How Technology Can Save Lives During Workplace Shootings

By Caryn Freeman Apr 19, 2016
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The best laid plans for dealing with an active shooter or other crisis in the workplace are less likely to save lives if all employees aren’t receiving alerts or updates in real time. 

Mixed messages and poor communication can waste critical time and cost lives. Preparing for a crisis at work is important: According to the FBI, “of 160 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013, over 80 percent (132) occurred at work.”

Experts tell SHRM Online that when it comes to communicating about a danger, it’s critical to use the technologies available—especially during an active shooter situation.

Steve Chang, senior vice president of strategy and solutions at Addison, Texas-based RMG Networks, a visual communications company, said that employers can enhance their disaster communication technology with GPS location capabilities and link texts, e-mails, company intranet boards and digital signage to assist emergency responders.

“The benefit is, once you get the right communication infrastructure with the right content management software, you can display real-time emergency alert messages. That’s the beauty of a dynamic system,” he said.

Chang added that with dispersed workforces, employers have to reach workers whether they are sitting at their desks or not. Because “everyone gives a cellphone number in their profile today,” employers, now more than ever, have a better chance of reaching employees wherever they are, he said.

“In skyscrapers or corporate campuses, it’s the same as having distributed employees. No one is sitting in one place and in one building anymore. People are constantly moving around. The game is to reach 100 percent of your employees. These are the kind of tools that are getting those messages out there,” he said.

After 911 Has Been Called

A common mistake companies make is assuming first responders will quickly find workers after a 911 call is made.

But this isn’t always the case.

Employers with enhanced security measures that enable onsite security staff and first responders to communicate in real time can help locate, route, transport and deliver emergency services faster—and this results in the best chance of saving employee lives, said Jared Miller, strategic channel development manager at Omaha, Neb.-based West Safety Services.

“Companies need to ensure that the people organizing and deploying an onsite emergency response have just as much contextual information as public safety does. And that both onsite security or onsite personnel in charge of scrambling that response are coordinating with public safety,” Miller said.

Sometimes, 911 callers will report emergencies but become too distressed to give further details or will neglect to provide accurate information pinpointing the exact location.

“That call goes out to public safety, and they will be given … an address but have no other information. [Emergency responders] run to the reception desk and say, ‘Someone called 911. Who was it and where are they?’ But the receptionist has no idea and, in all of that time, nothing has been done,” Miller said.

He said to improve response time, organizations can proactively add an “additional call leg.” Anytime a call is made to 911, that call should also be linked to an onsite security desk. Then, if the caller drops the phone or is unable to speak, 911 dispatch and the security desk can still coordinate a response—such as locating an active shooter or an injured employee.

Miller said companies have to do more than just make sure that emergency responders get “a minimum of information.” They need to “optimize their onsite response with the public safety response.”

Preparing for an Active Shooter

Experts say that this advice, from emergency preparedness initiative Ready Houston, may save lives.

Run if you can

  • If there is an escape path, take it.
  •  Abandon your belongings.  
  • Leave—even if others will not. 
  • If possible, help others escape, too. 
  • Stop people from entering the area. 
  • Call 911 after you are safe.

Hide if you cannot run

  • Lock and barricade the door. 
  • Silence smartphones.  
  • Hide out of the shooter’s view or behind large objects. 
  • If shots are fired near you, protect yourself, if possible.
  •  Don’t trap or restrict your options for movement. 
  • Keep quiet.

Fight if all else fails

  • Improvise weapons. 
  • Try to disarm the shooter.
  •  Be aggressive. 
  • Commit to your actions.

After police arrive, people should follow these additional guidelines:

  • Be calm and follow police directions. 
  • Keep your hands visible. 
  • Don’t yell or point. 
  • Realize that help for the injured is coming.

Caryn Freeman is a freelance writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

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