How to Survive a Workplace Shooting
In 2016 there were 500 workplace homicides in the workplace. Offices, stores and factories are often the sites of active shooter situations. Don’t be caught living in a bubble where you think nothing scary is going to happen at your office. You’re just an accountant after all, right? Who in their right mind would pick your office?
That’s the danger of assumptions. No one in their right mind commits a mass shooting. No one thought a video game tournament was going to be the site of a shooting in Jacksonville last month. More people need to realize that violence can happen anywhere at anytime. That’s why you need to take steps today to be prepared for a potential of a shooting at your workplace.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a simple, effective procedure on how to respond to an active shooter called Run, Hide, Fight. I’ve written about this before and how it can save your life when you are out with your family. This sequential technique can apply to many situations, but I’ll focus my thoughts today on the workplace.
Hopefully you will never find yourself in a situation where you are fleeing from a gunman at your office. If you do, understand that you won’t have time to rationalize what is happening, you will simply have to act immediately. Don’t try and figure out who the shooter is or why he or she is there. Just get out of danger.
If you ask any law enforcement officer, they will tell you that they cannot be everywhere at once all the time. Even if the police have an amazing 60 second response time from the first call, it may be too late for you. You have to be an active participant in your own survival. Do not put this responsibility on someone else. Your personal safety is your responsibility.
Here is what you need to know about how to survive a workplace shooting:
Know Where to Run
The first step in keeping yourself alive in a workplace shooting starts before the event ever happens. (If it even happens at all.) You won’t know to run until you hear shots being fired, but more importantly, know where to run. This takes some preparation on your part.
Tomorrow, make sure to walk your facility to spot all of the exterior doors in your area. These can be main entryways, fire exits, first story windows or even loading docks. Note where all of these exits are so that no matter where you are when shots are fired, you’ll know right where to go.
Having a mental map of your office is good. But take this one step further. Actually use those exits regularly if you can. Of course you shouldn’t set off the fire alarm by opening a fire exit door. But see where all of the doors go and where you can run to for help. Make sure that each exit leads away from the building and won’t dead end in a courtyard or other area you cannot escape.
A way to spot an exit to a building is the mandated fire exit signs. When you are making your plan, look for these signs to point out an exit you might not have seen before. If you are visiting another office, you can spot these signs to help make a mental map of a new area you may not get to tour freely.
Make a plan for each part of your facility you could be in during the day. That way if you are caught far from your desk you’ll still know where to go when the shooting starts and your fight or flight response kicks in. When your heart is pumping and your senses are diminishing is not the time to make a plan; it’s time to execute your existing plan.
When you know you’ve heard a gunshot, don’t wait to see if anyone else hears it too. Run.
If you hear a gunshot, don’t hesitate to flee. Don’t wait to see if anyone is going to run with you. You can call for others to follow you, but ultimately you are responsible for your safety and they are responsible for theirs. If you can help someone along the way escape, do it. But do not go looking for someone to save. Get out and take someone with you on the way if you can. If you feel compelled, yell “gun” or “get out” to warn others.
If you are in a multistory building, escape by taking the stairs. Don’t wait for an elevator. Elevators make sounds and take forever to arrive. The sound of the doors opening and the chime sounding will clue a shooter into your location. Plus it boxes you into a small space where you might not be able to flee if the shooter arrives. Plan on taking the stairs.
When it is time to run, don’t hesitate or become distracted. Many people think that calling 911 is the first thing you do when a shooting starts. What you need to do first is get away from the shooter and when it is safe, call for help. Don’t waste valuable escape time calling the police from your desk.
When you call 911, clearly state the emergency, the address of your office and if there are people hurt. The emergency operator will ask you more questions as another person on their team dispatches first responders. Answer as many questions as you can as you keep your eyes open for more shooters or potential threats. For more on this, you can read my article on what to say when you call for help.
You might think it’s a good idea to pull the fire alarm on the way out as a way to warn other people. Do not pull the fire alarm. This is going to cause more panic and confusion. It might actually funnel more people to the shooter. In addition, it will turn off elevators and may unlock emergency doors that normally remain locked. If you pull the fire alarm it’s also possible that fire crews could arrive first giving the gunman more unarmed people to shoot. Please don’t pull the fire alarm, it’s not going to be helpful.
In the next article we’ll go over hide, fight and what to do when the police arrive. Click here to continue to the second part of How to Survive a Workplace Shooting.
Learning how to prepare for a potential active shooter in your workplace is important. Please understand that the Run, Hide, Fight method and this article are not a guarantee of survival. Workplace shootings are unique events with many variables. Being prepared for such an event can be the difference between life and death.