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Dept. Homeland Security Tips for Building an Active Shooter Program

By Intertek Alchemy   |   

What can you do to protect your workers from an active shooter event? In addition to partnering with local law enforcement, employers have a duty to care for and protect their employees. Processes and procedures are needed to help identify and prevent acts of violence in the workplace and to save lives when one does occur.

Intertek Alchemy has developed Active Shooter Readiness courses, one for all employees and another for managers. Both courses are free for any company to use, available on our Zosi eLearning platform.

Additionally, Intertek Alchemy sat down with Susan Schneider, Branch Chief of Active Assailant Security DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to learn how to create an active shooter preparedness program that protects and saves lives. Here are her suggestions for building a program.

Q: What are some of the first steps a manufacturer should take when building an active shooter preparedness program?

Schneider: I think it’s really important for organizations to first develop a multidisciplinary team of trusted individuals from different parts of the organization with consultation from local law enforcement. They can then develop a reporting mechanism to identify concerning behaviors, comments, and/or perceived threats from employees/co-workers who have the potential to harm themselves or others before it’s too late. Their goal is to get the employee the help he or she needs through an organization’s employee assistance program before they move further along the pathway to violence.

Companies also need to train employees to identify behaviors that indicate if someone has the potential to turn violent paired with stressors that might push them over the edge. Knowing a person’s baseline behavior, their normal mood and typical responses to everyday activities will allow you to identify changes in stressors or behavioral indicators. It’s important to also teach them the differences between perceived threats and actions that might relate to a protected class such as a disability that might make someone clinch their fists often or make loud verbal outbursts.

They then need a reporting process that might include an email to security personnel, or a phone number to make confidential reports.

Q: Once you’ve built a multidisciplinary team and developed a reporting mechanism for employees, how do you communicate it over multiple cultures and languages?

Schneider: That’s why it’s essential to have a multidisciplinary team that includes input from HR, legal, local law enforcement, and individuals within the community. So, for example, if you employ a large number of refugees, you should consider working with their community leaders to cultivate a culture of reporting together and teach them what stressors and behavioral indicators to look for, keeping in mind protected activities. And then show them how they can use this knowledge to help take care of each other and keep the people in their communities safe at work.

Q: You mentioned the need to identify and understand some of the stressors. Can you provide some examples?

Schneider: Everyone has a baseline of behavior, their normal mood and typical responses to everyday activities. This allows for a bad day. We all have them. But then you throw in additional stressors like incessant heat, especially inside a work environment, family breakups or death, financial losses, job demotions, conflict with peers, coworkers, or managers, addiction, all of these stressors can cause a person to start down the pathway to violence. And unfortunately, a lot of these stressors – especially the personal ones – can go unnoticed by managers. Their co-workers might know this, and so that’s why it’s so important to educate employees on what to look for and how to report any employee who might need help before they turn violent.

CISA provides some great materials to educate employees and managers on stressors at work. The Employee Vigilance Through the Power of Hello, Pathway to Violence: Warning Signs and What You Can Do fact sheet and video, and the Insider Threat Mitigation Guide are great starting points as you build your programs.

Q: Once these stressors and individuals are identified, what should employees and managers do next?

Schneider: Employees and managers can offer the person assistance through their organization’s employee assistance program or other programs depending on the situation and available resources. If the employee’s stressor is work-related, offer them an opportunity to express their grievances to their supervisor or direct them to HR. CISA’s resource HR’s Role in Preventing Insider Threats provides information for HR professionals on warning signs and indicators posed by malicious insiders and mitigation strategies during pre-employment, employment, and termination or post-employment.

Q: If you fail to resolve an employee grievance, how can you lower the temperature and deescalate a situation after someone is terminated?

