Safety in the Workplace – Perpetrators of workplace shootings

Lost in the myriad of the news stories this weekend as we celebrated our independence was a spate
of unfortunate incidents of murder-suicide in the workplace. On Friday, in Belton, Missouri, a
Kansas City man shot and killed his estranged wife outside her place of employment then killed
himself a short time later. On Sunday, in Killeen, TX, a soldier killed his wife inside a Dollar
General store as customers looked on before killing himself. There were several other similar
unfortunate incidents over the weekend that occurred inside homes and apartment complexes. As
we see in the first two instances, there is little that can be done to control domestic problems from
following an employee to work. The question becomes how do we protect and notify our employees
and alert emergency services as quickly as possible? At SafeDefend Systems we think of this
everyday and have the answer.

The FBI recently released updated information (2014-2015) on active shooter incidents in the United
States. Unfortunately, instances of violence in schools and the workplace are steadily increasing.
Some of the startling information that needs to be pointed out applies specifically to the work
environment. We know from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 86% of workplace homicides occur
in privately owned businesses. The media focuses on those stories that occur in a public entity
where a grievance against government function is expressed. The reality is that the violence starts
much closer to the people we know. From the FBI report we have learned that 95% of perpetrators
of violence in businesses closed to the public are current or former employees. The other 5% is
generally made up of those involved in a domestic relationship with an employee. These are
considered your manufacturing, technology driven, or processing businesses with no direct customer
interaction. Employees from these businesses have left behind information on a variety of reasons
for undertaking a rampage. Notions of unfair discipline, termination, ridicule from coworkers,
perceived mistreatment for promotion, failure to receive a raise, love triangles, and domestic discord
to name a few have all been cited by perpetrators. Unlike school shootings, the suspect does not
often drop clues to the plan and often act after some triggered event. There appears to be a growing
trend to resolve problems with violence that is unforeseen in our country. What steps have you
taken to thwart an intruder that knows your day to day business operations?

In response to the increase in violence, companies have undertaken steps to reinforce the workplace
against an intruder. Enhanced fencing, camera surveillance and controlled access doors are the norm
for such an approach. Most of the shootings we have seen recently already have these in place. The
Naval Shipyard shooting is a prime example of how all the money thrown toward security cannot
prevent a determined employee from committing an atrocity. What is missing in each of these
incidents is the ability to notify staff and building occupants of a threat. As we have seen in
workplace shootings such as Excel Industries or Atlantis Plastics, for example, is that the shooting
started outside and the perpetrator then entered the building to continue the rampage. Office staff
were able to start the calls to 911 but there was no ability to notify employees inside the building.
This lack of notification cost lives. We are able to go back and watch videos of employees going
about their normal routine with no idea that the threat was literally walking up behind them.
Employees deserve to feel safe and secure at work. Companies have an obligation to notify their
personnel to a threat inside the building and provide accurate information on how to seek shelter and
safety. If you don’t have a means to do this you aren’t protecting your staff.

94% of School active shooters start inside – Exterior Security Doesn’t Solve the Problem

The picture of the the sheriff’s deputy guarding the front of Marjory Stoneman portrays an extreme sense of security with the gates in the background. When we look at the campus photos we see fencing around the entire campus.  We know that surveillance cameras were placed all over the campus as well.  On the 45 acre campus the presence of the school resource officer from Broward County Sheriff’s Office was known by students and staff.  Some buildings even have access control check points for visitors.  Yet, with all these enhancements a shooter with knowledge of the campus entered a building during the school day and gunned down 31 people.







Even with this knowledge about what happened in Parkland, FL and the recent shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky, the administrators and school boards seeking to increase security are focusing on hardening the exterior of their buildings and campuses. This is the same approach security advisors have emphasized for over the last 40 years.  The reason these events aren’t thwarted by existing security measures is that the perpetrators are usually authorized to be inside the buildings.  According to the FBI, active shooters in schools from 2000-2015 were primarily students.  94% of school shooters were authorized to be in the building. (84% students, 5% domestic partners, 5% current or former employees)  The 2015 CDC Understand Youth Violence mentions that 17.9% of high school students reported taking a weapon to school in the previous 30 days.

