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Shooting down active shooters

Is your workplace a hard enough target to repel active shooters?

“What we’re finding in some of the FBI research is that they are seeing a shift to 
more public locations because schools and some businesses are hardening …” — Josalyn Longley, Dane County Sheriff’s Department

“What we’re finding in some of the FBI research is that they are seeing a shift to more public locations because schools and some businesses are hardening …” — Josalyn Longley, Dane County Sheriff’s Department

Photograph by Shawn Harper

(page 1 of 4)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Disturbed people bent on mass shooting mayhem typically case their targets for a prolonged period of time, sometimes up to a year, before pulling off their heinous acts. What are they trying to determine? Simply put, they want to figure our whether the facility they are studying is a hard or soft target.

If it’s the latter, businesses may be placing their workplace at greater risk. Since virtually every active shooter event is pre-planned by the shooter, with surveillance of the target, weapons preparation, and internet research of other active shooters and police responses, such events rarely are spontaneous. Therefore potential targets have to plan, as well, no matter how remote the possibility of being victimized.

“I’ve heard the odds of being involved in an active shooter incident are roughly the same as being hit by lightning,” notes Sgt. Shawn Engel of the Madison Police Department. “We don’t want people to be hysterical about the topic because it’s unlikely they will ever be in one, but just like we know not to stand under a tree during a thunderstorm, we want them to be thinking about the best options for dealing with an active shooter.”

When active shooters do strike, more often it’s in a commercial setting, as 45.6% of active shooter events take place in businesses, 24.4% in schools, and 10% in government facilities, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. Among the areas of commerce, these incidents included businesses open to pedestrian traffic (27.5%), businesses closed to pedestrian traffic (14.3%), and shopping malls (3.8%).

Anecdotally, Deputy Josalyn Longley of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department says that in the past two years, the percentage of businesses that now want to train their employees for active shooter situations has increased, and that has made open spaces a more frequent target. Longley, who conducts presentations on active shooters, has trained more than 9,000 people in Dane County. “What we’re finding in some of the FBI research is that they are seeing a shift to more public locations [such as the Las Vegas shooting] because schools and some businesses are hardening to become hard targets,” she notes.

With the input of Engel and Longley, we look at limiting access in an accompanying story, but what follows is response advice for when a shooter penetrates security measures.

Train gain

Since even hard targets can be penetrated if a shooter is determined enough, there are still ways to limit the carnage if an active shooter gets inside a place of business. Based on what has been learned from such incidents in a variety of settings, authorities have devised a number of response methods. They go by names like ALICE training, ALERRT, and so forth, and employers are encouraged to evaluate which approach, or combination of approaches, make sense for their business and facility.

ALICE training, developed by the institute of the same name, stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. Developed specifically for schools but with applications for any type of structure, it is instructor-led training to prepare for and proactively handle an active shooter event, and it offers an alternative to the more traditional lockdown-only approach.

Engel, who conducts active shooter training for businesses and other types of organizations, says the Madison Police Department has adopted the ALERRT organization model, which stands for advanced law enforcement rapid response training, and its ADD (avoid, deny, defend) response.

ALERRT is an organization formed in Texas in 2002 as a result of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. Three entities — the San Marcos Police Department, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, and Texas State University  — came together to educate first responders and civilians about active shooter response. The training includes a power point lecture that starts with a history of active shooter events, how quickly they happen (most are over within five minutes), and a first-hand view from people who have been involved in these events because they laid the groundwork for civilian response to active shooter event (CRASE) training.

“We talk about when would you want to avoid versus deny, barricade versus defend, and we talk about each response option to provide context of when you would want to do one over the other and talk through different scenarios,” explains Engel, who serves as the CRASE coordinator for Madison police. “We also talk about stress response. Your body tends to shut down under high levels of stress, and we talk about that and how we can control that stress response.”


The avoid part is best explained by two words: get out. Avoid simply means trying to avoid the active-shooter environment and the shooter because they tend to remain in the facility looking for targets. In the pre-planning phase, this requires knowing multiple exits and choosing the right one, especially if you know the shooter’s whereabouts. “If you can get out of that environment, you’re going to get out. It’s the first response action, the one we want people to do first, if you can,” Engel says. “In our plan, avoid is really the best option. If you can get out, get out.”


Failing that, it’s okay to be in denial. If you can’t immediately evacuate the venue because you’re on the fifth floor or the shooter is in a hallway or stairwell, the next best option is to deny that shooter easy access to where you are. This is where locking doors and barricading them with office furniture comes in. “We want to put plenty of things in front of that locked door,” Engel advises. “We’re trying to slow that shooter down so they can’t get to us and also to buy some time. Given the average response time for law enforcement involved in mass shooter incidents, we should do something to buy ourselves at least three minutes.”

Some response methods call for hiding in an interior shelter, but Madison police discourage people from just hiding because while it might make us feel safer, what options do you have if you’re found. “It’s like hide and seek,” Engel notes. “If you play hide and seek, it’s great until you’re found. What’s you next option? You never want to give options away. You want to be trying to minimize the options the suspect has and increase the options you have.”


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