We don’t want to believe terrorism might strike in our workplace.
We need to realize it could. An employee left a workplace Christmas party in San Bernardino and returned, armed in body armor and with his wife and an arsenal of assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns. Fourteen people died. None of them had advance warning.
2015 stands out as the year we lost our belief that terrorism couldn’t strike in the average U.S. workplace. We need to understand that innocence can’t save us, but might get us killed.
Would you know what to do if your workplace became a “soft target”? Suppose you hear something odd. At first, you think it’s a car backfiring. Then you hear the same sound again, repeated in rapid succession: gunshots.
Fear grips you. You hear others screaming. You struggle to catch a breath. You haven’t seen a shooter or shooters, but the tight feeling in your gut tells you that you have to act fast. You can’t afford panic.
According to the FBI reports, 115 active shooting incidents occurred between 2006 and 2013, with 60 percent of them ending within 10 to 15 minutes and before police arrive. This means those of us trained to handle an out-of-control customer or disgruntled ex-employee by calling 911 need to prepare ourselves with new mental and physical skills and strategies.
Your survival in an active shooter incident depends on whether or not you have a plan. The advice from security experts? Run, hide, fight.
If you have an escape route, get out. Experts urge you to become familiar with the nearest exits in your workplace for the same reasons that you do on a plane. In an emergency, you need to get out fast, without hesitation or indecision. If you can, help others escape with you. When you’re safely out, call 911, and keep others from heading toward danger.
If you can’t escape, hide behind something that gives you protection if the shooter fires in your direction. Act quietly and quickly. Turn off the lights. Lock and barricade the doors. Turn off your cellphone ringer, but dial 911 if you can do so without noise so the dispatcher can listen and send help.
What if you can’t escape or hide? Your ability to survive depends on incapacitating the shooter. Improvise weapons. Throw whatever you can find to hit or at least distract the shooter. If you’re with others, spread out so you don’t provide the shooter an easy target. Work with others to rush the shooter. Fight aggression with aggression and commit to taking the shooter down.
I conducted a quick Anchorage poll last week and learned everyone surveyed shared my belief that it was better to go down fighting if “run” and “hide” proved impossible. Many Alaskans are armed and well-trained in the use of firearms, but the issue of guns in the workplace is too complex to take up here; it’s addressed in my Oct. 20 column.
When the first responders arrive, get out of their way. Keep your hands visible with your fingers spread so they know you’re not a shooter. If they’re chasing an active shooter, don’t expect them to stop and help you. Instead, evacuate in the direction from which the officers are entering.
If you’re an employer, hold security drills for your staff and teach them to adopt a survival mind set. (The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have excellent resources.)
Finally, we need to realize we’re grieving the loss of our sense of security. Many are stuck in grief’s first stage, that of shock or denial, thinking, “It can’t happen here.” Why not? What was special about San Bernardino? Nothing, except a terrorist lived there.
If the worst happened in your workplace, would you have a plan? If not, it’s not too late. Create one now.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.