In speaking with school administrators and facility directors across the country there is always a tendency to focus on aspects of security that impact exterior security.  Campus fencing, building access control, creating pinch points and surveillance cameras are often the go to solution.  The vast majority of money for school safety plans is used for these enhancements that have never stopped a school shooter.  This understanding of security stems from the law enforcement experts that have been previously tasked with securing federal buildings, airports, city halls, courthouses, and other potential high-profile targets.  The threat for these locations is primarily from an outsider.  Unlike schools these locations are not porous, they can be closed off in moments and access is strictly controlled.  We are taking the federal model of security and trying to apply it to schools.

From examining past incidents of mass shootings or just targeted attacks in schools, we know there are two things that can reduce casualties and save lives; alerting building occupants and notifying police to the threat.  Most school-associated violent deaths occur during transition times.  If the security enhancements being considered don’t alert police to the exact location of the threat on campus, then the measures are only repeating the mistakes of the past.  Empowering staff by informing them of the threat has been the most significant factor in minimizing school violence.

The SafeDefend system and school safety plan was designed by school administrators, law enforcement experts and security personnel to notify everyone of threat and provide effective counter measures in the event of a school attack.

School Safety starts with notification not metal detectors

The most important thing to understand when addressing school security is that it must be based on effectiveness. We know from past incidents that quick notification to police and alerting occupants are the two best ways to reduce casualties. Perimeter security focuses on locking the problem out. Metal detectors rely on the idea that you can prevent the problem from entering the school. We have had attacks inside schools with metal detectors and outside in the queue. Once breached, external security offers no protection to address an attacker in the building.

There must be a balance between a practical approach and strict security measures that severely hinder the ability of schools to perform fundamental functions. We all want our kids to be safe when they are at school.  We don’t want them to be traumatized by the simple act of arriving every day.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, FL shooting there have been demands for enhanced security at our schools. Metal detectors are often a go-to solution without much of an understanding of the practicality of deployment.  There does exist an unmeasurable deterrent factor that comes with metal detectors, but  we have seen incidents of students planting weapons outside the building to be retrieved during sports practice or by leaving them by a door.  Students have used after school events, (choir, performances, sporting events) to plant weapons inside the building to be retrieved the next day.  Whenever a barrier is put in place, a committed person will find a way to bypass the security.

Although the cost of the detectors seems reasonable around $3500.00 a piece, the cost for personnel to operate and manage the system is enormous. For every metal detector, you need someone to monitor the system.  During peak hours the number of people required to manage this system increases.  The simple expense of having one person sit at a metal detector from roughly 6:30 in the morning until all activities are done for the night is high.  This doesn’t take into account all of the weekend events for plays and concerts as well as community sports that utilize the facilities.  If at any point, someone is able to enter the building without being checked, there exists an opportunity to plant a weapon for later use.  The one thing history tells us about school shooters is that they plan the attack and scout out opportunities.

The question we should be asking is: will the safety and security measures I put in place get law enforcement there quicker and will it reduce casualties in the event the perimeter is breached? Access control, cameras and metal detectors have been compromised in the past and did not accomplish either of these things.  With limited funds for security and an increasing demand for various approaches, we need to look at those things that have been proven to save lives.  The biggest factor in reducing casualties is a school emergency notification to police and alerting building occupants of a threat.  Once these are done the individuals can initiate the respective emergency action plan. Perimeter security has been thwarted in every single school attack.  What does your approach do to minimize casualties once this occurs?  The SafeDefend system was designed with this question in mind.  Saving lives by preparing staff to respond, notifying everyone in a crisis, and providing tools for protection and trauma response should be the first step for safety.


School Safety Requires Immediate Notification in a Crisis

In the wake of another school shooting there is talk about the best approach.  The one glaring problem that continues to arise is the lack of notification to building occupants and police, or a lockdown alarm.  According to media outlets it was 10 minutes until a Coral Springs police officer entered the building.  The SRO was on scene shortly after the shooting started but did not make entry.  This seems unbelievable.  What we do know is that the shooter fired his last round 5 minutes after the initiation of gunfire.  Regardless of when police responded there is little chance they would have been able to intervene in less than 5 minutes. (Original blog edited to reflect accurate response time information.)

