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It seems lately as though one cannot turn on the television, read the newspaper or go online without hearing about another tragic active shooter event.

Although still very rare, especially on construction jobsites, active shooter events have risen dramatically in the United States in recent years. The Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. From 2000 to 2006, such incidents averaged 6.4 annually, but from 2007 to 2013, active shooter incidents jumped to an average of 16.4 a year.

Some of these incidents occur in the workplace, resulting in the death or serious injury of employees, and many others occur in schools, churches or public places typically deemed safe. There has been at least one incident where an individual hijacked earth moving construction equipment and attempted to bulldoze buildings and parked vehicles as part of his rampage.

Although not required by a specific federal law, construction companies should consider developing policies and procedures to protect their workers, subcontractors and jobsite visitors (including suppliers) during these rare, but highly dangerous occurrences. The procedures should contain information on how workers can raise complaints or concerns if potential warning signs in others are identified, how those complaints will be investigated and how to handle the emotional toll that an event can take on workers.

Construction companies also should develop policies and procedures on how workers can respond to an active shooter while on location. Having a plan to handle active shooters will prepare workers to act quickly in a fast-moving situation, which will likely last no more than 10 to 15 minutes and be over before police arrive. Studies show that trained employees act, whereas untrained employees are more likely to experience panic or disbelief that puts them in harm’s way.

Following are four key strategies for protecting construction workers from active shooters.

Teach Workers How To Respond: Run, Hide, Fight

The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) current model for responding to active shooters is to run, hide and fight, in that order. Instructing workers to follow this model is the best way to maximize their safety, especially against an individual intent on causing mass casualties. Although each construction worksite is different and construction work is more transient than some other industries, workers should still receive training on how to recognize and respond to an active shooter event. The training should be conducted at a location that is as reflective as possible of a typical jobsite. During the training, all workers should be encouraged to assess the location and consider how they will respond in the event of an active shooter. Because some workers may be asked to travel to locations alone or work at several locations throughout a workday or workweek, they must take a more proactive role in assessing the location and having a plan of action.

In the event of an active shooter scenario, workers should first attempt to run as far from the situation as they can until they get to a safe location or a secure hiding place away from the shooter. Workers should try to keep large objects between themselves and the shooter as they run and not run in a straight line. If in a heavily populated area, workers should run and hide in a building close to the worksite and notify individuals inside the building of the active shooter and the need to lock down that building. In a remote or expansive location, workers may be able to run and hide in the project trailers onsite or in a field with tall grass or trees for cover.

If workers are unable to run away, they should attempt to hide as quickly as possible. Workers should choose locations that will provide as much cover and protection as possible. This will vary depending on the type of job and how far along the structure is in the construction process. Thus, unlike with fixed locations, where to run and how to hide will evolve throughout the life of the project and should be periodically revised by supervisors and workers. Examples may include behind trees or large pieces of equipment, or inside lockable rooms or structures. The hiding place should not trap or restrict the workers' options for movement and workers should never hide in dangerous places such as trenches or ledges above 6 feet without fall protection.

Once at the safe location or secure hiding place, workers should immediately call for help, if safe to do so. When contacting emergency personnel, workers should offer as much information as possible about the location of the active shooter, the number of shooters and the physical description of the shooter(s), if known. This information is important in helping law enforcement respond quickly and efficiently.

If an active shooter confronts a worker and his or her life or the lives of others is immediately threatened, the worker should fight, if possible. In this circumstance, workers should improvise weapons, act with aggression and commit to taking the shooter down no matter what. They should use any and all items available as a weapon, including drills, bricks, work tools, car key, or even a pen. If other workers are nearby, coordinate with them so they can take the active shooter down more effectively using a team approach. Attack the eyes, throat, nose and head of the active shooter and not stop attacking until the shooter is no longer a threat. Remember that an active shooter is intent on killing, and fighting is the last resort to saving lives.

