Surviving an active shooter situation
By Ashleigh Petersen

Surviving an active shooter situation

Tips for preparing for and preventing an attack

An active shooter is defined as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims — according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These situations are unpredictable, chaotic and evolve quickly, but there are ways to prepare for and prevent an attack.

Kevin Gern, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) vice president of education and risk management, is an instructor for active shooter events and has hosted training for law enforcement, first responders and educators in his local area of Pennsylvania. He knows the importance of preparing for an active shooter situation and how training can increase the chance of survival.

In the interview below, Gern discusses the three survival tactics used by the DHS, what a rental store can do to become a harder target and what can be used inside a rental store to help slow down an assailant.

Rental Management: With everything on a rental store owner’s plate, thinking about an active shooter situation might be lower on the priority list. Why is this so important to talk about now?

Kevin Gern: In most active shooter or active assailant situations, we have found people close to the incident to make comments like “I never thought something like this would happen here.” It is human nature to not want to think about or talk about an active assailant situation. A topic like this is uncomfortable to discuss and understandably so. In some cases, people think that if they talk about it then it will happen or if they discuss the topic with employees then they may put the idea into someone’s head. The reality is that talking about it is not going to make it happen or put the idea into someone’s head. If someone is thinking like this or planning an attack like this then discussing it and training around this topic is not going to change that aspect. What it will do is prepare your employees for the proper mindset and training of what to do should such a situation arise.

Rental Management: What are the first steps an owner should take when thinking about the possibility of an active shooter situation?

Gern: An easy first step is to contact your local emergency responders and have them come in for a location tour and discussion around active assailants. This could include your local police department, fire department and even emergency medical services department. These are all the agencies that would be first to respond should an incident occur. Getting them to better understand the layout of your facility also can help should you have other emergencies at your facility.

Walk your facility with the police department and look closely at the number of entrances that can be accessed by people during the day as well as security features on your building that help to restrict access. Look at offices or employee areas that can be locked down and secured to keep active assailants out or slow them down as they would move through your facility.

Gather and discuss additional options that can be deployed should employees need to barricade themselves into a room or office.

Rental Management: If you find yourself in an active shooter situation, what should you do first?

Gern: I have taken Train the Trainer for active shooter by a few different entities but when I teach active shooter training, I follow the DHS model closely. Yes, there can be additional pieces of information or procedures that can be implemented along with the DHS model but this model is a great place to start. DHS also offers supporting documents and videos to help you train your staff.

The basis of the DHS model is Run. Hide. Fight. It really can be broken down into those three simple steps … and in that order. It is very important for people to understand that if they can run, then they need to run. If the threat is not near you and you are able to flee to a safer location then get the heck out of there. Less people at an active shooter event means less targets and less injuries and death.

The second part is to hide if, for some reason, you are unable to run. If this is the case, then you and your fellow coworkers should hide by barricading yourself into offices or meeting rooms. Utilize anything you can to secure the door and slow down the assailant. Tactics for this can be learned through an active shooter training program.

As you are hiding you should also be thinking about the third step that you could be potentially faced with next and that is fight. You need to start thinking about any makeshift weapons that you could arm yourself with in case the assailant would enter your area. Things like fire extinguishers, scissors or even bee spray could be used to neutralize an assailant. Form a quick plan with others as to how you are going to attack the individual should the assailant find you. It is important for your staff to understand that if they become confronted with this type of a situation, they need to do everything they can to stop the threat and by any means necessary.

Rental Management: How should you alert staff and customers who are in your location at the time?

Gern: You absolutely need to have a plan or procedure for this. One common mistake that I have found with some active assailant policies or procedures is that businesses think they should use some sort of a code word to notify employees of a threat. This is not a good idea. Keep in mind you may have visitors at your location or even new employees who don’t know what your code words mean. You should always use plain English to alert employees and anyone else at your location of the threat. With the use of camera systems and public address (PA) speakers it may be possible for you to call out a play by play of where the assailant is and what areas they are trying to access. This can be helpful to 911 operators and first responders as well. But remember, only if it is safe for you to do so. Your first option is always to run if you can.

Rental Management: How can business owners make their location a harder target?

Gern: Look closely at your daily operations and the flow of people in and around your business. Keep in mind that physical barriers can slow down
an active assailant and buy emergency responders more time to get to the site.

Look close at the landscaping around your facility and make sure that you do not have bushes or trees that could aid an assailant in stashing weapons or create a camouflaged vantage point.

Train your employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that as an employer you must provide a safe and healthy working environment for your employees and train them on and about potential workplace hazards … yes, this includes active assailants.

Install security features such as camera systems, security alarms, panic buttons, audible alarm systems or even flashing red and blue lights. These are all items that can deter, distract or even slow down an active assailant.

Regularly meet with your local emergency responders. Invite them into your facility to tour and discuss any areas for improvement.

Rental Management: Is there any type of equipment that a rental store could have on hand to slow down or stop a shooter?

Gern: Preinstalled lock mechanisms or door blocks are great. Make sure your staff is trained on how to use or deploy them. When it comes to the fight option of the DHS model, these rental stores are filled with makeshift weapons. Keep in mind that throwing heavy objects at an active assailant can be very effective in decreasing their accuracy or even neutralizing them. Things that come to mind are staplers, excavator teeth, transport chains, binders or mower blades. There also are a plethora of spray lubricants and cleaners that could quickly decrease an assailant’s vision making it easier to neutralize them.

Rental Management: What training should owners provide to help better prepare themselves and their employees? How often should it be done?

Gern: At a minimum, you should log on to the DHS website and pull some training videos and documents on how to better prepare your facility and your employees on active assailants. It is good to review this training content as well as your facility annually. Don’t forget to invite your local police department for a tour and additional discussion.

Remember, it is better to be prepared before the emergency happens. This is true for fires, first aid and even active assailants. 

Ashleigh Petersen

Ashleigh PetersenAshleigh Petersen

Ashleigh Petersen is the digital communications manager for Rental Management. She writes news and feature articles, plus coordinates the monthly Safety Issue and several sections in the magazine. Ashleigh loves spending time with her husband and young son, baking, gardening and listening to true crime and comedy podcasts.

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