Sean Horner


As several U.S. communities, and the Nation, continue to mourn the loss of innocent lives due to senseless and incomprehensible active shooter incidents—with three of four recent incidents occurring in commercial business environments—it is common for business leaders and their employees to ask “Can this happen in my community or at my office?” The answer is, unfortunately, “Yes.”  A natural follow-up question may be “What would we do”and “Are we prepared to respond?” The answers to these questions are not as straight forward and  heavily depends on the specific company and what proactive steps, if any, the business has taken to prepare for adverse events. 

Just as law enforcement agencies will learn from these recent tragedies and continue to adjust their training accordingly, it is critical that businesses take action to do the same now and on a continuing basis. We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect,” and while no perfect outcome may exist in real life, history has demonstrated time and time again that being prepared for the unexpected can significantly reduce the harmful impact (e.g., loss of life, property, etc.) of an incident. This fact was made evident when three Gilroy Police Officers, despite being outgunned, were able to quickly and effectively engage the shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28, 2019 preventing further loss of life. Those officers, with an average of nearly 18 years of experience, undoubtedly participated in training like the one conducted at an “active shooter training exercise organized by Gilroy police at the west Gilroy theme park” less than a year ago.  In the case of the Dayton, OH mass shooting on August 4, 2019, the responding officers followed their training by advancing on the well-armed shooter without delay and neutralizing the threat approximately 30 seconds after the attack began.

It is not just law enforcement that has recently seen its training be put to the test, as Walmart’s mandatory “active shooter” program reportedly may have saved lives on July 30, 2019 when Southaven, Mississippi store employees acted quickly to guide customers and others to emergency exits following a shooting committed by a disgruntled employee. Walmart’s training program, which includes initial onboard training and a computer-based refresher four times per year, is just one example of how a company can consistently prepare its employee population on a recurring basis for threats they may face in the workplace. In Walmart’s case, the active shooter training was changed from an annual requirement to a quarterly requirement in 2017 following incidents at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada and First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Spring, Texas.

Regardless of the type of incident there are several actions businesses can take to prepare for the unexpected - actions that may very well reduce the adverse impact of the incident. At a minimum a business should:

  • Determine the greatest risks facing their organization, employees and customers.
    • Risk is a result of Threat x Vulnerability x Consequence
    • Identified risks should be re-validated and refreshed at least annually
  • Identify internal and external stakeholders or resources that can assist in preparing for, managing, responding to, and recovering from incidents.
    • Internal stakeholders include security, human resources, legal, finance, communications, and others.
    • External stakeholders include local, state and federal first responders, nearby businesses, and other potential partners.
  • For each of the top risks identified, develop corporate crisis management playbooks and site-specific emergency action plans.
  • Establish and implement a training program that can effectively deliver content and educate employees across the entire workforce, on a recurring basis, regardless of their position or location.

Prevention of heinous acts like mass shootings should remain our top priority, but the reality is that we must also pro-actively prepare to respond to, recover, and learn from those incidents that we are unable to prevent.

About the Author: Sean T. Horner, CPP is a Director at The Chertoff Group, where he focuses on security risk management, enterprise and corporate security operations, and physical security.  He is also a Board-Certified Protection Professional (CPP) as designated by ASIS International.

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