Facing the Ultimate Safety Test

Active shooter incidents are a grim reality today. Two experts at the IREM Global Summit make a compelling case for prevention, preparation and response at every property.
Tony Casper, CEO, Safe Passage Consulting

It is the worst nightmare of every real estate owner and manager: an active shooter in the building. Tragedies at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, make it all too clear that commercial properties can be the targets of massive carnage. In a compelling presentation at the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Global Summit on Wednesday, two veterans of law enforcement and military service made the case for thorough preparation.

“We have to think about this stuff. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way society is going right now,” said Dustin Randall, a Marine Corps and Army combat veteran and chief operations officer at Safe Passage Consulting. From 2000 through 2017, 280 mass shootings left 831 people dead and 2,351 injured in the U.S. Though the odds of an incident occurring at any location in any given year are small, property owners can no longer rely on luck alone. Failing to adequately protect employees is not only a dereliction of moral responsibility, it can also inflict tens of millions of dollars in damage in the form of legal costs, lost business and other issues.

READ ALSO: For Safety’s Sake: Managing the Risks of Workplace Violence

The most effective defense to counter the possibility of a violent incident is preparation. “They have a plan,” said Safe Passage Consulting CEO Tony Casper, referring to those who perpetrate shootings. “They expect for you not to have one.” Watching for warning signs is a vital step. In the workplace, threats against colleagues, intense interest in gun training and other behavior can indicate an intent to carry out violence. Law enforcement can stop incidents before they happen—18 potential shootings were averted in Ohio alone last year. But authorities cannot intervene unless they are informed.

Full-fledged strategy

Dustin Randall, Chief Operations Officer, Safe Passage Consulting

The speakers emphasized that good intentions cannot substitute for a comprehensive strategy. When Casper visits the office of a real estate operator or manager, and asks to see the prevention and response plan, “One of the scariest things is when they pull out one piece of paper and say, ‘There it is.’”

An effective program should comprise multiple components:

  • A thorough assessment of the property for potential vulnerability.
  • Training employees how to respond in an incident.
  • Recognizing potential threats and providing protection for employees if a worker who has been dismissed is believed to be capable of committing an attack.
  • Addressing intangible long-term effects, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome.

READ ALSO: CRE’s New Safety Strategies: Drones, Robots and Apps

Another provocative part of the discussion offered an overview of strategies for surviving a shooting. Principles espoused by the Department of Homeland Security could be summed up as “Run, Hide, Fight.” While endorsing the first and third elements, the Safe Passage consultants take issue with the second. As mass shootings have repeatedly shown, gunmen expect their targets to hide and try to seek out those hiding places.

Take action

They also cited actions that have been shown to reduce deaths and injuries: slowing the gunman’s progress by barricading doors with anything available; escaping out of windows, through air ducts or any available route; and, if possible, disrupting the shooter—even a cellphone thrown at his head may distract him long enough to tackle him or to make escape possible.

And even in a moment of crisis, someone caught in a violent incident can improve his or her chances of survival. “We have to tell ourselves to breathe,” said Casper, reminding the audience that steady breathing keeps delivering the oxygen that the brain needs to make rational decisions. Consciously engaging in yoga-style deep breathing (which he referred to as “combat breathing”) will help you think straight. A rapid change of emotions from fear to anger and defiance is vital for effective thinking.

And above all, surrender to the shooter is not an option. As Randall put it: “Never stop fighting.”