How To Choose An Active Shooter Training Program

Part 3 of 5

Policies and procedures, no matter how well-designed, are only as effective as the individuals tasked with carrying them out, which is why training is the second of the essential pillars to your workplace violence program.  In last week’s article, we outlined some of the key policies that your organization should have in place, one of which is your Active Shooter Training policy.  This policy looked at whether you would make your training mandatory and then the related pieces of information based on that decision.  This week, we will walk you through the details of a quality training program to help you determine what type of training and policy is the best fit for your organization.

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Is It Active Shooter Or Active Assailant?

One of the important considerations that you will want to make as you start your research is what type of violent threats the training addresses.  You likely have noticed the use of both the phrases active shooter and active assailant.  While active shooter is the most common and well-known version of this type of violence, active assailant is actually a more inclusive term to describe the types of events that you need to be prepared for.  We know from the recent history of these attacks that a variety of weapon systems may be used, including firearms, vehicles, edged weapons, and bombs.  This is an important detail to understand when looking at solutions for your training program.  The appropriate response to an Active Assailant will vary quite a bit depending on the weapon system being used.  That is why Active Shooter training by itself is really only one component of a successful training program.  Subscribing only to training for an active shooter would still leave your workforce vulnerable should you experience any other Active Assailant event.  We tackled this aspect of the training by initially providing response training for active shooter, and then teaching how to modify the response procedures for each weapon system.  For example, if escaping is not an option, we teach barricading against a firearm as the primary lesson and then how to alter this skill if the assailant is using a knife.  Make this one of the first factors that you use in your selection criteria when looking for a training provider.  Many training options available are still only focusing on the active shooter problem and leaving a glaring hole in the education of your valuable employees.  For the purposes of this article, however, we will stick with the commonly used term of active shooter.

Does Active Shooter Training Have To Be Scary?

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Before we get any further into what your training should include, let’s address the question or fear that we most often hear when talking to organizations.  Does active shooter training need to be scary? Or, put differently, “My organization doesn’t want to implement training because it is too scary for our employees and it will not go over well.” We have heard horror stories from companies who tried to do the right thing by providing training, only to have the instructors traumatize their employees with shock-and-awe tactics like pretending to shoot each person, saying “you’re dead, you’re dead”, or firing a simunition firearm without warning.  We cannot state this clearly enough: these training methods are unnecessary and damaging and do not represent what active shooter training can and should be.  Your training experience should be empowering, fun, and engaging, and leave your employees feeling incredibly grateful that you cared enough to provide it.  Do your homework on vendors and read as many client testimonials, reviews, media coverage, and law suits (yep, some training companies have been sued for damages after they administered a training) as you can find.  Ask potential training providers how they go about their training methods.  Listen for key words such as emotional intelligence, empowerment, and company culture to clue you in that the training was likely developed with your employees and their learning experience in mind.

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What Should My Training Cover?

Your active shooter training should be focused on prevention, preparation, and response.  Many training programs look only at the response aspect, or just briefly touch on the prevention and preparation pieces, and this does a huge disservice to the fact that many of these events can be prevented!  Time after time, we hear facts following an active shooter/assailant event that demonstrate that the attack never had to happen at all, if only someone knew what to look for or felt confident in speaking out.  A good training program will educate your employees on the indicators of violence that can be seen when it is someone they know (coworker, acquaintance, family member etc.), as a person who commits violence rarely just snaps out of the blue.  Equally important to knowing what to look for is what they should do with that information or concern.  Our training, for example, teaches on the signs of potential violence and then provides scenarios that walk them through a coworker escalating in troubling behavior and the appropriate action to take: low-level indicators are the time to be a good friend and ask that person if they need help; mid-level indicators are appropriate to bring in upper management or HR; and high-level or imminent threat indicators are when you should go directly to Law Enforcement.  Empowering your people with this knowledge will make them more confident in bringing their concerns forward.  And remembering back to the policy article, having an easy and confidential reporting procedure is an essential piece as well!

The prepare aspect of the training should be two-fold to include how to prepare before and during the attack.  In order to maximize your chances of surviving an active shooter, your training must include learning how to perform the response skills, how to rehearse these skills, and how to prepare your workspace to be an asset for you during the event.  Barricading, for example, is a skill that benefits from preparing your space to have the appropriate items in the most convenient positions, as well as having rehearsed the barricade so that you can create it quickly and under stress.  Preparation is also about your mindset.  Learning a technique called Situational Awareness will make you more prepared to recognize potential threats in your environment and the concept of Violence of Action will make you mentally prepared to go “all in” to defend your life if necessary.  The piece about ‘Prepare’ that is most often missed in training programs is preparing during the attack.  They may encourage you to locate the position of the assailant or to turn off the lights, but there is much more that you will want to do once the attack has started to prepare yourself to perform your ‘Escape, Hide, or Defend’ response.  One of the frequent mistakes that we hate seeing in training videos is women running out of the building with their high heels on.  Ladies! You know that this is not an easy way to run, yet these training programs do not educate on the importance of removing hindering clothing items before attempting to escape.  Small details like these are easily missed in training but add up to make a significant difference in the reality of a person being prepared to survive an active shooter event.  Pick a training that doesn’t cut corners on these details or accidentally encourage bad habits that could cost a life.

What Length Training Is Best?