What is needed in this situation is a simple way for staff to activate an alarm system that immediately notifies police down to the room number of a threat in just a few seconds. At the same time, lockdown alarms can go off in the building instantaneously.  Exact information should be sent via text and email in mere seconds to teachers of the room number where the threat started.  The alert should also go out to all other school administrators to initiate lockout procedures at those schools.  Once emergency responders swarm one school there are no resources to protect the others.  They should be on lockout to prevent further tragedies.  All the above actions can be accomplished with one swipe of the finger using the SafeDefend lockdown alarm system.

The system includes protection tools and trauma response. The heroic stories of teachers throwing themselves in front of students to shield them with their own bodies are noble.  I would rather those teachers have some means to disrupt the shooter and reduce casualties. The other problem we face is that in these mass casualty events there just aren’t enough paramedics that can arrive in time.   Having tourniquets and hemostatic agents on hand and readily accessible is a must.  We know of at least 31 gunshot victims in Parkland, FL.  That overwhelms first responders.  The SafeDefend system provides these tools in the personnel protection boxes.

The two most important things to save lives in a crisis are notification and response options. Access control systems and cameras don’t notify police and can’t be used in a crisis to save lives.  History has demonstrated how these events unfold.  We need to change our response to address the realities of the crisis. The SafeDefend solution was designed by industry experts to prepare schools and businesses to respond in a crisis.

Time is of the Essence; Waiting for the police takes too long in an active shooter crisis

The reporting on the school shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky demonstrates one critical point that is often missed. Waiting on law enforcement to respond and handle an active shooter crisis is not an effective option and leads to higher casualty counts.  It should be stated clearly at the start that our peace officers and emergency responders act bravely and with valor when rushing in to a hostile environment.  This isn’t meant to disparage their performance but to focus on the reality of the amount of time it takes for them to respond.

According to the FBI, 69% of active shooter incidents are over in under 5 minutes. On average, one person is shot every 15 seconds.  These two factors show how important it is to sound the alarm and alert emergency personnel.  R. Borsch of Active Response Training mentions research that suggests that when waiting on law enforcement to respond and handle a crisis the average casualty count is 14, but when people are notified and are able to take action the casualties average 2.5.  In the several recent shootings (Aztec HS in New Mexico, Mattoon HS in Illinois, Italy HS in Texas, Freeman HS in Washington) staff confronted the shooter immediately.  None of these incidents had casualty counts higher than two.  Empowering staff and alerting everyone to the threat has proven to be the most effective response.  The FBI statistics show that more active shooters are stopped by unarmed civilians than are apprehended by the police.

Note: After preparing this blog it was reported by Fox News that “Officials confirmed there was a school law enforcement officer in the building when the shooting transpired.” It is unclear why this did not change the response timeline. 

The timeline for the Marshall County H.S. shooting as it is pieced together puts things in perspective. A CNN article shows the stark reality of the timing for notifying police via phone. “Sanders said the suspect, armed with a handgun, walked into the school at 7:57 (8:57 a.m. ET) and started shooting. The first 911 call was received two minutes later.” CBS stated “Police arrived at the school just seven minutes after the first 911 call. (This is 9 minutes after the shooting started.) They quickly found the gunman and arrested him.” This response was confirmed by a local affiliate that reported “First responders were on the scene within 10 minutes.”  The AP reported the shooter ‘kept firing until he ran out of ammunition and took off running, trying to get away.’ The DailyMail reported the sheriff’s deputies ‘apprehended the suspect 15 minutes after the shooting broke out.’ While police acted valiantly in their response it was too late as the shooter had already stopped and was attempting to get away.


Shooting started                     7:57

First 911 call                            7:59 (2 minutes later)

Deputies arrive                       8:06 (9 minutes after shooting)

Suspect Apprehended             8:12 (15 minutes after running out of ammunition)

Casualties – 2 dead, 14 shot, 4 injured

The notion that calling 911 is an effective and reasonable approach for shootings is ludicrous. The importance of immediate notification for life safety events is widely accepted for fire events, but we inconsistently believe that placing a 911 call is a feasible plan when bullets are flying. The frequency of school attacks is concerning but we are more prepared for the fire.  When was the last time you heard a media story concerning a school fire compared to a report of on an attack in our schools?  The immediate notification systems have been shown to work.  The SafeDefend system was created after a thorough review of past incidents of mass shootings.  Research has demonstrated that notification, protection options, and trauma response will save lives in a crisis.  The time for arguing about the best solution has passed.   The data clearly shows what we have done in the past has failed to reduce incidents or protect or children.

