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These days, it seems like no place is completely safe from violence—including the workplace. But a local office is trying to make workers at least a little more prepared should a normal day at the office turn into a scene out of a crime thriller.
According to figures from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program, more than 3,000 people have been killed in mass shootings in the past 35 years. Mass shootings, defined by the FBI as a single shooter killing four or more people (not including shooter suicide), are not exactly common—but there is still plenty of cause for concern. The FBI has confirmed mass shootings have risen sharply since the year 2006. The New York Times reports that from 2007 to 2013, there were an average of 16.4 shootings nationally, as compared to the 6.4 shootings that occurred from 2000 to 2006. Since 2000, 160 such events have occurred. Utah, too, is not immune—since 1999, there have been shootings at Trolley Square, KSL and the Mormon Family History Library, to name a few.
It’s easy for businesses and individuals to want to stick their head in the sand with the reassuring thought that it could never happen to them, and with any luck, that statement holds true for every company around the country. But just as schools teach children what to do during a tornado, or companies invest in extinguishers and alarms in case of a fire, it’s important to have a contingency plan for an active shooter situation.
This is exactly what Workers Compensation Fund (WCF) in Sandy did. With the help of the Sandy Police Department and their S.W.A.T. team, WCF was able to inform and educate their staff about active shooter situations, complete with an exercise where the employees were able to put their knowledge to the test.
“As a leader in workplace safety, we need to be proactive in practicing and implementing safety techniques,” said Craig Kerkman, WCF’s business continuity administrator. “An actual drill is one of the best ways we can train for a real-life incident.”
WCF’s active shooter education was comprehensive. All employees were informed of the coming exercise, briefed on shooter situations and the Department of Homeland Security’s recommend actions during such an event. Then, WCF staged an active shooter event within the building, where two employees (both former police officers) smuggled training weapons into the otherwise-secure building and opened fire (with blanks) in two separate locations of the building. S.W.A.T. was then called in to sweep the building and eliminate the threat, just as would occur in a real shooter event.
WCF took steps to make sure all employees were as comfortable as possible with the exercise. Those who designed the exercise made sure that anyone unwilling to participate could leave the building prior, and had an employee assistance professional on hand afterward. The employees who acted as the shooters stayed in character but never lifted their weapons from a 45 degree angle to the ground.
“We are conducting this training exercise so that in the unlikely event such a crisis does happen in one of our buildings, each employee will be better prepared and know how to respond,” said Scott Westra, WCF’s senior vice president and CFO. “As a senior leadership team, we are committed to doing everything we can to keep our employees safe.”
Why conduct such an in-depth staging of a terrifying event? For one thing, Kerkman said, people never know how they will truly react when faced with an actual situation. Putting theory into practice could help save lives if the worst were ever to occur. In the event, people learn how to identify the sounds of gunshots (which do not quite sound like their movie counterparts), where they can truly hide or evacuate in their area, as well as how much time they really have in these situations. The exercise is also worthwhile for S.W.A.T., which gains knowledge and maps of the building for any future reference, as well as training for their officers. S.W.A.T. officers also took part in the debriefing, telling people how to respond to law enforcement when they enter the building, as well as how to know when the event is over and they are safe again.
Businesses interested in active shooter preparedness don’t specifically need to stage an event to be prepared. Having a professional assess a business, find evacuation plans or places to hide, or educate employees on recommended actions to take during a shooter situation are also beneficial. Lt. Josh Scharman of Salt Lake City S.W.A.T. said officers are always ready and able to help.
“Salt Lake City’s been a leader and on the forefront of active shooter [preparedness],” he said. “Salt Lake City has experienced several [events], so our instructors travel around the region—we’ve taught as far as Texas and Alabama our active shooter response.”
Salt Lake City S.W.A.T. is available to conduct site reviews and evaluations for companies in the Salt Lake area, as well as give recommendations and teach classes on workplace violence. Interested businesses can call Sgt. Andy Leonard for further information at 801-799-3531. General questions can go to Scharman at 801-799-3652.
A pamphlet on the Department of Homeland Security’s recommended actions can be found here.