The next thing to consider when searching for your active shooter training is the depth of the content.  You will find a wide variety in training lengths, and we know it can be tempting to jump at the shorter ones for the sake of time management but take a moment to think about what is being sacrificed to make that training so short.  Training that is 30 minutes or less (we would actually argue anything less than 60) will likely not provide the depth of knowledge required to empower your people to make the correct simple decisions that can actually save lives in the moment.  For this training to be truly useful, your employees need to be given a deep look at how to perform each response option, not just be told what to do.  A sad number of available programs essentially say “Run, Hide, Fight, Good Luck!” as the extent of their training.  What good does that do?  We repeatedly find that, when exposed to our much more detailed program, people are very surprised by the number of considerations that play a role in even the supposedly simplest of actions.  Running or escaping, for example, is not nearly as straight forward as most training programs make it appear.  Yes, your goal is to run away from the shooter and escape the building.  But how you run can be the difference between making it out and not.  What is your functional fitness that day?; do you need to use a non-traditional exit?; how do you run if the person is shooting at you?; do you know how to identify cover versus concealment along your escape route?  Again, these are just a few examples of the information and decisions that play a critical role in escaping safely, yet these same details are rarely mentioned in the majority of the training you will come across in your research.  Our online training takes approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete, which is time well-worth the investment if you or your valuable employees ever have to use this information to survive an active shooter at your workplace.

Should I Choose In-Person Or Online Training?

The last consideration for your training program that we are going to look at is whether you should select on online or in-person model.  There are pros and cons associated with each that you will want to be aware of before determining which is the best fit for your organization.  In-person training is when one or several instructors provide the training in a live setting, utilizing lecture and/or rehearsal to teach your employees. These sessions tend to be longer than an online course and generally range anywhere from a half day to two days.  The benefits to choosing a live training session is that they tend to be more engaging and allow your staff to interact and ask questions throughout the training, which can help with knowledge retention and comprehension. When done well, rehearsal training can help a person learn the response skills and practice something that they otherwise may not do on their own.  You have to be very careful with this, however, as these rehearsal sessions can easily do more harm than good.  One primary reason for this is creating bad habits when skills are not taught in a realistic manner or the instructor is using techniques that wouldn’t actually work when up against a legitimate threat.  Time after time, we see videos of training sessions where the instructor has placed the students in “strategic” positions to counter attack the assailant, but in reality, those positions are easy targets for a person walking into the room with a firearm.  Those students have now learned and practiced a skill that is more likely to get them seriously injured or killed, instead of accomplishing the intended goal.  These live sessions are also when you hear more about the negative or traumatizing experiences when an instructor is too callous or insensitive in their approach.  Organizations have had to deal with workers comp claims following a training for PTSD type symptoms or actual injuries from a poorly-done rehearsal.  We tend to stay away from the rehearsal component of the training with general employee population and find that our 4-hour interactive lectures accomplish preparing our students with the appropriate level of knowledge.

Another potential con to the in-person method of training is the logistics in getting all your employees in one place at the same time or having to budget for multiple training sessions to accommodate different shifts and business operations.  Some of our clients still find that this is doable and worth the coordination to get the live experience, as they feel that their employees respond better in that setting versus online learning.  As you get into larger and larger organization size, the feasibility of this tends to break down and the online training becomes a better option.

Online learning has become a staple for many organizations to accomplish their compliance requirements, and active shooter training is also trending in that direction, with more training providers offering this solution.  We designed our online programs after running into some significant logistical problems when needing to deliver training to an international company with thousands of employees.  That would take quite a long time to do in person!  Many organizations run in to this same issue when searching for good training solutions and the online model has certainly helped eliminate this problem.   In addition to solving the logistical challenge, we have found there are multiple other benefits for an organization to choose the online route.  One such benefit is that online courses tend to be shorter in length than a live session, which helps to lessen the impact on a company from pulling their workforce off of their jobs for training.  Online learning is also a more independent experience, so the learner can take the training in a manner that works with their schedule, versus the pre-determined time of a live session.  Our training was deigned in multiple modules so that the user can easily jump in and out of the course to accommodate other responsibilities.

One of the biggest advantages with online training is the ease of training new-hires or others who missed an initial round of training.  Compared to a live session, in which it only makes sense to coordinate for a larger group, an organization can easily provide active shooter training to one or several people at any time during the year.  It benefits an organization to have 100% training compliance with their employees to lessen their liability and chances of an untrained employee suing if violence occurs on site for not being afforded the same opportunities as the employees who had received the training. In a similar vein, the online model supports the sustainability of your workplace violence program.  It is very important that your entire program, but especially the training, is incorporated into your culture and revisited on an annual basis.  Due to the reasons stated above, we find that organizations have a much easier time reaching sustainment when using an online training platform over annual live sessions.

There are some cons to consider with the online training, but not ones that cannot be overcome.  One big misconception and hesitation is that online learning is boring, and employees will not enjoy the learning experience.  This is certainly true for some of the online options you will come across and will entirely depend on the skill and creativity of the company who put it together.  Look for an online course that utilizes multiple learning styles, such as video, photos, and interactive elements, versus sticking with just one method.  This helps keep the learner engaged in the training and improves learning retention.  We would advise avoiding online training that is purely video based. In this multi-tasking world we are in, it is inevitable that your employees will press play and immediately get distracted with other tasks.

Another potential negative with the online model is that it does not allow the learner to ask questions of an instructor during or after the training.  This can impact their ability to understand and apply the information properly for their workplace.  We have created an option to solve this problem that allows the organization to set up a live webinar Q&A session following the online training, which allows their employees to ask questions and speak with an instructor in a virtual setting.  This has been a good compromise for organizations that are looking to take advantage of the ‘pros’ of each of the online and in-person training models.

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Find Your Partner

That wraps up the essential pieces of what you should look for in a training program for your organization.  We strongly encourage that you take your time to research and compare providers to make sure that you are creating a relationship with a company that you will be happy to work with year after year.  A good training company is much more than just a service provider; they truly become a partner and advocate for you throughout the entire process.  As always, if you have any further questions on training or your workplace violence program, we would be honored to be that partner for you.  You can email us or you can head here!

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