Throw a can of beans. Throw a chair. Spray them with the fire extinguisher. These are some of the tactics law enforcement and other security officials are teaching people to use in defending themselves during an active shooter situation. Let’s face it a can of beans against a knife or handgun - not likely to be effective. That said; however, I believe you have to use what you can to defend yourself, as your life may very well depend on it. In “live drills,” these run-hide-fight scenarios, are played out by role players and participated in by a company’s employees. While many people have been trained over the past few years to run if you can, hide if you can’t and fight if you have to, I believe the real solutions to the active shooter threat are based on building design and how interior designers have designed high occupancy spaces.
The idea of staying behind and waiting for the police or SWAT team to show up and neutralize the threat is absolutely crazy in my mind. In fact, most emergency protocols instruct staff to herd customers in to the bathroom or storage room and lock the door, if possible. Since most bathroom entrances don’t lock and storeroom doors are not ballistically hardened, this process is actually making it easier for the “hunter”.
In security we teach that the best defense is distance. An example of this is, for fire (a threat) we teach get out of the building at all costs. The same should hold true for active shooter threats. Unfortunately, most high occupancy spaces are currently designed with only one exit. A different approach to designing space will be needed.
Creativity versus Security
In today’s society, it is very common to find high occupancy spaces that are devoid of interior walls. They consist of open spaces that host a variety of activities. The idea is to foster and promote creativity and interaction, be less stressful and foster a sense of community. Many companies and large corporations find this to be a benefit to their bottom line. While I don’t dispute that concept, I also don’t think there has to be one or the other – the space is either creative or it’s secure. I believe it can be both. We just have to insist that it is.
Provide Alternative Escape Routes at All Cost
There is legislation that implements fire safety codes, which include labeling exits, training personnel in escape procedures, signage and so on. There hasn’t been a fire related death in a school since 1957.
That tells me all the codes, training and practice fire drills have paid off.
Couldn’t and shouldn’t the same hold true for active shooter situations. We could easily design buildings and rooms therein so that there are always two evacuation routes. We would need to make sure they’re opposite each other so the occupants don’t have to run in to the line-of-fire of the shooter. This paradigm shift would allow people to escape instead of waiting to be murdered by hiding, or at best, fighting to overwhelm the shooter.
Even if we start today, it will take time before we change our mindset and find applicable solutions that most emergency planners can agree on.
Provide Ballistic Protection in the Form of Furniture
With that in mind, we need to provide protection to people wherever they find themselves. Ballistic materials are currently on the market that can be incorporated into furniture; counters, white boards, walls, doors, etc. that offer protection to occupants. The use of ballistic resistant furniture could be placed in airport gate areas, hospital waiting rooms, houses of worship, school classrooms, government offices, or basically anywhere where large numbers of people gather.
The active shooter threat is not going away. While it is still very unlikely that you or the ones you care about will be involved in an active shooter event, it is possible, as these events are becoming more and more common place.
It will take time for legislation to catch up and address this threat. Until then, it’s up to us; i.e., administrators, architects, designers, emergency managers, engineers, facility managers, planners and security professional to do what we can to make people safe.
Doug Haines, MPSE, is owner/CEO of Haines Security Solutions, Ventura, Calif.