Active lethal threat preparation

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Help your clients create preparation steps for an active lethal threat

Active lethal threat preparation requires both practice and planning. Regular practice before an emergency helps appropriate responses to become second nature and can also help identify weaknesses in the emergency plan. These vulnerabilities can then be addressed and remedied.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) define preparedness as “a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response.” Particular emphasis should be drawn to the word “continuous” – once established, a plan must be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect their most current information. An outdated plan is akin to having none at all.

One of the biggest challenges planners face in devising their active lethal threat preparation steps is that emergency situations can rapidly develop into scenarios not originally anticipated. Ideally, plans will allow for some measure of flexibility, but it’s equally important to train employees to adapt and overcome according to fluctuating conditions and their own best judgment. Every employee should feel confident enough to make the split-second decisions that can help protect both their lives and the lives of others. Encouraging this mindset, as well as implementing regular drill schedules, will train employees to carry out emergency procedures calmly and thoughtfully. It will also encourage them to think actively about safety measures and their own responses to “what if” scenarios.

Active lethal threat preparation steps

While it’s important to have response plans for a variety of emergencies, they are especially critical for scenarios involving armed assailants. The DHS defines an active threat as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and/or populated area; in most cases firearms are the weapon of choice…but any weapon (such as a knife, etc.) can be utilized…. Typically, there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims.”

Due to the seriousness of this threat and the time-sensitive nature of responses, employees and guests of your organization must be in no doubt as to what their appropriate actions should be. It’s highly recommended to have a formal plan in place for this kind of emergency.

A commonly held best practice for responding to an active-shooter or active assailant event is “Run, Hide, Fight.” This school of thought recommends quickly assessing your situation and then choosing the most appropriate action and committing to it. To summarize: if possible, run, and keep running; if impossible to run, hide; and if your hiding place is discovered, commit to fighting for your life. A more detailed description can be found in DHS’s short video that can easily be integrated into a staff meeting or assigned to employees as self-training. Additional information can be found in the publication Active Shooter: How to Respond.

Related: Workplace violence: How to create a safer environment

Recognizing and reporting to lethal threats

There are many ways your client can take steps to prepare for an armed assailant event. The first is to train employees to recognize the following signs in both their coworkers and patrons that could be indicators of an impending attack. Train employees to take these warning signs seriously and provide them appropriate avenues for reporting concerns:

  • Irrational, aggressive behavior
  • Hostile feelings or words
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Sudden distance from friends and colleagues
  • Sudden decline in work performance
  • Personal hardships (financial difficulties, litigation, failing relationships, etc.)
  • Threatening behavior or declarations of intent to hurt others or themselves

Facility safeguards

Sometimes all it takes to deter or hinder an attacker is a thoughtfully designed facility that either can bar an attacker’s access or provide employees and guests the means to shelter or escape. Analyze the current security measures implemented in your facilities and compare them against the following list:

  • Doors with locks
  • Controlled flow of visitor access (partitioned receptionist area, etc.)
  • Name badges / sign-in policies for visitors
  • Multiple exit routes and their ease of accessibility
  • Security cameras, as well as signs indicating that security cameras are in use
  • Alarm buttons that can instantly summon law enforcement
  • Hired security
  • Adequate lighting and fencing

You may also consider consulting and collaborating with local law enforcement on protective measures and best practices that will best suit your facility.

Related: Workplace Safety Incentives: Stop Accidents Before They Start

Policies and Procedures

Emergency response plans for active threats can include the following elements:

  • A workplace violence prevention program, with specific emphasis on offering recourse to employees and patrons that are currently victims of domestic abuse
  • Methods and procedures for notifying authorities and first responders
  • Detailed escape routes and protocols
  • Identifying medically trained employees that can assist first responder efforts after an active assailant has been subdued

Other Planning Considerations

An emergency plan should address the entire life cycle of a theoretical incident. DHS outlines five stages, or “mission areas” that planners should consider:

  1. Prevention: What can the organization do to prevent the incident from occurring in the first place?
  2. Protection: What can the organization do to protect against the incident?
  3. Mitigation: If prevention or protection efforts are unsuccessful, what systems are in place to reduce the impact of an event?
  4. Response: How will the organization respond to the incident?
  5. Recovery: Once the incident has run its course, how will the organization recover?

Emergency plans should also clearly establish the organization’s priorities, capabilities and roles of participants. These elements may differ according to the kind of emergency; therefore it’s important that they are clearly communicated and understood by employees.

DHS reports that 40 percent of businesses affected by some kind of disaster, natural or otherwise, never reopen. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of interviewed respondents reported that their organizations have no emergency plans in place. Taking this crucial step is a vital countermeasure against catastrophic events and one of the best ways to protect employees and assets. Whether you’re reviewing existing plans or developing new ones, we encourage you to be proactive about preparation.


Department of Homeland Security
Workplace Violence: How to Prepare, Prevent, and Plan for What Comes Next