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In most cases, active shooter incidents are predatory in nature, involving planning and preparation, as they are not impulsive. They often begin with a personal grievance, real or imagined, and are the endpoint of a smoldering crisis, rather than a sudden crisis, in which the perpetrator simply snaps.

COVID-19 pandemic effects

It is difficult to imagine a better example of a smoldering crisis than the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The catastrophic event has now taken the lives of more than 3 million people worldwide, wreaked havoc on the collective physical and mental health, personal and professional relationships, personal finances, and the global economy, since early 2020.

The global pandemic has resulted in psychologically destabilising levels of fear, anxiety, and grief, and everyone is just beginning to see the frightening effects of these pent-up emotions, as they play out in real-world violence, in both public spaces and private campuses.

Low availability of buffers and violence interrupters

There have been significant changes to the landscape over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic

There have been significant changes to the landscape over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked by increased stressors and decreased availability of buffers or violence interrupters, like social programs and support services.

As the number of new mental health complaints is ticking up, new gun sales have soared, and tolerance seems to be wearing thin. Pandemic fatigue, as discovered, is a real thing and it is taking lives by way of increased rates in suicide and violent crime.

Countering the threat of active shooters

As leaders in all types of organisations contemplate the potential challenges of returning to work, it will be important to be mindful of the perennial threat of the active shooter.

Employees will be concerned about what measures will be in place to protect them from the risk of COVID-19 and as the prevalence of news stories featuring active shooter incidents increases, they will be equally concerned about how they will be protected from violence. As people gradually emerge from the relative safety of working from home, the world may seem threatening and scary.

Need to effectively communicate during a crisis

Having a plan, providing training, and developing the capability to quickly and effectively communicate during a crisis will be critical to reassuring a worried workforce that their leaders have not taken their eyes off of the active shooter threat, while responding to the global pandemic. Mentioned below are active shooter best practices and recommendations for ensuring safe protocols.

  • Have communication tools at the ready

Most active shooter events occur in approximately five minutes,” said Steven Crimando, Founder of operational risk management and consultancy, Behavioral Science Applications. Organisations must already have the tools and plans in place to respond as quickly as possible in that short time span.

Moreover, respondents to the 2020 survey developed with ASIS International demands a rapid response. Almost 61 percent said they want to be notified within seconds of an active assailant on the premise. Automating at least one part of the communications plan will help meet that need, so invest in a centralised critical event management (CEM) platform.

Centralised critical event management platform

With the right CEM platform, you can prepare a communication template for an active shooter situation"

What we are trying to do here is not only meet the resilience challenges, but also beat them by using technology,” said Annie Asrari, Senior Director of Product Management at Everbridge, at a recent webinar on holistic approaches to active shooter preparedness.

Annie Asrari adds, “With the right CEM platform, you can prepare a communication template for an active shooter situation, such as teeing up social media posts or scripts for customer service call centers. Then, if and when an incident arises, all you have to do is push an activation button and have all of these notifications go out to the right stakeholders to ensure secure collaboration channels.

  • Guarantee situational awareness

Thinking again about the speed of an active shooter event and the emotions it evinces, key to an effective response is having situational awareness and knowing just where employees, vendors, and visitors are during the event. In a corporate setting, for example, where people are required to use badges for entry to specific floors or buildings, it’s easy to track their location.

Keep in mind, though, that where and when people are in the facilities or on the grounds may change during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some sections of the campus or buildings may now be closed, and on-site staffing levels may have been reduced, with some employees working from home, furloughed, or laid off.

The same may be true for the vendors or partners that organisations count on for support during an active shooter scenario. Update the staff and stakeholder data to reflect any changes and remember to repeat this step, once the pandemic ends and staffing levels recalibrate.

  • Establish community contacts

All critical events are a matter of public safety, a responsibility shared with law enforcement

All critical events are a matter of public safety, a responsibility shared with law enforcement, local officials, and community groups. Create connections with these groups ahead of time. They may have standing resources, policies, and procedures that enhance or dispel them, saving time and, in some cases, allowing organisations to get rid of a tool, which saves on costs.

  • Offer regular training sessions

It is heartening to see that the number of respondents to the ASIS survey, who have conducted active shooter preparedness, climbed 24 percent, since the last survey in 2018. Training sessions can educate staff on protocols to follow during an incident, such as engagement strategies that redirect perpetrators and save lives.

Trainings can also teach them the behavioural indicators that signal who may be headed down a violent pathway and who may be identified, well before any dangerous acts can be committed.

  • Conduct drills

Providing training and having the right tools in place are a definite must for active shooter preparedness, but organisations need to also test people, processes, and technologies regularly, in order to ensure their adequacy, during an event.

Conduct annual drills (and more often if possible) and address any weaknesses or roadblocks that come up during these sessions. For example, during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, cell service became unavailable. Do you have a backup communications plan?

You cannot rely on just one modality,” said Annie Asrari, adding “because one modality can absolutely fail during a major crisis.

Importance of digital signage, sirens and PA system

The COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed organisations to redesign office and facility layouts

So, organisations need to look into multiple delivery methods, such as phone, SMS, or desktop alerts. And for organisations with floor managers at a manufacturing facility or that have campuses where visitors or students congregate outside, consider installing digital signage, sirens, or a PA system if none are already in place.

Remember, too, that each person has a preferred communication channel so having multiple ways of alerting stakeholders of the threat allows you to reach as many affected parties as possible. And recall once again current circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed organisations to redesign office and facility layouts, in order to account for social distancing, or they may have closed certain rooms or buildings.

Everbridge CEM

These changes may temporarily affect emergency routes and the personnel tasked with responding during such critical events. Be sure to revise them after the global health crisis has passed. And, if the pandemic prevents organisations from fully enacting the drills, consider conducting a tabletop exercise.

An all-in-one solution like an Everbridge CEM can help follow through on each of these best practices.

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