Conducting drills may be an effective way to validate and evaluate a run, hide, fight plan for effectiveness. The drills should occur on more than one worksite throughout the year so workers will be prepared for a potential active shooter regardless of what worksite they are working on. Primary constructors also should coordinate their drills with subcontractors on the worksite to ensure that all workers know how to respond. However, be sure to let workers know that a drill is occurring and not an actual active shooter situation. Misunderstandings can take an emotional and physical toll on workers, negating the benefits of the training and leading to possible lawsuits.

Construction companies also should ask for a copy of each subcontractors' emergency response or active shooter plan(s) before they start work and have a discussion about the training their employees have received in responding to an emergency event and whether the plan adequately reflects the particulars of the construction site.

Create a Threat Response Team

Construction companies should create a Threat Response Team (a group of management and non-management team members) to assist local law enforcement and implement the company’s emergency response protocols during an active shooter event, and train workers on how to respond to an active shooter on a construction site. These individuals should be responsible for providing information to local law enforcement about the worksite during an event, tending to the wounded before emergency services arrive, completing a head count of workers that evacuated the worksite and notifying law enforcement of missing or unreported individuals. In preparing for a shooter event, the Threat Response Team should consider putting together a toolkit of important items, such as a list of workers’ emergency contact information and a first-aid kit.

Construction companies also should ensure that the Threat Response Team reviews or becomes aware of all workplace violence complaints or concerns filed and assists in investigating those complaints and concerns. By having a centralized team of individuals involved in receiving and investigating all complaints, patterns of behavior may be discovered before an active shooter event occurs, giving construction companies the possibility of thwarting an attack before it happens.

Identify Risks and Conduct a Security Analysis

In many instances, active shooters will talk about their intentions or engage in other troubling behavior, such as drawing violent situations, sharing a “dream” they had about doing harm to others, posting threatening or troubling social media statuses, etc. Thus, construction companies should be watchful for incidents that involve:

  • threatening remarks or gestures, whether direct or vague;
  • physical harm or injury to another person (during or outside of work);
  • demonstrated aggressive or hostile behavior;
  • intentional destruction of property;
  • self-destructive behavior; and/or
  • talk of violence.
Construction also companies should be mindful of drastic changes in employee performance; expression of irrational beliefs; signs of depression, despair or paranoia; and/or changes in personal habits/hygiene. These signs or potential risks are often difficult to spot or identify and they do not always mean that a worker will become violent, which makes decisions on how to handle workers who exhibits these signs difficult. Construction companies should instruct workers on how to recognize behavioral indicators of potential violence and on the methods for reporting any troubling and concerning behavior they witness in others.

Construction companies also should conduct a security assessment on each location. The security assessment could be performed as part of the job safety analysis performed on location as part of the safety protocols already in place. The assessment should cover the current jobsites on which employees work, whether the public has easy access to those areas, and whether certain physical changes or engineering and administrative controls could be implemented to reduce worker vulnerability to an active shooter or workplace violence event. In securing the facility and reducing the chance that unauthorized individuals will come onto the worksite, primary construction companies should consider putting up a fence around the worksite with designated worker entrances that are monitored, putting up security cameras at entrances and key work location to help identify individuals who should not be on location and find a shooter, putting up “no trespassing” signs to reduce the possibility of uninvited individuals stepping onto a construction site, requiring trades and their workers and visitors to sign in at the main trailer before entering the worksite and communicating with subcontractors if troubling behavior or potential signs are identified.

In the instance of terminated or laid off workers, construction companies should consider developing protocols and procedures for increasing security, especially for those who have exhibited potential warning signs, including ensuring that the worker no longer has a reason to return (i.e., to return equipment or uniforms) and instructing managers on what steps should be taken if the former worker is discovered trespassing, such as calling law enforcement.

Coordinate with Local Law Enforcement

Many local law enforcement offices have special units trained on responding to an active shooter event. Construction companies should meet with these units to discuss the effectiveness of the company’s response protocols generally and seek feedback and recommendations on how best to respond to an active shooter event on a typical construction site. Early coordination with local law enforcement (before an event) can create a timelier and more effective response to a shooting event and a better working relationship with those who will respond. The more that law enforcement officials understand ahead of time, the more quickly they can respond and the more lives they can save.

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