Once an active shooter event is resolved and the threat has been removed, your emergency response isn’t over. You need to consider the impact to both your organization and your employees.

While continuing business operations is a key concern, it’s about more than the bottom line. You need to make sure that you are addressing the post-event stressors that your employees will undoubtedly experience. This may impair their ability to return to work at the same mental, emotional and physical capacity they had before the event. That’s why employers need to build counseling into their preparedness plans.

Continuing Business Operations

It’s important to remember that your office has become a crime scene. Bullets were fired, people were injured and/or killed and even for those not directly involved, a negative and chaotic environment was created. This will certainly have a business impact and cause interruption – internally and externally. Depending on your business, you may have to allow extended time off and/or allow employees to work remotely, until you can find an alternate location or until your office can be repaired and reopened.

You will also have to communicate to customers and visitors that your office is closed and, if necessary, provide an alternate address or P.O. box. Inform them of delays and let them know when operations will be back to normal. For example, a brief message on your company’s home page that reads, “We have experienced an on-site emergency and may be delayed in responding to your message,” is an appropriate interim statement.

Prevalence Of PTSD

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Center for PTSD, the total number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) will vary after an active shooter event.

The prevalence rate – or the total number of cases of a disease in a given population at a specific time – among mass shooting survivors is 28%, according to the VA, closely following that of victims of plane crashes and bombings. Additionally, one study found that mass shooting survivors had the highest rate of acute stress disorder (ASD) following their trauma, at 33%, compared to five other accident and domestic abuse victims.

The exposure to violence, coupled with the death of the co-workers (who in many cases could also be close friends or even family), places the survivors at higher risk for emotional trauma.

It’s important that your organization’s active shooter preparedness planning involves your HR department so that they can identify additional resources to support employees after an active shooter event. This may be run through an employee assistance program or could be a separate service that provides specialized counseling and support.

Signs of PTSD

“Every one of these events will have an aftermath. People always experience psychological and emotional pain after such traumatic events,” said active shooter training expert Jason Bryant, in a recent AlertFind webinar. According to the Disaster Mental Health Response Handbook, the four most common traumatic stress reactions are: cognitive, emotional, physical and interpersonal.

Examples include:

  • Cognitive: Impaired concentration, memory and/or decision-making ability, nightmares and intrusive thoughts
  • Emotional: Helplessness, grief, shock, and/or irritability
  • Physical: Fatigue, insomnia, cardiovascular strain and/or decreased appetite and libido
  • Interpersonal: Social withdrawal, impaired work or school performance, distrust and externalization of blame or vulnerability

With that in mind, you need to be aware of and actively looking for the signs of PTSD, which is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder resulting from exposure to an extreme, traumatic stressor.

Bryant said that during and immediately after an active shooter event, many victims will instinctively be thankful to have survived, because most people are not routinely exposed to violence and bloodshed.

But the trauma will eventually settle in, and the thought process will change. Bryant said that eventually their thinking will change to feelings of: “I am terrible for being glad it was someone else and not me. It should have been me. Why wasn’t it me?”

That is a critical time for intervention, he added, because this emotional response is a sign of PTSD, along with blame, anger.

“PTSD is a killer. It has affected law enforcement officers, so people who have been thrust into these situations will undoubtedly experience it, as well,” he added.

Providing Counseling and Debriefing

It’s important to be proactive about preventing and treating signs of PTSD with proper counseling and what is known as a “debrief.” The debrief allows each person to discuss their experiences in a group setting.

In this environment, others will recognize the similarities, and will realize that theirs is a shared response and a natural one. “That is the first step in short-circuiting a PTSD process,” Bryant said. “Law enforcement holds a debrief after every violent incident. And they are regularly exposed to these scenarios, so there is every reason for you to organize one for your employees.”

By providing the counseling they need, employees can take comfort in knowing their employer took these extra steps to help them transition back to a state of normalcy after this traumatic event.

Integrating Counseling Into Active Shooter Preparedness Plan

It’s critical that your organization’s active shooter preparedness planning includes support services. In the worst case scenario, several companies have closed down after traumatic events like this, but services like counseling and debriefing can help ensure that both your employees and your business can recover.

For more expert advice on how to protect your organization before, during and after an active shooter event, watch our recent webinar, “Active Shooter Preparedness: Life-Saving Strategies From A Law Enforcement Expert.”