Schneider: It’s true that some people don’t do well at all after being terminated, especially if they have a grievance against a supervisor or the organization. So, if you’re going to have to terminate someone who’s experiencing some of the stressors we discussed, deliver the notification of termination respectfully and in a manner that minimizes intrusiveness and embarrassment. Because this employee has an established grievance, coordinate with the multidisciplinary team and local law enforcement prior to termination to conduct a threat assessment. Based on the team’s recommendations, consider conducting an exit interview to gauge the separating employee’s perspective, try offering them help through employee assistance programs, or consider continuing their insurance.

Q: What tips and suggestions do you have for partnering with local law enforcement and first responders as you build out your active shooter program?

Schneider: It is critical to partner with local law enforcement, EMS, and your fire department as part of your community outreach to develop an Emergency Action Plan, not only for an active shooter but for any event such as a fire or tornado. You want to do everything possible in advance to help make them be more successful during their response.

Establish a way to communicate with them on a regular basis. Invite them onsite to see where everyone is working. Share your building blueprints. Let them know where the emergency exits are and rooms where people might be gathered during an event. And let them provide safety improvement recommendations as well. CISA provides excellent resources for developing your Emergency Action Plan, including a video, guide, and template at

Q: Are there any resources to help manufactures develop their first active shooter program.

Schneider: Yes. In fact, CISA has a wealth of resources on their Active Shooter Preparedness web page to include booklets, translated materials, pocket cards, and videos. The Options for Consideration video demonstrates actions to take if confronted with an active shooter scenario.

The IS-907 Active Shooter: What You Can Do course is delivered through the Emergency Management Institute for employees and managers to recognize potential workplace violence indicators, actions to take to prevent and prepare potential active shooter incidents, and how to manage the consequences of an active shooter incident. We also have a video Active Shooter Preparedness: Access & Functional Needs: What You Should Know to help organizations plan for individuals with access and functional needs.

CISA has Protective Security Advisors in every state who will conduct security and resilience surveys to identify cost effective improvements for security and provide additional training. More information can be found at

CISA provides a free, online Tabletop Exercise Package to assist critical infrastructure owners and operators in developing their own tabletop exercises to meet the specific needs of their facilities and stakeholders. More information can be found at

Q: Knowing that different city police, fire, and EMS capabilities can vary by budget or size of staff, how does that factor into your plan, especially knowing that so many manufacturing plants are in small towns?

Schneider: That’s why it’s good to have a relationship with each of these local services to know what resources are available. Protective Security Advisors can help assess your ability to be self-sufficient and self-reliant and mitigate some of those risks. Because if the local police department is going to take a bit to get out there, you have to be able to tell employees when and where to take shelter, and to have some pretty solid plans on how to take care of people. One resource I like to recommend is the program, “Stop the Bleed.” This free online program provides information and resources to help people understand how to use tourniquets to save lives until authorities can respond. I’ve taken it and I carry tourniquets with me everywhere I go now.

Q: As companies build out their safety plans for active shooting situations, should there be more than just preventing an incident? What can be done to recover from it?  

Schneider: Absolutely. If an event were to occur, there will be short-term and long-term recovery considerations. Short-term recovery consists of tending to the health and safety of employees, providing crisis support, reuniting families and communities, working with responding local agencies, and coordinating public information. Long-term efforts include providing grief counseling, messaging to employees and the community, resuming operations when safe, working with responding federal agencies, and establishing memorials.

The “I Love U Guys” Foundation has resources and training for crisis response and post-crisis reunification, free plans, templates, and downloads for organizations. There are additional resources related to recovery like DHS’ National Disaster Recovery Framework, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victim Assistance and NTSB Transportation Disaster Assistance Division’s Mass Fatality Incident Family Assistance Operations: Recommended Strategies for Local and State Agencies. CISA provides a great template for Emergency Action Plans to help organizations consider all of these factors.

For more information, watch Schneider and her colleague, Daniel Rivera, Deputy, Branch Chief in a replay of our webinar: Active Shooter Preparedness: How to Safeguard Your Workforce.

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