By Lisa Lupo
A decade ago, the phrase “active shooter” would likely have brought to mind for many the picture of a hunter who had sighted a deer or flock of ducks. Today, the phrase is universally associated, instead, with human targets. It’s a regrettable sign of our times that the FBI has published a document listing 320 active-shooter incidents from 2000-2016 in the U.S. alone (http://bit.ly/2yYnA9L). The incidents occurred everywhere from open spaces to churches, schools to health care facilities, and residences to retail. And that is only part of the story.
According to Mass Shooting Tracker (MST), the U.S. had 477 mass shootings in 2016 alone, and by the end of October, there had been 370 mass shootings in 2017, and 1,882 since 2013 (www.massshootingtracker.org). It all depends on how you count it:
- FBI defines a mass shooting as three or more people murdered in one event.
- MST defines it as “a single outburst of violence in which four or more people are shot.”
But, regardless of how it is counted, the number of incidents is rising, and despite the food industry’s continually increasing focus on food defense, food processing facilities are not exempt. Take, as an example, the following on the FBI list: “On November 6, 2012, at 8:15 a.m., Lawrence Jones, 42, armed with a handgun, began shooting at his co-workers in the Valley Protein processing plant in Fresno, California. The shooting took place midway through his shift. Two people were killed; two were wounded. The shooter committed suicide before police arrived.”
So, what do you do should the worst occur in your facility? Is there any way to assess the risk; any indicators that can help prevent an incident? How can you possibly prepare your employees — and yourself?
While stating that active shooter incidents often have no pattern or method to the selection of victims, thus making any incident an unpredictable and evolving situation, DHS, as well as the FBI and FEMA, provide a number of resources to aid in prevention, preparation, and reaction, should the worst occur. (See Active Shooter Online Resources, page 24.) This article is based on extracts from and summaries of the agencies’ recommendations.
BE PREPARED. While no one wants to consider that such an event could occur in their facility, today’s climate makes it essential that everyone takes steps for prevention and preparation, including:
- Consider registering for DHS active shooter training and/or holding an employee workshop. (Visit https://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-workshop-participant for information.)
- Know the key indicators of potentially violent behaviors, such as increased drug or alcohol use; depression or withdrawal; severe mood swings; unstable or emotional responses; and unsolicited comments about violence, firearms, and other dangerous weapons and violent crimes. (See a more complete list at https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf.)
- Register to receive emergency alerts. If you have a company alert system, keep the contact information updated.
- Be constantly aware of your environment, anything out the ordinary, and any possible dangers.
- Advise workers that if they “see something, say something” immediately. If even a potential risk is determined to exist, managers should alert authorities.
- Discuss exit and escape path options. Identify places workers could hide.
- Make a plan, and ensure everyone knows what they would do if confronted with an active shooter. Include plans for individuals with disabilities or other access and functional needs.
IF AN INCIDENT OCCURS. Like the “duck and cover” nuclear-explosion personal-protection phrase of the ’50s, a new self-protection phrase has been resounding: “Run. Hide. Fight.” Since its inception, however, a new “Move! Escape or Attack” strategy has been proposed.
Run. Hide. Fight. Advanced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal and state agencies for active-shooter incidents, this method advocates a three-step decision approach.
- Run. Escape, if at all possible. Getting away from the shooter or shooters is the top priority. Help others, if possible; but get away, leaving your belongings, even if others don’t agree to follow. Warn others to stay away from areas the active shooter may be, and once you are safe, call 911, describing the shooter, location, and weapons.
- Hide. If escape is not possible, spread out, away from the shooter’s view and shooting. Stay quiet — putting all electronic devices on silent (not vibrate). Lock and block doors, close blinds, turn off lights, and stay in place until law enforcement gives the all clear. Try to reach police (911) through text or social media, which can geo-tag your location. If possible, without endangering yourself, put a sign in a window.
- Fight. As the last resort, take action — recruiting anyone who is with you to ambush the shooter, throwing or attacking with whatever is handy: chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. The purpose is to distract and disarm the shooter, but it is critical to commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Be prepared, and able, to cause severe or deadly injury to the shooter.
Move! Escape or Attack. Although Run. Hide. Fight. is the method most often communicated, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood proposes an alternative. As he states in a PoliceOne.com column, (cited with permission from PoliceOne and Wood), “The worst thing a potential victim can do in an active shooter situation is to freeze in position in a state of confusion or shock. Unfortunately, this is also the most likely response to sudden violence (even if just temporarily), so it’s vital to prepare people for this possibility, and get them thinking in advance about ways to recognize and fix this problem if it occurs.”
- Move! Commanding a person to “Move!” is intended to “break the freeze”; to prompt victims into action and complicate the targeting solution for the shooter while jump-starting the mind into problem-solving mode. It is especially important that immediate movement be a nearly instinctive, reflexive action for anyone near the shooter. Once out of harm’s way, the person can consider the following secondary options:
- Escape. Remove yourself from the area of immediate danger. This could be anything that increases the time and distance between the shooter and victim, or decreases the shooter’s access to the victim, e.g., hiding or fleeing. It combines run and hide into options as best fits the situation.
Attack. Attack is an alternative to running and hiding rather than a last-ditch effort. Additionally, Wood says, the word attack is used instead of fight, because attack is a proactive and aggressive offensive action, whereas fight can be deemed as defensive. “In an active shooter situation, we want to encourage this spirit of aggression in a potential victim,” Wood states.
A significant difference between the methods is that Run. Hide. Fight. follows step-by-step reasoning, with the victim fighting back only if running and hiding didn’t work. Not only does that not allow a person to choose the most appropriate response for the situation, he said, it promotes and reinforces “a sheep-like mentality that discourages citizens from using ethical and lawful force to defend themselves. This only serves to protect and embolden the wolves.”
For Wood’s full explanation and detail of the Move! Escape or Attack method, read his PoliceOne.com columns: Why ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ is flawed and Why ‘Move! Escape or Attack’ is superior to ‘Run, Hide, Fight’.
WHAT NEXT? When officers arrive, it is critical that everyone keep their hands visible and empty, so as to not become suspect. Officers, who may be armed with and/or use rifles, shotguns, handguns, pepper spray or tear gas, will shout commands and may push people to the ground for their safety. Follow all instructions; evacuate in the direction they came from.
If there are wounded and first responders have not yet arrived, ensure your own safety, then help get wounded to safety if they are in immediate danger, HSA advises.
Once the incident is completely wrapped up, consider seeking professional help for you and your workers to cope with long-term effects of the trauma.
The author, a veteran trade magazine journalist, is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.