Expert Advice

Active Shooter Training — Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared

| Updated May 18, 2018

Overcome fear with a safety plan in your nonprofit workplace

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, offers her response to the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. For this question, we are joined by Chris Grollnek, active shooter security expert, and Dr. Larry Barton, crisis management and threat assessment consultant, who have generously offered their responses to this question. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc.

These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.

I work in a nonprofit that provides politically sensitive and somewhat controversial consumer services. I'd rather not mention the name and to be frank, I worry that some crazy alt-right individual will walk into our nonprofit and start shooting.

I love our mission and we help many individuals whose lives are at risk without our services but I’m not ready to die for the organization. My mother wants me to quit and my boyfriend feels the same way. And while I hate to admit it, I’m starting to think it might be a good idea.

I don't want to let these people influence decisions about my life but I get anxious about going into the office. I know that executive staff members are aware of the risks and try to protect us: the office is on 24/7 lockdown and we all carry chip key fobs. Security personnel escorts us to and from our cars.

Today, we all received a memo that our staff will be receiving active shooter preparedness training, which is what prompted my questions: Does this mean that our nonprofit expects active shooters? Is anyone else afraid to go to work? Do I need to feel guilty if I walk away?

While I very much appreciate my organization’s security efforts, these processes make me feel more, not less, frightened. My colleagues and I began our careers as social workers who trained and gladly served to help those in need. Now, we are expected to consider gun violence preparedness in the office as just one more necessary component of risk management.

Thank you for responding.

Kathryn says …

Questions about this level of security and active shooter preparedness for nonprofits is not my area of expertise. Therefore, I've called on two individuals with both knowledge and credentials in this field. I take your question very seriously for more than the obvious reasons. We hear daily about horrific acts of workplace violence and we are all concerned for our own safety and the safety of others. I was once threatened with gun violence by an unhinged, angry ex-employee. In my case, the situation was de-escalated, but the fear and stress were real and impacted my entire family.

I extend my thanks to our experts for responding to your question.

Chris says ...

Active shooter preparedness covers a wide range of topics and is not just all about the mentally ill or angry individual who walks into your office, shooting. It encompasses more partly because, statistically, you are far more likely to be struck by lightning or killed by a shark than ever be involved in this sort of horrific scenario. More individuals are killed, annually, in automobile accidents in Texas, as compared to workplace gun-related deaths across the U.S.

I am not minimizing the suffering, loss and senselessness of even one person harmed by an active shooter or other violence in the workplace: I am just making the point that most workplace violence, as well as deaths from other traumatic causes, have nothing to do with guns. The media just doesn’t headline every incident of non gun-related workplace violence.

By necessity, active shooter preparedness is far more than gun violence protection-related drills. Good training covers far more common violence preparedness, such as anger-related dangerous behavior (the angry truck driver driving down a bike path in New York, for instance).

An important note: For anyone thinking of taking or contracting for this type of training, any workplace violence preparedness training instructor should be qualified and have extensive experience in this field. It is very important to do your homework! The wrong or inexperienced instructor can create unfounded fears, paranoia and inflict emotional damage, rather than educate employees. And when you interview a potential trainer, ensure that they are not leading with the “fear card.”

It is understandable and reasonable for you and your nonprofit colleagues to feel nervous about this unknown training. Nonetheless, I advise taking the training as a benefit presuming the company-provided the trainer is qualified.

That said, I can offer some reassurance with boundaries. Instead of looking at the training from a place of fear, attempt to view it as comparable to “fire safety training”. While the threat of fire is always there, we still conduct our daily lives knowing we need to be trained and prepared for a fire in our workplace; hence, annual fire safety drills. In the same way, we ready ourselves to remain safe should a fire occur, it’s best to get some general ‘what to do’ training in case of workplace violence. Knowledge is power, always, so don’t be afraid to learn more."

Larry says ...

Thank you for your very thoughtful question.

I am a professional risk and threat assessment consultant and also have the benefit of having led two nonprofit organizations. Thus I feel uniquely qualified to help address the quandary you face.

Increasingly, each of us has to serve as our own director of security, whether shopping, at a concert or movie theatre, at a house of worship or in your neighborhood. This is not limited to the U.S.; each day I respond to incidents and threats at work from Mexico to France, China to Canada. We simply live in a world where we are seeing more violence generated by persons with mental illness, or who have grievances, who may have access to weapons — but guns are actually the fourth most used weapon at work globally, statistically. The fist remains the most commonly used weapon — co-workers can present as much of a risk as the phantom activist.

It is likely that the reason your leadership has asked for active shooter training is due to the sensitive nature of your work, but please remember that most first grade students now receive similar awareness. It's scary, and this is not the world that you and I grew up in, but it is reality. I actually commend your team for wanting you to have some basic awareness of what to do — the nuances and impact of whether to run, hide or fight because that is preferable to ignoring the reality of the issues around us.

Equally important, OSHA mandates that an employer provide a safe work environment, not only in terms of chemicals and air quality but also on preparedness for threats from co-workers, former employees, clients and yes, the disgruntled activist. Just because someone owns a gun or disagrees with the mission of a nonprofit does not make them prone to violence.

You may want to reflect on a few issues: Is my work making a difference? Do I feel safe at work? Would I feel safer working elsewhere, and if so, what makes that employer different and more appealing? Are my concerns out of proportion to the risk, or are they well grounded because of threats perceived, or received?

The nonprofit sector needs your talent. You make a difference. Stay safe and aware, knowing that your own intuition is a gift that you should never ignore.

Chris Grollnek is an award winning former police investigator and US Marine Corps veteran. Chris is one of the nation’s highly respected policy experts in the prevention of domestic terrorism. Recognized as a leader of police and public safety initiatives, Chris has experience advising the highest levels of government and corporate executives.

Dr. Larry Barton is one of the world’s leading experts in crisis management and threat assessment. He serves as the Distinguished University Professor of Crisis Management and Public Safety at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Prior to this post, he served as President and CEO of The American College from 2003-2013. For the past decade, Dr. Barton has remained the highest rated instructor at The FBI Academy and U.S. Marshals Service where he teaches three courses in threat evaluation to federal and state law enforcement.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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