Preparing for the Unthinkable: What If There Were an Active Shooter in your Business?

Seemingly every day there is a new report of an angry person with a gun going to a public place and opening fire. While we probably all are on higher alert than we were a year ago, it is human nature to implicitly assume that this situation will not happen in our community and that it is just something we see on TV. Unfortunately, though, gun violence could happen in or around your business, and there are several basic preventive components that every business should consider.

Have an emergency action plan in place.

Develop an emergency action plan and practice it so that if you ever need it, you are ready. This is true for any office emergency, such as a fire or a tornado, not just an active shooter situation.

Design a plan of where to evacuate employees and how to get them out of the office safely. Make sure employees know the preferred way to report office emergencies to you and to their coworkers. Keep up-to-date contact information for all of your employees so you know how to reach them if there is an evacuation. Communicate every employee’s role in an emergency and make sure all of your employees understand what they are supposed to do if your business is evacuated. You can practice office evacuations and seek help from your local law enforcement agency, which will have training in running evacuation drills.

Pay attention to your employees and others present in your business (but don’t overreact).

Often in the situations we see in the news, when we learn about the shooter there is reason to think: Couldn’t we have done something about this before it happened? Most people do not just “snap” and do something violent. More often, there is frustration and anger that builds over time.

Watch the behavior of your employees and others who frequent your workplace, and look for developing signs of trouble. Clearly, comments about violence or anger are red flags, but unexplained upsurges in absences, increasing mood swings, and significant drops in work performance may be signifiers of problems too.

If employees seem like they’re having a difficult time, talk to them to see if you can help. If you are worried about getting too personal, you can leave them with information about your employee assistance program and make sure they know there is a place to get help. It may be advisable to consult with your lawyer as well to ensure you are properly balancing the various considerations that may come into play.

Of course, very few of these red flags will result in a shooter situation, but attentiveness to changing behavior can ward off more serious problems as well, and, of course, is just good management.

Having said all of that, do not jump to the conclusion that anybody who acts a “little strange” is a disaster waiting to happen, or that anybody reporting a mental health issue could be dangerous. That is simply not the case, and raises other legal issues.

Foster a culture of respect.

If your employees are treated with respect and have an avenue to safely vent their frustrations, then hopefully they never reach the point when anger is escalated to violence (even far less serious forms of violence than the starting point for this article). Foster a respectful workplace and consistently enforce policies to ensure that employees treat each other courteously and professionally. Create an open door system so that employees with frustrations can discuss those issues with you and seek a resolution without fear of getting in trouble. Develop an employee assistance program with a qualified counseling service so employees can seek help for personal problems, work-related stress, or chemical dependency. Craft a firearms policy and make sure those in the office are aware of it – in Ohio, a private business does not have to allow firearms on its property even if the carrier is licensed.

Although the chances of an angry employee or other individual bringing a gun to work are thankfully low, thinking through these steps with your team will minimize the likelihood of a tragedy and, aside from that, have other benefits as well. An experienced employment attorney can help you create appropriate policies and practices for your business.

Barnes & Thornburg LLP is a large, full-service law firm that seeks to take a more entrepreneurial and cost-effective approach both to client service and its own business.