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Your Active Shooter Training Is Less Effective Than You Think, Warn Researchers

Target is among major retailers taking proactive steps to make employees safer from a potential active shooter. The company publicly acknowledged last month that it was expanding its training program for select personnel and security workers to hundreds of thousands of employees in stores, distribution centers, and headquarters locations.

“At Target, the safety of our guests and team members is our top priority and we take a comprehensive approach to safety that includes team member training, partnerships with law enforcement, and the use of technology,” said Jenna Reck, a Target spokesperson, in a statement to Business Insider.

A comprehensive approach to the active shooter threat is critical, suggests new research by two St. Paul, Minnesota, criminology professors, Jillian Peterson, PhD, and James Densley, PhD, co-founders of the Violence Project, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to reducing violence in society and improving related policy and practice through research and analysis. With funding from the National Institute of Justice, the two compiled a detailed database on “mass shooters” in America. The results of that research suggest that active shooter training may be less effective than companies may think.

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Training the Shooter?
In interviews last month, the two researchers noted that the most common site for a mass shooting since 1966 is the workplace, and that shooters who target schools and workplaces are typically insiders such as students or employees. That means, they warn, that the most likely perpetrator of a mass shooting will have received the same training as their eventual targets. Consequently, certain measures to deter shooters may be ineffective because the shooters know what those measures are and can design ways around them or use the information in their planning an attack.

Certain measures to deter shooters may be ineffective because the shooters know what those measures are and can design ways around them or use the information in their planning an attack.

As such, a training program that is designed to protect workers from the active shooter threat should not only address the risk from an external perpetrator, it should include specialized training for supervisors and managers to spot warning signs of troubled employees. Workplace shooters tend to be men in their forties of any race who are having trouble on the job, according to the researchers’ data.

The ex-employee is often the picture that comes to mind in rampage workplace shootings involving professional relationships, but they commit fewer than one third of such attacks, according to a NYPD report analyzing 281 active shooter incidents over recent decades. “The threat from active shooter attacks is not limited to downsized employees. In fact, in many cases, active shooter attacks resulted from disagreements among current employees of the organization,” concludes the report. Additionally, case summaries suggest that employee suspensions and the mere threat of termination are often enough to motivate workplace shootings by troubled employees, and that more seemingly mundane disputes, such as those over benefits, can also act as a spark.

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Workplace shootings may seem more likely to occur in blue-collar workplaces, like manufacturing facilities, than at office buildings or a retail setting, but the NYPD study found that both are equally likely to be the location of an active shooting incident. While the study challenged some stereotypes, statistical analysis confirmed two generally accepted ideas about employee active shooter incidents—they are almost always male (96 percent of cases) and carried out by a single individual (98 percent).

Monitoring Online Communications
Online communications are an important consideration within the context of a program to reduce the risk of worker-on-worker bullying that could, potentially, result in a tragic workplace violence event. Examples include workers posting malicious and threatening comments about coworkers on blogs or social networking sites, sharing embarrassing and manipulated images of coworkers online, and copying emails to a large group of employees to embarrass a coworker.

Digital communication facilitates bullying, warns CQR Consulting, a provider of information security services. “Gossip about a coworker can be shared instantly across the web to a large audience or even to people outside the organization,” a representative noted. Rumors can seriously affect a worker’s reputation and career and are nearly impossible to eradicate from cyberspace. Employers need to step into the void and educate workers of the severe and lasting harm that can result from a single inappropriate late-night internet posting. It should also specifically identify and train employees on online behavior that it will not tolerate, and which violates harassment, bullying, or workplace violence policies.

- Digital Partner -

Domestic Violence in the Workplace
Intimate partner violence can also spark mass shootings in the workplace, a fact that training programs should incorporate. Nearly 10 percent of both male and female employees are current victims of IPV, according to estimates, and complicating prevention is the reluctance of employees to alert supervisors to potential problems, as complaining to a boss about issues outside of work such as an abusive spouse is not typically viewed as a smart career move.

As such, violence-prevention awareness needs to aggressively encourage employees to report domestic abuse and promote the security services it offers to employee victims of domestic violence. Associates need to feel the store will support them if they face safety issues away from work rather than consider it a problem. Otherwise, retailers may never learn about a threat until it shoots its way through the front door.

Coordination between HR and LP
Finally, because the external risk is not the only risk from an active shooter, retailers must have strong departmental coordination between those who manage personnel issues and those responsible for store security. These two functions must work closely together to share information and expertise, say experts.

Retailers must have strong departmental coordination between those who manage personnel issues and those responsible for store security.

For example, human resources executives are often in a better position to know about general behavior trends in the organization, such as whether conflict is a growing concern, or where problems are emerging. It must then relay that information to those charged with security so that it can adjust physical safeguards appropriately and conduct monitoring in accordance with the current threat environment. In short, there must be an ongoing information exchange between those employees who know about “people problems” and those charged with implementing security measure to prevent those problems from becoming tragic security events.

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