"Active shooter on premises" are words that instill terror. However, these incidents seem to permeate the American psyche. Even with seemingly endless reports of these attacks on organizations, many leaders do not organize a plan for how to respond should they be faced with such an event.

The most likely reason for this is fear. Even preparing to mitigate against such an event is scary.

An active shooter incident is when an individual or individuals actively engage in the killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, as defined by the FBI.

The FBI designated 27 shootings in 2018 as active shooter incidents.

Unfortunately, active shootings — which are highly unpredictable when underway — are a reality that organizational leaders and facility managers must prepare for. Individuals must be prepared to manage such an event before law enforcement personnel arrive on the scene.

According to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (which is applicable to all business in the United States), employers must provide their employees with a workplace that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm." Per Active Victim, a provider of active shooter training prevention, courts have interpreted this provision as a legal obligation for all businesses, and this has led to significant legal action and awards for damages against businesses from victims of workplace violence.

Thus, you must have a plan. The following steps can help in creating a plan to effectively respond to an active shooter situation.

Reporting an active shooter

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, organizational leaders should first establish a preferred method for reporting an active shooter incident to staff and any potential on-premise customers or guests.

"Research shows that warnings do not induce panic," the website reports, and people need accurate information and clear instructions for how to proceed during such an emergency. "The quick delivery and notification of an incident can keep people out of harm’s way."

When creating the plan, your notification protocols must be as clear as possible.

Establish who is responsible for issuing the alert. Likewise, make sure communication barriers, such as multilingual, hearing-impaired and learning-disabled messaging, are all considered in the reporting method.

"Electronic communications, such as text messages or email, are effective provided the language uses familiar terms and considers the issues mentioned above. Other methods include the use of sounds or lights as notification," the site reports.

For these notifications, consider outsiders, members of the public, and guests and how you are going to keep them safe.

Create emergency escape procedures and route assignments for staff

Active shooter plans should identify safe areas and provide floor plans of the facility. Use these to develop an evacuation plan and how that plan will take place.

Keep people out of main areas, and try to keep people from congregating. The more people who are together, the more likely there will be mass casualties.

The evacuation plan should take into account how people can get out of the building when the primary evacuation routes are unusable. Thus, have a primary route, have a secondary route, and if possible, have a tertiary route. The more options for people to get out quickly, the better.

Establish lockdown procedures

In creating an active shooter plan, consider how to effectively lockdown visitors and staff to keep them safe. Take into account access to functional safety needs when advising on shelter sites.

Effective shelter-in-place locations should be carefully selected. Optimal location characteristics include thick walls, solid doors with locks, minimal interior window, first-aid emergency kits, communication devices and telephones or duress alarms.

Provide ongoing training

A plan is only as good as its training. Ongoing training helps ensure everyone knows the plan and how to work it. Training shouldn’t be limited to one approach, consider including information in employee newsletters, during onboarding and in new employee orientation and training videos.

Also, consider including the plan along with other emergency preparedness plans.

Finally, gather pertinent information for emergency response agencies, including telephone numbers, and names. Know your facilities headcount and be prepared to provide the distance from the active shooter throughout the location.

Active shooter plan template

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides an active shooter plan template. The objective of the plan template is to help organizations prepare their personnel for active shooter scenarios. This template documents basic information recommended for an effective emergency action plan.

Employees deserve safe environments, which can be furthered by an effective active shooter plan. There may never be a need for it, but planning for the unexpected is essential to being prepared in the event it does happen.