Many employers adopt emergency preparedness plans and train employees how to react in crisis situations like a building fire or when the company faces an imminent threat of severe weather.
But given the all-too-frequent headlines about workplace violence these days, many companies realize they must now train employees on what to do if somebody walks in and starts shooting.
Private security firms, local law enforcement agencies and even chambers of commerce say helping employees prepare for and react to an active shooter in the workplace should become part of any company’s emergency preparedness plan, especially because of its life-saving potential.
“People need to have a plan for a variety of emergencies,” said Jason Russell, founder and CEO of Grand Rapids-based Secure Education Consultants LLC, a provider of defense training. “Human beings in an emergency don’t rise to the occasion. They sink to the level of their training.”
Russell and other experts say they’re seeing growing interest from employers to train workers in active-shooter scenarios. The interest typically spikes in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, although many companies or organizations call after experiencing “some type of scare,” whether a threat by a former employee who was terminated or a domestic dispute that spills over into the workplace, he said.
“(P)eople who may be putting it off have thought, ‘Yeah, this is something we eventually need to do.’ They see an incident and it kind of sparks a reminder to them,” Russell said. “It’s kind of that resignation, ‘We’ve been putting this off and we realize we kind of need to do it. We talk about it a lot at meetings and we need to finally take that step and actually take some action on it.’”
Secure Education Consultants offers training for organizations in how to respond to an active-shooter incident, as well as offers site assessments and develops custom emergency plans.
Among the companies that have gone through the training is Flexfab LLC, a Hastings-based manufacturer of silicone hoses, ducts and components for major OEM transportation companies worldwide. Flexfab, which employs about 500 people in North America and 500 overseas, retained Secure Education Consultants two years ago to train employees and conduct a security assessment, as well as provide refresher training annually to management, CEO Matt DeCamp said.
The company afterward improved security by installing keycard locks on all external doors and altering how visitors access the building, he said.
DeCamp sought the training “to make sure that if something does happen, associates are trained and know how to respond,” he said. Among the benefits from the training was “peace of mind,” he added.
Employees were “overwhelmingly positive” after receiving the training, DeCamp said.
“If there’s a workplace incident, violence or something of that nature, then there’s a process and a procedure that’s to be followed. Like anything we do in the manufacturing business, we’re driven and live by processes,” he said. “What opened my eyes the most is you think you have a pretty secure campus, and then you get people trained to come in and show you just how unsecure your facility actually is and how easy it is for someone to gain entry, even though we have special locks and key fobs and key card access to get anywhere.
“It’s still pretty easy for those things to be circumvented and (with the assessment and training) we understand where the weaknesses were and put stopgaps in place to secure it even better.”
For companies that want to plan for an incident, Russell emphasizes the customization aspect of emergency preparedness, urging companies to avoid generic plans. An emergency preparedness plan needs to consider the physical layout of an office or factory, and the nature of the business or organization, he said.
‘IT CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE’
In addition to the private-sector companies, many police departments also offer active-shooter training.
The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office has been providing the service for two years. A training session scheduled for this week quickly filled up and the department has two more sessions planned for Jan. 11 and Feb. 10 at its offices in West Olive.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce also is holding a day-long training event for its members Jan. 10 in Lansing that focuses on best practices for planning, what to do in an emergency, and coping with the aftermath.
The Michigan Chamber has offered the course “on and off” since 2012, although not in the last three years, said Tammy Smith, manager of training and education. The organization brought back the training in response to recent mass shootings, Smith said.
“Our employers are realizing it can happen anywhere, to anybody. You just don’t know, and we believe the best thing is to be prepared for those,” she said. “Everybody should have a safety plan in place before it happens. With the incidents that have happened lately, a lot of people have their eyes open wider.”
Ottawa County Sheriff’s Capt. Derek Christensen estimates that since 2015, more than 5,000 people have taken the department’s free training. Past participants have included teachers and staff at 10 school districts, several daycare centers, churches and businesses. Employers increasingly have been contacting the department to learn about how they can access some form of training for their employees.
“Unfortunately, the frequency of these events and the media attention that accompany them over the years have changed how people are preparing and thinking about them,” Christensen said. “It’s by far the most requested training that we provide and has been for the past couple of years.
“People are better equipping themselves to deal with situations like that.”
The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office uses a program known as ALERRT — short for Active Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training — that was first developed for police officers by Texas State University.
At a recent training session at a Grand Haven daycare, a sheriff’s deputy stressed the need for staff to know how to control their panic in an emergency and to maintain awareness of their nearest exit or best route out of the building, as well as how they can block the doorway to deny entry to a shooter. He asked the daycare staffers to think about what they may have that they can use as a weapon if they are trapped in a room and — as a last resort — have a chance to surprise a shooter.
The deputy urged attendees to avoid the passive approach of “hope and hide” — or hiding in a closet and hoping the shooter just goes away, for example.
Additionally, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office will review emergency preparedness plans for employers and organizations and offer best practices for them to follow, Christensen said.
Across the U.S. this year, there have been more than 300 incidents of mass shootings, which is generally defined as when four or more people are shot.
Despite the increased interest in training, Russell at Secure Education Consultants still sees lingering complacency. There persists an “it can’t happen here” thinking, he said.
“A lot of people have the idea that these things can happen, they just don’t think they can happen to them. It always happens somewhere else, so we never really internalize it,” Russell said. “They usually have that impression (that) those are things that happen in other places and we don’t worry about those things here, unless we’re forced to.”