Active Shooter Prevention Tips & Security Measures

Columbine High School in Colorado. A supermarket near Tucson, Ariz. A church in Charleston, S.C. Another church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A country music festival in Las Vegas, Nev. A nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Conn. Fort Hood Military Base near Killeen, Texas. A meeting hall in San Bernardino, Calif. Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. A movie theater in Aurora, Colo. The Navy shipyard in Washington, D.C. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

By now, you’re shaking your head in sad recognition of what all these places have in common. Active shooters killed dozens of people: men, women, children as young as 7 or 8 seniors as old as 70 or 80. As many as 58 people died in the Las Vegas concert shooting. While we would like to believe active shooter incidents are few and far between, and would never happen to us, the reality is they can happen anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

A recent FBI study showed active shooter incidents take place, on average, once a month in the United States. Even if our lawmakers enacted tighter gun regulations and put new measures in place, it is unlikely they would prevent all similar such incidents from taking place in the future. Yet while we may never be able to avoid active shooter incidents entirely, there is much we can do to prevent them or respond to them more effectively.

Preparation and Planning Are Key

Regardless of your line of work or walk of life, you can take steps to help you and your employees, co-workers, fellow students, parishioners or friends prepare for an active shooter incident.

Active Shooter Prevention at Schools

Mass shootings at schools in Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland show how tragically vulnerable students are to active shooter attacks. It is no exaggeration to say we now have an entire generation of elementary, middle and high school students who have grown up in a world where this kind of attack is a reality.

However, school administrators and local law enforcement authorities have enacted prevention and planning techniques that have prevented many high school shootings over the past decade.

First and foremost among these measures is an awareness in the community about the signs of a potential attack.

  • “If you see something, say something” works in many situations.
  • Friends, teachers, church leaders and others should feel they must report unsettling signs of, or dangerous statements made by, disturbed individuals.

It is essential for school administrators to impress on their students: If they see their classmate making a dangerous statement or claim on any form of social media, they should report it immediately. Since students are often reluctant to “snitch” on fellow students, the local police and school authorities should arrange for an anonymous tip line if one is not already in place.

If you see something, say something. You could prevent an active shooter situation.School authorities also need to put active shooter work plans in place. Planning for active shooters involves more than just telling students they need to leave the facility when they hear an announcement or an alarm. Students need to know how to react appropriately and confidently to a dangerous situation.

Every school is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all response to preventing an active shooter. However, here are some proactive steps school administrators should take:

  • Ensure the local police have blueprints of the entire school.
  • Do a walk-around with police to examine every entrance and exit to gauge which are the most effective to use and which ones to avoid during an incident.
  • Schedule a day where an expert from the police or an organization that deals with active shooters gives a presentation about how to prevent an active shooter.

The Department of Homeland Security offers several excellent resources for school administrators and teachers that help them in their planning and preparation.

School administrators can also implement important measures at the schools themselves. They can arrange for the police to have a school resource officer present during the school day. If they do not already have a plan in place to screen visitors before they enter, they should create one immediately.

It is critical for school administrators to emphasize to students and parents not to let people or students in behind them once school doors are locked down, unless they have been screened first. Holding the door for someone rushing up at the last second could be a fatal mistake.

Schools should also hold regular active shooter drills with students. As we noted above, current students are more than aware of the potential for an active shooter incident taking place. However, helping students prepare to make the correct choice in how to respond to an active shooter incident is imperative. Students should be able to decide whether to run, hide or fight, and how to deal with each response.

In extreme cases, schools can install metal detectors or hallway surveillance cameras, always making any video footage readily available to police if necessary.

Active Shooter Preparation for Colleges and Universities

Preparing for an active shooter incident at a college or university involves different measures than a primary school campus. If an active shooter incident takes place at an elementary, middle or high school, it is usually restricted to one facility where police can respond immediately. Colleges or universities, however, sprawl across large areas of land, and active shooter incidents may take place at more than one building or location. So it is vital to create a plan that encompasses a variety of factors.

