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Training key in shooting response


Training paired with security and mitigation efforts can help companies, organizations, schools and others avoid being the target of an active assailant, and cope proactively and effectively if such a situation arises, according to those engaged in training and some who have been through an event.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 1 shooting incident in Las Vegas, which left 58 dead and more than 500 injured, such training and tactics have become even more important for organizations looking to minimize exposures and maximize chances for survival.

After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, “the FBI partnered with other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adopt ‘Run. Hide. Fight.’ as the coordinated federal strategy for civilian active shooter response,” said Washington-based Unit Chief James Green of the violence reduction unit of the office of partner engagement at the FBI.

“Training is critical, and our clients and many in the security industry are recognizing that,” said Nicholas Smith, practice leader for the security risk consulting business unit of Willis Towers Watson P.L.C. in New York A study by the FBI of 160 incidents from 2000 through 2013 shows businesses are the most frequent venue or target for such occurrences.

There are preventive measures that can be taken to make a target less compelling or accessible to an attack, sources said.

“The most robust actors in this space are very conscious to develop site-specific active shooter response plans following the Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Run. Hide. Fight.’ methodology,” Mr. Smith said.

“Training with a site-specific emergency response around violence tends to raise and harden the security profile of the site or facility, and therefore terrorists and criminals may look elsewhere. Training is absolutely a key component of attack avoidance.”

“An intruder, based on experience from our security consultant, will take the ‘path of least resistance’ and move on to an unblocked or unfortified room or area,” said Michael Pokora, executive vice president and managing director with Willis Towers Watson in Chicago. In late September, the brokerage launched its Shooter/Armed Intruder Readiness Program for senior living communities, which includes training videos, sample plans and procedures, a readiness assessment and webinars.

Training should also include a mechanism for identifying behaviors that can precede or foreshadow an event, according to experts.

“The first step is to be able to recognize behavior of concern,” because subjects sometimes experience a change in behavior prior to acting out violently. This can include social media posts as well as observable actions, said Harry Rhulen, Denver-based president of Novume Solutions Inc. and founder of Firestorm Solutions, a crisis management firm now owned by Novume.

Efforts should include a mechanism for reporting what has been observed, experts say.

“Addressing employee conduct early regarding threats and threatening behavior, in my opinion, is a good mitigation measure,” said Regan J. Rychetsky, loss control manager with York Pooling, a unit of York Risk Services Group Inc. in Austin, Texas, and a past president of the Public Risk Insurance Management Association. “Having a formal program where you have an established reporting process and you track all security incidents, together with an employee training program to bring awareness to the issue,” is a good way to help accomplish this, he said.

“The thing we all need to get better at is reporting things. I think that makes a huge difference,” said Cindy Stevenson, current superintendent of the Boulder Valley School System and a previous Jefferson County superintendent of 12 years, retiring in 2014.

Ms. Stevenson was in Jefferson County when the shooting event occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999. Colorado subsequently mandated that every school in the state have a safety plan.

“We’ve learned a lot from the incidents that have occurred in schools, and I think that schools and agencies and districts have taken that all to heart and used it in the training process,” she said.

Another aspect of successful training is repetition, sources said. “Training has to occur again and again and again,” said Scott Murphy, retired superintendent of the Littleton Public School District in Colorado who was in his position during a shooting incident at Arapahoe High School in December 2013.

“In a crisis situation, you revert to your level of training,” Mr. Rychetsky said, citing school fire drills as an example.