Perspective | Active Shooter Incidents Are Random and Unpredictable. Active Shooter Training Should Be Anything But

By: | July 15, 2023

Michelle Kerr is Workers’ Compensation Editor and National Conference Chair for Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

I’ve collected a lot of RIMS conference memories over the years — stories worth sharing. This year’s may be the most indelible yet.

On the first day of the conference, I attended an info-packed session on active shooter training. It was presented by Marc Vincent, emergency preparedness manager, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and Ike Jenkins, director, risk management, University of Delaware. It gave me food for thought about instinct and training and how people react in life-threatening situations.

On the last day of the confer­ence, those same thoughts landed quite a bit differently.

I ended my day and headed for the hotel via shuttle bus. Stepping off in a satisfied haze of a RIMS week, I nearly walked straight into half a dozen armed Atlanta police in tactical gear, running full steam into my hotel, shouting “He went this way!”

That they were on a manhunt was obvious. It would be several long moments before we learned the why, as the news broke of a mass shooting in midtown Atlanta and a shooter on the run.

For those few surreal moments, we bystanders just froze, mentally connecting the dots. Is it really happening here — is there a shooter? What if they exit this way? Should we leave? Duck behind a pillar? Will someone come tell us if it’s safe?

Moments passed. Activity within the hotel resumed just as if time had simply stopped and restarted again. But it would be an understatement to say that I was rattled.

I’ve written about active shooter risk, but I’ve never been close enough to a real-life incident to know how I would react myself. What if a shooter had come back out? Would I have frozen? Run? Ducked? Hid? I can’t say for sure.

People in action movies always make the right moves in a crisis. It’s muscle memory; they make it look effortless. But for real-life humans without training, it’s anything but. Our innate survival instincts will force us to react — but not always in the right way.

The pace of these incidents is not abating. As I write this, there have been 10 U.S. mass shootings this week, and the week isn’t even over. Ten years ago, even five, most employers could have said “It’ll never happen here” and they’d probably have been right.

Times have changed and all bets are off. No workplace is actually immune from the risk.

During the RIMS session, Vincent said straight off the bat: “If you are not doing active shooter training, you are doing your employees a disservice.” I would second that.

I’d add to it. If you’re serious about ensuring the safety of your employees, then be deliberate about the training provider you choose and the material they cover. Ensure your provider can give employees the information they need to stay safe during any active shooter incident, not just one that happens on your property.

Employees in the field, those who travel or just take a few meetings outside of the office need to know how to respond to an incident in unfamiliar surroundings.

Don’t leave your remote/hybrid employees out, either.

Now is the time to put your training program in place or update the one you have. Be thoughtful about the quality of the training provider, the course material and the frequency of the training you provide. It can happen — don’t doubt it. It’s up to you to make sure your people know how to survive it. &