  • The “If you see something, say something” initiative also works on college and university campuses.
  • Professors, teaching assistants, lecturers and other students should know about the signs of a troubled individual that may hint at a potential incident.
  • In almost every deadly college or university shooting, friends or others were aware the shooter might take such an action, but failed to report it.
  • A 24/7 anonymous tip line is one of the best ways to encourage reporting and prevent shootings.

College administrators should also prepare active shooter response information on their websites and social media platforms. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security offers an active shooter response pocket card. Homeland Security can provide copies of the card, which can then be available in highly trafficked places across campus, or students can download a version of the card via the campus website.

Preventing an active shooter situation has it's own specific challenges on a College campus.

Train campus security officers and personnel for visual weapon and behavioral screening. This process involves training them how to recognize several suspicious behaviors someone carrying a concealed weapon might exhibit. Paying attention to an individual’s behavior that is out of place at the time or for the location is another way to detect a person who may be about to initiate an attack or some other form of violence.

Most campuses and universities across America currently have an alert system in place to warn students via electronic devices and social media about potential problems or incidents. These systems alert students to reported attacks or police action and encourage them to avoid designated areas. If your college or university does not have one of these systems in place, you should install one immediately. Encourage students to sign up for these alerts.

Another effective measure is to ban troublesome individuals from campus property. Share banned individuals’ pictures and information with all relevant campus authorities and local police. Active information sharing and the use of multiple agency databases is increasingly useful to identify potential problems and troubled individuals.

If these suspicious individuals return to campus, perhaps with revenge or some other motive on their minds, it is easier for police to intercede and stop them if they are aware your campus has banned the dangerous people.

Colleges and universities are sprawling institutions with many buildings that cover a large area. But smart planning by administration officials working with local law enforcement officers can help prevent potential active shooter incidents.

Active Shooter Preparation for Religious Institutions

There might have been a time, not so long ago, when the thought of a disturbed individual walking into a religious institution and opening fire would have seemed impossible. However, recent events in Charleston and Sutherland Springs have shown the opposite is true. As a result, religious leaders now realize they also need to prepare and plan for a potential active shooter incident.

It’s crucial for religious leaders to work with local police. If your priest, minister, imam or rabbi can’t do that themselves, appoint another leader within your religious community to work with the police and develop proactive strategies for how to deal with an active shooter incident. That leader should then come back to your assembly and talk to you about police plans and their suggestions for responding to emergencies.

Religious institutions should work with the local police force to help prevent any potential active shooter situations.

Religious leaders should ensure the police have blueprints of the entire religious facility and photographs of every room. They need to make sure the police have contact numbers for all the appropriate religious authorities and your property manager, and they need to make copies of keys to every door and give them to the police.

It’s also essential for religious authorities to report suspicious behavior by any individual in their congregations or communities. Religious authorities removed the older of the two brothers who took part in the Boston Marathon bombing from the congregation. Unfortunately, the imam, who had been a target of abuse from the brother, did not notify the police about the man’s more radical statements. In the Charleston shootings, friends of the shooter knew about his plans to attack the church, but also failed to report him to authorities.

Religious leaders can do numerous other things to protect their congregations.

  • Close the main doors to the worship facility after services begin.
  • Station a responsible member of the community in the back who can keep an eye out for anyone entering at the last second and can guide them to a seat if appropriate.
  • Train ushers to look for warning signs of troubled individuals and how to deal with potentially belligerent individuals.

If the shooter does get into the facility, it is likely the person leading the worship service will be their first target. If possible, the worship leader should try to direct attention away from the congregation. If the shooter targets the congregation, confrontation is unavoidable. Congregants should try to distract the shooter by throwing hymnals or religious texts at him and yelling at the shooter from several directions to confuse them.

In almost every religious community, you will find members with a police, military or medical background. Encourage these people to create a crisis response team. Often, they can help with training for ushers or other church members and work with the local police on effective response measures.

Active Shooter Prevention for Hospitals

Fortunately, there have not been many active shooter incidents at American hospitals so far. But that doesn’t mean they are safe from such a tragedy taking place in the future. It is better to engage in planning and preparation measures now than to wait until the unthinkable happens.