The Dilemma of Conditioned Helplessness in Active Shooter Incidents

We have seen several instances over the last few years of normal citizens stepping up and acting to prevent a crisis. We are now seeing stories of passengers on a plane that step up to assist flight attendants with an unruly passenger. We hear of school staff who act to intercept an armed intruder preventing countless casualties. The stories of the initiative of bystanders seems to be an obvious response to helping our fellow citizens. The good news is that this is becoming more the norm, but there is still a tendency to defer action to those in authority. This default can lead to greater casualties and loss of lives when action is needed. Taking action by sounding the alarm, empowering personnel to protect themselves with training, and providing methods of countering an attacker have demonstrated time and again to be an effective response to a threat.

The reality is that we have been conditioned for years to not do anything. Flight 93 was the exception of the four flights on 9/11. The reason is that the other three planes had all crashed and once word reached the passengers on the plane they knew they had to act. As a society when terrorists were taking control of planes the best advice at the time was to be complacent and let the authorities handle the problem. We took that advice and spread it to all areas of our lives. In our schools, workplaces, and personal lives we have been conditioned to step back and allow the authorities to handle the crisis. This has resulted in an over reliance on external forces to control a situation where early intervention can have tremendously positive results.

There is a notion that without a gun you cannot confront a hostile intruder. The best option is for law enforcement to confront a violent attacker. The police aren’t always where you need them to be. The decision to confront an active shooter in schools or workplace is a personal decision. While I would never recommend attempting to take out an armed intruder without proper training and equipment there are plenty of things that can be done to delay, thwart, and incapacitate an attacker. The biggest obstacle to accomplish this is the personal feeling that any action would be futile. The truth is just the opposite. Most attackers are not prepared for resistance. All the training and preparation provided by professionals attempts to overcome the feelings of helplessness. Regardless of the maxim you use to describe the training the most important thing to remember is that with advanced notification and readily available options there are means to stay safe in a hostile event.

The principles at SafeDefend exemplify the idea that there are proactive steps that can be taken to prepare personnel for a hostile intruder. The idea that simply locking the doors and hoping that law enforcement arrives in time has failed for generations. A fundamental change needs to occur that addresses the idea of notification, training and response options as the most critical component of protecting people. SafeDefend has been working with entities across the country that have recognized this vital premise.

There is a Problem with Weapons in Our Schools

During a presentation at a school and campus safety conference last week I included a slide based on research from the CDC.  The report, Understanding School Violence, cited that 4.1% of students reported taking a weapon to school in the last 30 days.  For several of the school resource officers in the group there was a look of puzzlement.  For me to state that about 1 in 25 students was armed in the school was a bit of a surprise.  The next slide I presented was based on a quick Google search of two words, ‘school gun’.  The result was a list of news articles from the previous two days.  There were 8 news stories of arrests of students in middle and high schools that had brought a gun into a school.  My question to the group was: “If these are the weapons we know about, how many are really out there?”

An October 3rd headline out of New York is telling for what schools face across the country; NYPD stats: Crime down, but sharp spike in school weapon confiscation.  The article mentions the recent stabbing murder and aggravated battery of two students by another student.  While the story did make some national news there was an important revelation from the mayor; “The new statistics showed the number of weapons in city schools is up 48 percent, and Mayor de Blasio acknowledged students have, for years, armed themselves in schools.”  Students arming themselves to counter an onslaught of bullying is nothing new.  Last month, a student in Freemont High School in Washington state killed a fellow student in a small, rural community in reaction to what the shooter felt was endless bullying. This is reaching epidemic proportions across the country.

The reaction to these events is typical. A large amount of money is thrown at exterior security including access control, surveillance, and metal detectors.  While all of these measures have a role to play, if the intention is to deter violence and reduce casualties, then these measures have been shown to fail time and again.  The two things that we know work are notification and empowered staff.  When students recognize that teachers can and will protect them from a violent attacker then they won’t feel the need to arm themselves.  The SafeDefend system was developed in direct response to this principle.  As administrators consider how to tackle a problem that could result in the death or serious harm of a student they should realize that all of the current measures are only barriers to overcome not something to thwart or stop an attacker.