Should employers conduct active shooter drills?

Date Posted: 04/20/2020
Active Shooter Incidents

Just a few years ago, most employers didn’t think about training on active shooter response. Today, many employers have delivered active shooter response training, often using an online or computer-based course. Most employers have not, however, conducted active shooter drills.

Like a fire drill that simulates a fire, an active shooter drill simulates an attack at the facility. Many employers have concerns about the stress this could create, and some researchers suggest that drills would not be effective if a potential attacker is an employee or former employee who is familiar with the facility and the response training.

Considerations for active shooter drills

Conducting a drill is controversial, so each employer should decide if a drill is appropriate for their organization. If used, active shooter drills should be done only after delivering other training. A few considerations for drills include the following:

  • Clearly communicate that there is no threat, but employees should respond as if a threat had started, similar to a fire evacuation drill.
  • Provide a specific starting time (such as 9:00 am) so employees know exactly when the simulation will begin. A fire evacuation drill can be unannounced, but an active shooter drill should be planned so employees don’t panic and start calling 911.
  • Ensure that any security guards are aware of the drill and know how to respond.
  • Determine the level of realism you’re willing to create. Options range from simply announcing that there’s an active threat in a specific location (like a cafeteria) to having a simulated attacker with a fake gun.
  • Decide what is feasible for the facility. For instance, a retail store would not conduct a drill during business hours, but a scenario could be presented at an after-hours meeting.

Employers conducting drills should be prepared for emotional responses from employees, even though employees knew the attack wasn’t real. Some employees may have experienced an actual event, or may know someone who was killed or wounded in an attack. They may have a strong emotional reaction, and might even need to take the rest of the day off.

Alternatives to drills

While drills can offer training advantages, some employers think active shooter drills go too far. In particular, organizations that experienced an event (or were affected by one at a nearby location) may want to avoid the potential emotional impacts of conducting a drill.

One alternative is a tabletop exercise to help employees think about their responses. For example, a facilitator could present a scenario: “As a training exercise, suppose that during this meeting, we hear gunshots coming from the reception area. What should we do?”

These exercises help employees mentally prepare for an attack, and could involve walking through the facility to identify potential areas to shelter in place. A tabletop exercise reduces disruption and the potential emotional trauma of a simulated attack.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

An active shooter event could impact any company of any size. Preparing employees to respond helps them better protect themselves. View our webcast archive “Active Shooter Incidents” on from April 23, 2020, for more information on training and preparing for these unthinkable events.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

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