Security recommends a “Run, Hide, Fight” approach in an active shooter situation:
- Run - Putting distance between yourself and the shooter is the top priority in an active shooter situation, so when possible, run away and call 911 and describe the shooter
- Hide - If running isn’t an option, find a place to hide and stay out of the shooter’s view while blocking doors, turning off lights, and avoiding windows
- Fight - The last possible option is to defend yourself through makeshift weapons
6. Communicate with Local Law Enforcement
Police and emergency responders will invariably be called to the scene of an active shooter event. Include them in your plans, drills, and preparations. If you open the communication channels before a critical event occurs, they will have better response times and be clearer on strategies and outcomes. It will also help staff and students to understand how external agencies can best be of service when an emergency arises.
Increased mass shootings mean that emergency plans and drills must incorporate potential active shooters. If you’re responsible for the well-being of staff and students, you need to take an active role in planning and training. You can maximize the safety of those inside and outside your campus through proper planning. You can also offer whatever peace of mind is possible to concerned parties waiting for the situation to play out.