May 17th, 2023
The state of Tennessee remains stunned by the horrific, senseless shootings and resulting deaths of six innocent victims at Covenant School in Nashville. An active shooter situation is a nightmare, for any organization.
FBI statistics reveal that active shooter incidents are on the rise in the U.S. (The FBI defines an active shooter as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people with a firearm in a populated area). FBI records show that in 2019 it investigated 30 active shooter incidents. That number rose to 40 in 2020 and then to 61 incidents in 2021. Thankfully, that number decreased to 50 in 2022; however, even one incident is too many.
The FBI statistics reveal that in 2020, 38 persons lost their lives as a result of an active shooter incident and 126 were wounded, while in 2022 the number killed rose to 100 and the number of wounded increased to 213. The FBI reports that in 2021 there were three active shooter incidents in the State of Tennessee.
Statistically, the odds of an active shooter incident occurring at your facility – whether it be a place of employment, educational or religious institution, retail establishment or some other type of setting – is remote. However, the results of an active shooter incident are devastating in terms of lives lost and psychological impact on those present.
Unfortunately, active shooter incidents have hit close to home in Tennessee. In 2005, an active shooter incident occurred at the Tennessee Department of Transportation in Jackson, which resulted in three deaths and two wounded. In 2021, there was an active shooter incident at Kroger in Collierville that resulted in one death and thirteen wounded.
Of course, the most recent incident was the tragic March 2023 shooting at Covenant School in Nashville. Tragically, three nine-year-olds lost their lives, along with three adults whose primary focus in their lives was to train and educate young children.
Clearly, this is an issue that cannot be ignored, and thus, raising questions such as what is an appropriate response for an employer, educational or religious institution, service industry provider, retail establishment, or any organization? What steps, if any, should you take to protect your organization from an active shooter incident? What steps can you take to protect your employees, customers, guests, clients, etc., at your facility? What steps, if any, can you take to protect your organization from potential legal liability? There are no “one-size-fits-all” responses, as the appropriate response varies with each organization. However, there is practical guidance that employers can use to protect their employees, customers, and the community.
- Address the issue. This first step is a simple one. Oftentimes, it is easier to look at the statistics and determine that the likelihood of such an event occurring at your facility is so low that it is not a legitimate concern. However, for the safety of those individuals who may be at your facility at the time of an active shooter incident and to protect the financial integrity of your organization, you should assess and address the threat of an active shooter incident at your location. Planning now may save lives in the event an active shooter incident occurs.
- Designate your active shooter incident leadership team. Select qualified individuals to serve on your active shooter incident leadership team. Your leadership team should assess the risks of your business or entity and determine how to best prepare against an active shooter incident. To accomplish this goal, your leadership team must recognize that the needs of each organization varies depending on the number of employees, the number and types of facilities, and the type of organization involved. For example, a small “Mom and Pop” retail establishment’s plan will greatly differ compared to a major university that has thousands of students and multiple buildings across a multi-acre campus or an industrial facility with hundreds of employees. Your plan will vary depending upon the type of organization that you have, the number of employees, and the size and number of your facilities. Your active shooter plan may vary from one location to another, as well. Your active shooter incident leadership team will be responsible for not only developing a written plan to follow in the event of an active shooter or other emergency, but also conducting trainings for team members and the organization at large so that everyone is prepared for an active shooter incident.
- Develop a plan. Once your organization determines to assess the situation and take proactive steps to prepare for an active shooter incident, the question is what should you do? The old adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” is appropriate for this situation. It is strongly recommended that your organization develop a formal, written emergency action plan to prepare for an active shooter incident. In developing this plan, you and your leadership team should assess your facility for potential risks, prepare a written plan, undergo training for the leadership team, and then train your employees and others in your organization on how to properly implement the plan. Additionally, your leadership team should review your organization’s workplace violence policy to determine whether it reasonably manages the risks your organization may face. If your organization does not have such a policy, your leadership team should develop one in tandem with your active shooter incident plan so that they work together to protect your employees, customers, and others present at your worksite.
- Utilize a third-party safety consultant to assist your organization in developing your plan. A consultant can provide the expertise necessary to conduct a proper assessment and develop an effective plan. One way to utilize a consultant is to have a qualified safety consultant physically assess your worksite for risks, entry points, access points to the building, safe rooms, etc. This assessment can show where your worksite is vulnerable and highlight areas that need to be reinforced or addressed to improve workplace safety. Additionally, it is imperative that you develop your plan in coordination with the local law enforcement agency or agencies that would respond to your call in the event of an active shooter incident. Thom Corley, Chief of Police with the City of Jackson, Tennessee, believes that, “consultation and communication between local organizations and our department greatly enhances our ability to respond to an active shooter call in an effective and efficient manner. Time saves lives if our officers know in advance what to expect when they arrive at an active shooter incident. Their ability to respond and save lives is greatly increased.” Advance consultation allows the police department and fire department to know how an organization plans to respond before the officers arrive at the scene, thus allowing the responding officers to handle the matter more quickly and efficiently. Chief Corley emphasized that “time is of the essence in responding to an active shooter incident.” Chief Corley also advised that the City of Jackson Police Department has officers who will consult with local entities to assist in developing your organization’s active shooter incident plan.
- Determine who has access to your facility and limit access to your facility as appropriate for your organization. There are numerous ways to restrict access to your facility. These options range from having a monitored entrance/single exit, requiring ID badges, registration of any guests or visitors to your facility, use of security personnel, or simply having surveillance cameras. The options are endless and will vary with your organization’s specific situation. It is possible that you may need to construct or remodel certain areas of your worksite to limit the risk of an active shooter freely and easily entering your worksite.
- Take complaints seriously. Complaints can come in all shapes and sizes. An employee does not have to file an official statement with your organization’s management for the employee’s concern to constitute a complaint. In fact, you may receive a complaint from a customer rather than an employee. A complaint may be as simple as participating in a conversation over lunch where employees are informally discussing the threatening behavior of a co-worker, vendor, customer, or manager. You should take all complaints of workplace violence or threatened workplace violence seriously. Your organization’s workplace violence policy should outline reporting procedures for workplace violence and contain an anti-retaliation provision that protects employees who report workplace violence complaints in good faith from retaliation. Your policy should not only cover reporting incidents of workplace violence but should also include reporting threats of workplace violence. Your organization should investigate each complaint and take any action available to mitigate a risk of workplace violence. Keep in mind that unfortunately, an active shooter could be an employee who is familiar with your organization. Recently a bank employee in Kentucky murdered several of his colleagues in an incident of workplace violence. It is imperative that your organization takes all threats and incidents of workplace violence seriously to protect itself, its employees, and its customers.
- Consult with your insurance agent, broker, or carrier to determine if your organization has insurance coverage for an active shooter incident. Oftentimes, insurance carriers provide consultation services to their insureds on how to best prepare for an active shooter incident. In the event your general liability does not provide coverage, carriers are writing polices that specifically address active shooter incidents. Further, it is important to discuss coverage for negligent hiring and negligent retention claims in the tragic event that an active shooter is an employee.
No one wants to believe that such an unthinkable tragedy such as an active shooter incident will occur at work, church, a school, or anywhere. However, wise and prudent leadership can steer an organization to consider this possibility and properly plan for it as best as reasonably possible. Rainey, Kizer, Reviere, & Bell understands that preparing for an active shooter incident is a daunting, overwhelming task. Should you have questions or concerns regarding how to protect your organization in the event of an active shooter incident or wish for us to assist you in your preparation, please contact John, Meredith, or any other member of the employment law practice group at 731-423-2414 and connect with us on LinkedIn.