At Many Workplaces, Training For A New Threat: Active Shooters

Loading
Error

/

Download
Embed Code

Copy/paste the following code

Donate

A string of attacks on cities, schools and workplaces has prompted many employers to turn to a new area of security for their employees: active-shooter training.

Until about a decade ago, workplace security focused mostly on preventing theft. Now, businesses are trying to give their employees guidelines on how to escape or handle armed intruders.

"Active shooter's been kind of my life since 1999," says James McGinty, vice president of training and development for Covenant Security Services, whose clients include companies looking for guidance on how to deal with active shooters. He is also a former police officer and consultant to the Department of Homeland Security.

"Seventy-five to 80 percent of your businesses are looking to now do some type of armed intruder/active shooter policy procedure and training," McGinty says.

He says the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 changed the way law enforcement, schools and workplaces thought about dealing with an active shooter.

Definitions of what constitutes an active shooter can vary, which makes data hard to collect. Some crowdsourced estimates put the number of shooting events last year at 330, but some definitions only include events with four or more casualties. The FBI defines it as someone actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. There were 160 such incidents between 2000 and 2013.

Insurance companies may encourage employers to do active-shooter training to limit liability. Some in the chemical or nuclear power industry might be required to do so by law. It is also a sensitive matter — no company was willing to discuss its program on the record for this story.

Some employers partner with local law enforcement for their training.

Videos produced by local police forces and the Department of Homeland Security promote the slogan "Run, Hide, Fight." They say running away increases the chances of survival. They also advise coming out of the building with your hands up, or turning off the lights and your cellphone ringer if you're hiding. Or — as a last resort — trying to gang up as a group on the assailant.

This kind of training at work is hard, says Laurence Barton, a threat consultant and trainer who works with the FBI.

"How do you create awareness, without creating paranoia?" he says.

He says employers are handling more threats — increasingly made through social media or through underground Internet services that allow people to send anonymous, encrypted messages.

"About a dozen threats per week for the Fortune 100 [companies] is average," Barton says, but the vast majority of those are handled quietly, without incident or publicity.

It often falls to human resources departments to identify unstable or problematic employees — and sometimes fire them. They have to weigh a worker's medical privacy and rights against the safety of other workers. Barton worries that some training courses create false expectations that those workers can handle active shooters themselves.

"This cottage industry is out offering one- and two-day seminars on how to deal with the active shooter, and this is crazy. This is absolutely, in my opinion, totally inappropriate," he says. Only police, he says, should manage shooters.

Don Alwes, a law enforcement officer and instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association, says workplace training does not have to be expensive or time consuming, especially when done in concert with local police.

"The training costs on that are relatively low, compared to some types of physical security systems or armed guards," Alwes says.

But none of it is effective if people don't heed the lessons from past shootings.

"Sometimes we learn the lessons, but they tend to fall out of our minds as we get back to normal activities," he says. "Someone paid for those lessons, usually in blood."

The San Bernardino facility attacked in December conducted monthly active-shooter trainings. One might be tempted to say it didn't work, but Alwes says it's hard to know. More might have died that day without it.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

2015 was, sadly, a year for mass shootings. There were attacks on a church, schools, gathering spots and workplaces. And it prompted many employers to do something new - to prepare their employees for active shooter situations. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Until about a decade ago, workplace security focused mostly on preventing theft. Now it includes dealing with incidents like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What's the address of the emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One-six-seven-five Airport Road. I've been shot.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. Who did it, Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't know, unknown gunman. He's got a shotgun. I've been shot.

NOGUCHI: As the security guard on the line loses blood and fades in and out, the call captures the panic and chaos at a FedEx facility in Georgia where a shooter injured six two years ago. James McGinty is vice president of training for Covenant Security Services and consultant to the Department of Homeland Security.

JAMES MCGINTY: Active shooter has been kind of my life since 1999.

NOGUCHI: That's the year the Columbine High School killings changed the way police, schools and workplaces handle active shooters. Definitions of what that is can vary, making data hard to collect. The FBI defines it as someone actively killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. There were 160 such incidents between 2000 and 2013. McGinty says employers realized they're a prime target.

MCGINTY: Seventy-five to 80 percent of your businesses are looking to now do some type of armed-intruder-slash-active-shooter policy procedure and training.

NOGUCHI: Insurance companies may encourage active shooter training to limit and employer's liability. Some in the chemical or nuclear power industry might be required by law, but it's also a sensitive matter. No company I reached out to was willing to discuss their training on the record. Some employers partner with local law enforcement. Houston's police department, for example, offers its own video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you are ever to find yourself in the middle of an active shooter event, your survival may depend on whether or not you have a plan.

NOGUCHI: The video suggests running, if you can, out of the building with your hands up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Act quickly and quietly. Try to secure your hiding place the best you can.

NOGUCHI: It advises turning off the lights and your cell phone ringer if hiding or, as a last resort, ganging up on an assailant. Laurence Barton is a threat consultant and trainer who works with the FBI. He says striking a balance is hard.

LAURENCE BARTON: How do you create awareness without creating paranoia?

NOGUCHI: He says employers are receiving more threats, increasingly made through social media or underground Internet services that allow people to send anonymous, encrypted messages.

BARTON: About a dozen threats per week for the Fortune 100 is average.

NOGUCHI: The vast majority are handled quietly without incident or publicity. Workplace shootings create a big challenge for employers. As they try to identify unstable employees and deal with them before something bad happens, they must weigh a worker's medical privacy and other rights against the safety of other workers. Barton has another concern that some training courses create false expectations that workers can handle active shooters themselves.

BARTON: This cottage industry (laughter) is out offering one- and two-day seminars on how to deal with the active shooter, and this is crazy. This is absolutely, in my opinion, totally inappropriate.

NOGUCHI: It's the police, he says, who should deal with shooters. Don Alwes agrees. He's an instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association. He says many trainings are done in concert with local police, but none of it is effective if people don't heed the lessons learned from past shootings.

DON ALWES: Sometimes we learn the lessons, but they tend to fall out of our minds as we get back to normal activities. Someone paid for those lessons, usually in blood.

NOGUCHI: The San Bernardino facility attacked in December conducted monthly active shooter trainings. One might be tempted to say it didn't work, but Alwes says it's hard to know. More might have died that day without it. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.