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The Role of Unarmed Security in Active Shooter Prevention and Response

​​​Brad Spicer​​

Session Spotlight Graphic Brad Spicer 2.pngDid you know that in the event of an emergency landing, flight attendants are trained to remain on the plane and assist all passengers before they evacuate? The flight attendants, and the airline, accept placing their lives at risk in order to help the flying public.  So why are security staff not trained to play a more prominent role in response to an active shooter-type attack?

Training and preparedness are key.  Imagine an emergency, like an active shooter, as an "X" on a timeline.  Everything after "X" is response and everything before "X" is our opportunity to prevent, mitigate, and improve response. All too often the training of security officers, armed or unarmed, focuses on after "X."

When it comes to an active shooter-type attack, clearly prevention is the ultimate goal.  This requires more than HR workplace violence prevention training.  Security should be trained and empowered with tools to help them identify Pre-Attack INdicators (PAINs) and elements of First Timer's Syndrome that are exhibited prior to an attack.  An understanding of PAINs combined with courteous, proactive and engaging interactions, will improve overall security value and provide early recognition and faster response in the unlikely event of an active-shooter type attack.

When it comes to response, there are strong survival parallels between escaping a burning aircraft, and running away from an active shooter.  Time is of the essence. Clearly a flight attendant, positioned near an emergency exit, could flee and increase their chance of surviving.  But they don't.  They accept and embrace that their primary mission is safety and prepare accordingly.  This is not to suggest a flight attendant or security officer should needlessly forfeit their life to save others; but self-preservation should not be their primary objective.

Current active shooter response best practices embrace the Run-Hide-Fight survival options.  Fight is always the last resort, but one that security officers should be mentally prepared to initiate.  The Run and Hide options are lower risk, and typically far more effective.  Early recognition, and a thorough understanding of their environment, will empower the security officer to provide rapid and clear Run or Hide instructions to others.  While others are trying to discern the chaos, the security officer has already:

  • Observed the threat
  • Oriented to the nearest exits (Run) and/or secure rooms (Hide)
  • Decided where to direct bystanders (employees, guests, etc.)
  • Acted to help others.

Active shooter-type attacks are low probably – high consequence - incidents that must be a part of your organization's all-hazards emergency preparedness program.  All too often, law enforcement is viewed as the only viable response, and while law enforcement's role is imperative, there is a great deal on-site security can do to prevent and mitigate this ever-growing threat.  I hope you will join me at ASIS 2017 on September 26th at 11:00 AM and explore ways to help your security team get before "X."

Questions? Have your own experiences? Drop us a line on LinkedIn, Facebook, or @safeplans on Twitter.​

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