Five minutes or less — that’s how quickly 70% of active shooter events in the U.S. occur, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In those crucial moments before law enforcement arrives and workers are faced with making life-altering decisions, the importance of being prepared is critical.

Enterprise security leaders don’t have to search far to find reports of businesses becoming targets for mass shootings and workplace violence. Especially in the past two years, as the U.S. has been rocked by health concerns, social unrest, political dissent and economic uncertainty, the emotions that can trigger violence have been at an all-time high. In fact, a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that mass shootings have risen in quantity and deadliness since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 2021 was the deadliest year on record for gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Every organization has a responsibility to protect both employees and customers who enter businesses every day. During these times of complex and heightened risk, it’s critical that businesses use every protection tool available to them. Active shooter and workplace violence preparedness and response training can serve as the first line of protection against a verbal or physical attack. Here is what to keep in mind when evaluating comprehensive violence preparedness training programs.

Evaluate your risk

A survey of Fortune 500 companies found that the risk of an active shooter ranked among their top three concerns in 2020. However, the unfortunate truth is that many companies don’t have comprehensive preparedness training programs to execute amongst their workforces. Since it’s difficult to predict when and where the next violent event will take place, companies have trouble assessing the true level of risk to justify the need for preparedness training.

Companies need to look beyond the possibility or likelihood of an active shooter incident when assessing risk. The real measure of risk is not simply the probability of an event, but a combination of probability, vulnerability to attack, and the consequences an attack could have on your employees, customers, reputation and bottom line. A company may judge that the probability of an incident is relatively low, but the consequences of an active shooter attack are so significant that your overall risk analysis is higher.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), companies have an obligation to keep the workplace safe and secure. This means that if an active shooter event occurs and the security team hasn’t trained employees to respond, they haven’t met the obligation to address reasonable threats to keep the workplace safe. Not only would security teams be putting lives and assets at risk, but they would also risk the reputation and financial liability of the business without a preparedness plan.

By the numbers, addressing security risks just makes sense. Physical security threats can result in a 50% decrease in productivity for an organization, 20-40% employee turnover and an average of $500,000 in out-of-court settlements.

It’s impossible to put a price on the value of your organization’s people and the public’s trust. The question isn’t if you need a preparedness training program, but if you can afford not to have one. 

Understand your program options

While active shooter preparedness and response trainings have been available for years, many have not modernized or broadened in scope to keep pace with the tactics and techniques of this evolving threat. It’s important to understand not only the content and delivery options of the training, but also what’s behind the curtain — what are the principles, methodology, experience and expertise of the training provider before selecting it for a business.

A good training program will teach employees how to respond quickly and decisively in the event of an active shooter. It will also stress the importance of situational awareness and understanding behavioral anomalies. This includes the well-known “Run. Hide. Fight.” methodology introduced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. In a worst-case scenario, these skills will be critical for employees to get to safety and to minimize the harm caused by an attack.

Comprehensive training programs should also include response tools for workplace violence, which more than 2 million employees encounter every year, according to OSHA. Workplace violence is described as violence or threats of violence against workers consisting of verbal threats and abuse, physical threats or attacks that result in injury, property damage, fear or work impediment. Training programs should teach workers the signs of workplace violence, enhance their situational awareness and offer techniques for verbally de-escalating situations before they turn violent.

Programs should also teach workers to recognize and respond immediately to the sound of gunfire, even if a shooter isn’t visible, and to respond to injury if needed.

Determine your priorities

No two preparedness programs are exactly alike, and choosing the one that is right for a business will ultimately depend on the organization’s priorities. Here are a few questions for security professionals to ask themselves when selecting the right training program:

  • Compliance: Does the program accurately document how many employees have participated? Will you be able to prove that you provided training if an attack were to occur?
  • Effectiveness: How well will employees retain what they learned? Is the program engaging and easy to follow? Is the training delivered based on adult learning theory? 
  • Accessibility: Can all employees reach the program from a variety of work settings and locations? Will time zone differences or shift schedules cause issues in administering the program? (For example, an e-learning solution allows you to reach all employees, regardless of location or shift schedules, while also documenting compliance.)
  • Specificity: Will the program’s lessons be applicable in your business’ environment, as opposed to a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach? Does it include techniques that can be used in your organization’s specific setting, such as a manufacturing plant, retailer, office building, restaurant, etc.?

“Checking the box” on active shooter and workplace violence preparedness and response training is no longer acceptable. Just as businesses protect themselves against rising cybersecurity threats, it’s critical that a business protect itself against the threat of verbal or physical attack. The stakes are just too high to not prepare.