Hospitals face a particular problem other institutions don’t: patients. For example, it takes considerable effort to move people who are critically injured or hooked up to life support. This scenario leads to specific problems for dealing with an active shooter incident, and thus it is essential for hospital administrators to create plans and train staff in ways that not only protect themselves, but patients as well.

Just as with a school campus or religious institution, hospital administrators should train security, staff, nurses and doctors to recognize behaviors and patterns troubled individuals exhibit. Anyone who identifies a suspicious individual should notify hospital security immediately. The hospital should set up an alert system that can tell anyone working there about the location of a potential incident so staff can take appropriate emergency measures.

Hospitals can also employ access systems that require individuals entering the hospital or certain parts of the hospital to go through a visual inspection or metal detection system. Most hospitals currently employ surveillance cameras throughout their facilities, so it is crucial for hospital administrators to let local police know where to view this footage in case of an emergency.

As was the case with schools and religious institutions, the police should already have blueprints of the facility and photographs of important areas. Hospital administrators should inform the entire hospital staff about police plans to respond to such an event.

Hospital administrators could bring in police or an outside organization to train staff about the appropriate measures to take. Hospitals could then schedule employees so there will always be one person on every shift and on every floor who knows what to do in case of an emergency.

Active Shooter Preparation for Restaurants, Bars and Music Venues

Just as schools, worship sites and hospitals face differing challenges when responding to an active shooter, indoor venues such as restaurants, bars and concert venues offer unique problems regarding planning and prevention for active shooters. For one thing, each night brings in different guests. While you may have “regulars” who frequent your restaurant or bar, training them in active shooter prevention is unrealistic.

A highly trained staff can make an enormous difference in a violent episode that takes place in an indoor venue. Waiters and bartenders already have developed some skills in behavior recognition, since it’s one key to getting better tips. As a result, it will probably be somewhat easier working with your employees to help them develop the visual recognition skills needed to help prevent an active shooter incident.

You should also train employees in the best ways to move people quickly out of a crowded room. Speed is essential when it comes to saving lives, and your employees should know which doors will get people out the fastest and safest.

Restaurants and Bars should have a plan for active shooter situations.

Training from your local police department or another organization experienced in training people to respond to an active shooter incident is a wise investment.

As the owner of a restaurant, bar or music venue, it is also your responsibility to work with your local police department to develop an effective plan in case of a shooting. At the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, for example, the local police knew very little about the club’s layout or the best ways to enter the venue.

Nightclubs face another unique challenge, as well. Since these venues want to prevent people from sneaking in and avoiding cover charges, they often lock extraneous doors and back entrances. Also, musicians will frequently stack equipment in hallways, making them impassable.

As part of your prevention and planning within the nightclub, explore using special locks your patrons or staff can override in case of an emergency. Also, make sure you have verified the backgrounds and criminal history of all your employees, contractors or volunteers— especially at music events or venues. Disgruntled employees are often the source of violence in these kinds of incidents.

Once again, provide police with a blueprint of your bar, as well as photos of the restrooms, side rooms and backstage areas. Most busy nightclubs and music venues will have security at the entrances checking patrons’ bags and pockets, but you may also want to install metal detectors.

If you’re developing a new nightclub, bar, music venue or restaurant, think about design. Work with an architect to look at ways to construct your facility so patrons will be able to see and react to an active shooter incident. You can use design to improve the entrances and exits of your building, as well as how easily people move around inside the building. This principle is called crime prevention through environmental design.

Prevention and Planning Make a Difference

As we noted above, some active shooter incidents are impossible to predict and avoid. However, smart prevention and planning can stop many of them before they happen, and allow you to react in a more strategic and better-coordinated fashion if one is taking place.

The Department of Homeland Security has many outstanding resources you can share with your employees or students that provide valuable tips on how to deal with an active shooter incident. Your local police department is always an ally to work with during your preparation and planning stages, as well.

You can also work with a company like CitiGlobal, one of the world leaders in security measures. CitiGlobal can provide well-trained and highly experienced people to work in any situation that requires top-flight security. If you need access control, crowd control, armed or unarmed guards to work events or even a company to provide regular maintenance on the security equipment you use in your facility, CitiGlobal can help.

Call us at 949-531-8680 for a free consultation today.



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