Is Your Office A Soft Target? Harden Your Building With These Expert Tips

With active shooter incidents on the rise, businesses must ensure they’re preparing their staff for this potential threat. And preparation needs to extend beyond training your employees. Your physical office space plays a key role in how likely your organization is to become a soft target for an active shooter.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

An FBI study showed that commercial businesses were the sites of 95 of the 220 active shooter incidents between 2000-2016 (including malls). The fourth quarter of 2017 saw the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history when 58 fatalities and 500 injuries were reported at an outdoor Las Vegas concert.

Active shooter incidents aren’t confined to big companies or major events. Only weeks later, a business park employee in Maryland killed three co-workers on-site and injured two more.

Protecting Your Organization’s Office

Companies’ physical office spaces can play an integral role in protecting against an active shooter. The number of exits, ease of accessibility and type of floor plan, for example, are all critical in creating a safe environment.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of their plans, emergency preparedness managers should consider the following questions:

  • What response plan have we implemented?
  • How is our office layout customized for our plan? Can it be improved?
  • Are the exits clearly labeled?
  • How much training will be necessary?
  • How easy is it to access our building?
  • Do we have areas where employees can shelter in place?

Site Hardening Tips

Creating a safe office space doesn’t mean your building will feel like a fortress. Organizations can strategically “harden” their physical space while still making it a welcoming place to work.

There are three primary steps organizations should take to “harden” their location: controlling access, setting up interior shelters and creating multiple exit options.

Control How People Access Your Building

Controlling access is a key way to ensure that everyone who is entering a building has a legitimate need to be there. While it won’t prevent a current staff member from attacking the organization, it will slow or prevent an outside attacker.

A controlled access building is a deterrent and can make the attacker choose a different location. The access location can be controlled by key card, physical keys, a receptionist with a remote access solenoid or many other options. If a receptionist or security staff is stationed at the access point, they should be knowledgeable of active shooter protocol and be able to set off an alarm.

Remember that an attacker is looking for a dense crowd of people to attack. If they are unable to access the building’s interior, they are less likely to choose that building as a target.

Identify Interior Shelters

Businesses also need to identify interior shelters, places within the building that members of the organization could use to shelter in place from an attack. An analysis of active shooter events showed there is no evidence that a previous active shooter has ever breached an interior, locked, standard commercial door (metal frame with solid wood core).

Employees who are able to shelter in a closet, office, class, copy room, break room, bathroom or any other room that has a commercial grade locked door and an absence of windows are in a very safe place.

Establish Routes and Exits

As part of your active shooter preparedness plan, create floor diagrams with arrows that designate all exit routes. These diagrams should also include exit locations, assembly points, and equipment (such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits) that may be needed.

Exit routes must be:

  • Clearly marked and illuminated
  • Wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating personnel
  • Unobstructed at all times
  • Unlikely to expose evacuating personnel to additional hazards
  • Designed to avoid potentially hazardous areas or operations

Review your floor diagram. If a high concentration of desks or areas seem too far from an exit, you might reconfigure them to provide quicker access. Be sure to post the floor plans conspicuously to ensure employees are aware of their surroundings.

Multiple and readily-accessible exit points are instrumental because, by far, the safest way to negotiate an active shooter event is to leave the area. Active shooters are methodical and have come to a location where they can access a lot of potential victims. They do not chase people down individually who are fleeing from multiple exits.

Test Your Evacuation Plan

When conducting employee training, make sure you go over these routes and have employees do test evacuations as part of any drills. Make sure all your employees know where the available exits are, which prevents them from being trapped.

Both primary and secondary escape paths must be identified, established and practiced prior to an attack. This knowledge will save valuable seconds or minutes during an attack.

Review Your Office Layout Frequently

Even if your floor diagrams are regularly updated, they likely do not take into account seemingly inconsequential activity. For example, employees come and go, boxes and equipment can accidentally obstruct a stairwell, and exit sign lights may go out.

That’s why it’s always important to regularly survey your office and identify any security lapses. For example, a large file cabinet being moved across a hallway should be done quickly and never block an exit, stairwell or door - even temporarily.

Your Office Plays A Key Role In Protecting Your Staff

By following three critical steps, you can harden your office space and make it a much less likely target for an active shooter. Pair that site hardening with training and evacuation drills and you are taking the right steps to protect your staff from an active shooter.

To get more expert tips to ensure your company is prepared for an active shooter situation, download our free content offer: “Active Shooter Emergency Preparedness Guide: Everything Your Business Needs To Know.”

You are well on your way toward protecting your staff and organization.

Take the next step toward protecting your organization by learning more about emergency notification systems and the vital role they play in your emergency preparedness plan.