Andrea Vaughan, director of human resources and organizational development at Wright Manufacturing, Frederick, Maryland, was concerned about the rash of shooting incidents around the country, especially when an employee killed three people and injured 14 at a Midwest mower manufacturer earlier this year.

So one year ago, she started planning a training session that would simulate a possible incident and teach the company’s employees how to survive it. She contacted the sheriff’s department to see if they could help her provide this drill through a joint training effort.

While the sheriff’s office prepared to test the procedures with officers and rescue personnel, Vaughan kept the Wright team informed through team meetings, training, emails and one-on-one conversations. Active shooter training was provided to all team members using a web-based tutorial, available through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); in a classroom setting for those with language barriers; and in each production department. Training briefs were also distributed. The sheriff’s department led a companywide safety briefing the day of the drill.

On the day of the drill, “our entire team was present,” Vaughn says. “We entered into a relatively normal workday. Several of our team members played specific roles during the drill. A dozen volunteered to play victims, which included having graphic makeup applied to represent specific injuries. Some volunteered to play hostages, which supported the hostage negotiation portion of the exercise, and a few volunteered to hide somewhere in the building to help train 911 operators. We also had four different team members call 911 to provide additional training for operators. “

For the purposes of the drill, an actor played the shooter and team members were instructed to run, seek cover, and then move to Wright’s meeting spot following an emergency evacuation. The exceptions were those who volunteered to be active, role-playing participants.

Wright conducts emergency evacuation drills routinely and the goal has been to get everyone out and accounted for in less than three minutes. However, an active shooter situation is very different. It’s far more important that team members get out of the building and find shelter as fast as they can so as not to become a target. Clearing the building quickly lets law enforcement more easily identify and apprehend the shooter and treat injured parties.

After a training exercise, all participants evaluate what went according to plan and what needs work. “This kind of drill evoked different responses in our team members,” Vaughan says. “Leading up to it, we had numerous team members communicate their nervousness and anxiety around conducting such a drill.”

For landscapers considering a similar project, Vaughan says: “Do it. Don’t wait, just do it. Yes, you have to forgo some business operations. Big deal. No transaction is worth a life. This kind of event took us approximately a year to plan and it’s a moving, dynamic planning process that changes a lot. Start now and be willing to go with the flow. It’s not easy to involve so many agencies, so if they are willing to work with a company, the company should open its doors.”

Here are Vaughan’s eight tips for setting up active shooter training for a business of any size:

1. Develop an emergency response plan if you do not have one.

2. Contact a member of local law enforcement and ask if they are willing to partner. Their partnership significantly helps elevate the value of an active shooter drill. If they are interested, be flexible and accommodating to their needs. Engage in routine dialog to maximize the odds of both parties working and planning in sync.

3. No company is too small to conduct active shooter training. The DHS has a free resource to use. In addition to the web-based training, add follow-up discussions. If you are in a larger facility, take the training to various locations. Ask team members:

  • What would be your path of escape?
  • Where would you run to once outside the building?
  • If you could not escape, where would you hide?
  • If you had to hide and the shooter found you, what would you use to protect and defend yourself?

4. When providing the training, do so with firmness and intensity. If this were to happen, team members would not have the luxury of time to decide and execute actions.

5. Practice evacuating your location in a hurry on a regular basis.

6. Critically evaluate the work location to identify things to improve safety and response capacity. Ask the advice of various first responders.

7. Talk about it; do not pretend this stuff does not and will not happen to you. Denial is not a strategy. Awareness and comfort in talking about it increases the chances a member of your team will notice and alert others when something seems off in the work environment.

8. Repeat training and drills on a regular basis.