Active shooter planning helps your organization mitigate the risks and damages associated with active shooter incidents. Unfortunately, your active shooter plans are incomplete if you do not consider third-party victims or witnesses to the event. In other words, your team needs to understand how to help customers and visitors respond, as explained by the Department of Homeland Security, if an active shooter event occurs.
Unfortunately, there is not any definitive source on steps to protect your customers, excluding government-mandated areas that require security, such as jails, prisons or transportation centers. This can make you feel lost trying to figure how to help those caught in the vicinity or crosshairs of an active shooter in your business, so use these tips to keep those without training from becoming a fatality.
1. Keep evacuation plans posted and free of obstruction.
Evacuation plans and active shooter plans should be posted throughout your business. This will help customers and new employees respond in the event of an attack. Consider posting plans at the entrances, around the perimeter, near the customer-accessible areas and around emergency exits.
2. Install an alert system for emergencies, including active shooter incidents.
Federal or state laws require most businesses to install fire alarms or other alert systems, and modern systems can have customized alerts to help those in your facility understand what is happening. Ultimately, any alarm should signal an evacuation, but unit-specific or zone-specific alarms can be used to identify an active shooter’s current location in your business.
3. Instruct employees to help customers run and hide, assuming it is safe.
Employees will be the first people to react if an incident occurs. They should help customers get out of your facility if possible. If not, employees can help with barricading doors and entryways to keep an active shooter from claiming more lives.
4. Spread awareness in your community about active shooter planning.
Your customers know your business, but what difference does your business make in your community? Consider hosting a community event to sponsor public active shooter training. This will help spread awareness, which will hopefully prevent future incidents. In addition, it can help some customers know how to respond.
5. Ensure employees know where to hide.
This is obvious, but panic has a way of making the obvious seem out of touch. Go through possible hiding places with your staff members. For example, ask staff members to list appropriate hiding places as part of their active shooter planning exercises.
6. Make emergency evacuation routes obvious.
Emergency evacuation routes need to be obvious. In other words, “EXIT” signage and clear paths are critical to helping the most people escape from an active shooter. Clear paths are also critical to helping police stop an active shooter.
7. Use video and intercom systems to distract active shooters from a secure location.
Video and intercom systems are vital tools in aiding police and stopping an active shooter. If your staff members can get to your security area, they can use these tools to distract or startle the shooter. However, this is only possible if the security area is away from the actual space where the shooter is.
8. Keep emergency exits unlocked during business hours.
Some businesses fail to recognize the point of emergency exits by locking them during normal business hours. Although the doors should be locked from the outside, an override must be present on the inside. In other words, anyone pushing on the door’s interior face for more than five or six seconds should be able to open the door. Audible alarms on these doors are key to preventing theft and other shrink from emergency exists, eliminating much of the worry that stems from their use.
You cannot prepare every customer to respond to an active shooter incident, but you can do something by ensuring your staff members have completed an appropriate active shooter training program. Ultimately, staff members that know what to do are more likely to help customers and victims caught in the fire if an active shooter incident were to occur in your business.
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We’ve built the crisis management and active shooter plans for colleges, universities, non-profits, and the Fortune 500 while designing and managing effective, realistic exercises for our clients. Learn more about our approach to Crisis Management, including active shooter planning, training, and exercises, in our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management.