Security management expert witness Randy Atlas, Phd, AIA, CPP, contributed to the article The Role of Buildings in Mass Shootings, Strategies to decrease workplace homicides which appeared in Buildings Magazine. The expert is president of Atlas Safety & Security Design Inc. and notes that “It’s a big deal for an architectural magazine to focus on the problems of building security.” The article is written by Jennie Morton, senior editor of BUILDINGS.
STRENGTHEN ACCESS CONTROL
Beyond physical deterrents, it’s often the human side of security that can make the most difference in an active shooter situation, notes Grollnek.
“Most buildings aren’t designed to prevent violence on this scale. The probability of an all-hazards event like terrorism or a shooter is very low and it may not be cost- effective to change the existing layout,” Atlas says. “Policies and procedures, training, and communication are the most important things that will improve security and minimize the risk of an active shooter situation.”
Lax security practices can turn any building into a soft target, particularly if you aren’t keeping tabs on who is allowed onto the property.
While controlled access offers some of the best protection, the system must be kept current with permissions. Otherwise, the badges of former employees, visitors, or temporary contractors could still be active.
“If you have 600 employees and there are more than 900 access cards, you know you have a problem,” says Sean Ahrens, a security expert with Aon Global Risk Consulting.
This discrepancy can be reduced if there is a mechanism in place that identifies when an employee is no longer with the company, he adds. Far too many workplace homicides involve former workers, so it’s imperative that their access privileges have been revoked. This is especially true if they return for an unannounced reason.
“Access control protocols should be to deny entry to former employees who were discharged for cause or resigned under contentious conditions. The admittance of these fired or disgruntled individuals at the workplace needs to be denied tactfully or authorized after an evaluation of all the related factors for the visit,” stipulates the 2012 ASIS report Mass Homicides by Employees in the American Workplace.
You may need to review your visitor policies as well. Some organizations use a lobby or waiting area as a sort of holding tank while a guest is authorized prior to allowing access, says Ahrens. Not only does this give a guard or receptionist time to confirm the visit, but it isolates the individual from building occupants.
You should also have a policy in place to verify a person’s identity, says Pizzitola. He has visited many buildings that required him to sign in but never asked for any identification. A few scribbles in a log book are an empty gesture that should be eliminated.
If you have guards, confirm they have the proper training and tools to respond to an active shooter threat. Some personnel are only on a premise to observe and report whereas others have permission to engage with a suspect.
“Profile training for behaviors is number one for dealing with active shooters,” states Atlas. Suspicious activity can be a red flag, such as someone wearing a long jacket on a warm day or carrying a duffel bag when there’s not a gym nearby.
UPDATE EMERGENCY PLANS
Even the best security measures can be breached if an intruder has enough time and determination. Once controls have been defeated, every second counts. An active shooter incident is typically over in 12 minutes, says Grollnek, and police may not arrive before the situation has played out. Does your emergency response plan have guidelines for what to do as those minutes tick by?
If your plan is silent on the topic, take the time to make revisions. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, says Mitchell. Network with comparable organizations or neighboring buildings to learn how others have anticipated these threats.
“An organizational analysis may be necessary to identify all of the key stakeholders,” Mitchell notes. “Consider not only availability but capability of an individual to perform emergency duties.”
Each player should know what their specific responsibilities are under an active shooter threat. Training may be necessary to fill in any gaps. Once stakeholders have been identified, you can draft a sequence of events.
Now it’s time to put that plan into action. Employees may receive emergency information as part of their orientation training, but will they remember it under extreme stress? Precious time is wasted if occupants have to stop and think about what to do. Frequent drills can make recalling instructions an automatic response.
“A natural disaster and an active shooter incident are very similar – you need to get a large number of people to a safe location in a very short amount of time,” Grollnek explains. “Common sense tells you the best way to do this is to practice it beforehand.”
Schedule periodic drills or fold them into other emergency awareness exercises. “Drills need to be embraced by upper management and incorporated as part of the safety culture,” Pizzitola stresses. “If leadership sets a good example, employees will be more likely to take emergency exercises seriously.”
Practicing the plan will also give you the opportunity to see how it works in a controlled environment.
“An exercise should reveal areas that don’t properly or adequately address the level of emergency response,” Mitchell explains. “You need to have earnest, honest feedback. How did it go? What could you have done better? What needs to change moving forward?”
There’s no reason to feel helpless against an active shooter. Rely on your building’s inherent defenses and plan ahead for a worst case scenario. Your occupants are counting on it.