How to Respond to an Active Shooter in the Workplace

  • Employer advice
man under desk
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

The New York City subway shooting may once again stir up the debate on gun safety policies in the U.S.

While Canada’s laws on gun control and gun licensing are much stricter than those in the U.S., it is important for workplaces to have an emergency policy that lays down the protocols to follow in the event of an active shooter attack.

Under the occupational health and safety law, it is an employer’s general duty to take all reasonable precautions to provide a safe workplace for their employees. This includes being prepared for emergencies such as active shooter attacks.

Though active shooter situations are largely unpredictable, being prepared can help you and your staff respond better and be safe in the event of a shooting. This blog offers advice on the protocols workplaces should follow and include in their active shooter emergency policy.

What are some factors to consider before creating an active shooter emergency policy?

Some industries may be more vulnerable to attacks or robberies than others. For instance, banks or businesses dealing in valuable goods or confidential information. Your location may also be a critical factor. It is important to first conduct a risk assessment to determine the risks and the safety controls to put in place to protect your staff and workplace.

What are some safety controls medium- to high-risk workplaces could follow?

The safety controls may vary depending on the nature of the business. Some basic prevention controls include:

  • Securing access to your building by implementing a digital access control system. This secures access to your workplace premises as your employees would be using individual access cards to get into and move throughout the building.
  • Depending on the level of risk, you could also install walk-through metal detectors and armed security at the entrances. If you are employing security guards make sure they possess the valid licenses to carry and use firearms. They should be working with security agencies approved by your provincial government.
  • You may also consider training your front-desk staff on de-escalation techniques to defuse violent situations. A panic button under the desk may be a useful safety device.

What to include in my active shooter emergency policy?

Your active shooter emergency policy should include:

  • Response strategies in case of an attack
  • Details on possible safe exits in your office building
  • Guidelines on how to respond once law enforcement arrives
  • Information an employee should communicate when making a 911 call

How to respond in the event of an attack?

An event involving an active shooter is unpredictable. Usually, law enforcement is required to end such a situation. You could respond to an active shooter in your vicinity or on your work premises in three ways. You should review the circumstances and make a judgement call on the most appropriate response.

Option 1: Hide in a safe place

Find a safe hideout. If possible, pick a room with a lock on the door. Block the entrance to your hideout. Ensure you and your staff take cover behind sturdy objects and away from the door. Close all curtains or blinds. Put all mobile phones and electronic devices on silent and call 911 when it is safe to do so.

Option 2: Evacuate

If exiting the building is an option, do so immediately. Ask your employees to leave their belongings behind. If you know of a safe escape route that is not close to the location of the shooter, use it. Everyone should ensure that their hands are visible while evacuating. Put all mobile phones and electronic devices on silent and call 911 when it is safe to do so.

Option 3: Take Action

This should be a last resort. Only exercise this option when your life is in imminent danger. Act with physical aggression and try to incapacitate the shooter by throwing objects at them. Call 911 when it is safe to do so.

What information should I communicate when making a 911 call?

When making a 911 call to report an active shooter attack, you should convey the following details:

  • Number of shooters on the premises
  • Location of the active shooter(s)
  • Physical description of the attackers, if possible
  • Number and types of firearms used by the shooter(s)

How to respond when law enforcement arrives?

When law enforcement is on the scene, you should:

  • Stay calm, avoid screaming or shouting, and follow the instructions given by the law enforcement officers and first responders
  • Ensure your hands are visible at all times
  • Drop any items you may be carrying, such as jackets or handbags
  • Raise your hands and spread your fingers
  • Avoid making any quick movements toward the law enforcement officers

Do you need help preparing health and safety policies for your workplace?

Whether it is a policy on dealing with an active shooter or responding to a natural disaster, our experts can help.

Peninsula’s experts can help you create company policies and assist you with any HR, health and safety and employee management advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

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