Crisis Management Technology

Crisis Management Technology

Better preparation for emergency managers for active shooter incidents

In recent years, the United States has witnessed a surge of active shooter incidents, which have put emergency preparedness into the spotlight for “when,” not “if ” the next tragedy occurs. Unfortunately, mass shootings have become a part of our daily lives - as gun violence is responsible for the loss of 38,000 lives per year, designating it the leading cause of premature deff in the United States.

The United States alone has seen at least 147 mass shootings in the first few months of 2021, so far a 73% increase from years past, a trend that does not seem to be in decline. And as most active shooter events end in five minutes or less, emergency managers must be prepared to collaborate with first responders to activate life-saving response protocols and procedures to respond to the crisis and its aftermath in real-time, without warning.

The question then becomes, “How do emergency managers prepare for a mass casualty incident (MCI) that happens without warning?” While a community will never be able to prevent tragic incidents like mass shootings from happening, an emergency manager can put an active shooter plan into place that focuses on mitigation, response and recovery. A designed comprehensive plan will ensure all parties are equipped to respond to the incident in real-time.

When deploying the steps outlined in a community’s active shooter preparedness strategy, having the right technology gives the emergency managers, community crisis teams, and first responders a flexible, connected incident command system solution. First responders and hospitals need to have an efficient real-time information flow with emergency managers to deploy life-saving techniques and personnel to save as many people as possible during an active shooter incident.

How can Technology Help Emergency Managers during an Active Shooter Situation?

Emergency managers must incorporate robust technology platforms into their emergency response and preparedness strategies to notify all stakeholders, minimize the potential for false or inaccurate notifications, and track the flow of information to ensure the parties involved are receiving it.

An effective platform also enables emergency managers to share critical information and updates with state and local agencies during an MCI event. This allows first responders and healthcare staff to focus on saving lives rffer than going back and forth on the phone attempting to communicate the severity of the situation.

Responding to an Active Shooter, for Emergency Managers Preparation is Key

Active shooter incidents have become commonplace within numerous settings where groups of people offer – on college and high school campuses, in office buildings, movie theatres, churches, hospitals and retail stores and during community events. Assailants usually select target-rich locations and often carefully plan attacks weeks in advance.

There is no predictability as to when, where and how these MCI events occur; only those victims are blindsided; and emergency managers are thrown into chaotic, and often life-threatening environments. The importance of preparation and response time cannot be stressed enough.

In a report detailing the best methods to respond to active shooters, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describes a few key components, which can be helpful to emergency managers when developing an Emergency Response Plan (EAP):

  • Reporting: Staff must know how to report an active shooter to first responders and colleagues.
  • Evacuation: All exit routes and procedures should be outlined.
  • Management support: Specific staff should be assigned emergency management roles to facilitate an efficient response.
  • Hospital information: Details of local hospital accessibility, resources, and contact information should be included.
  • Emergency notification system: Organizations must have a system to alert stffand monitor the situation.

“To best prepare your staff for an active shooter situation, create an Emergency Action Plan, and conduct training exercises,” according to DHS. “Together, the EAP and training exercises will prepare your staff to effectively respond and help minimize loss of life.”

Here are five best practices based on recommendations from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies that emergency managers can incorporate into their EAPs. They include advice for prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery.

Prevent Critical Events before They Strike

Prevention is the least glamorous and yet, most valuable strategy for protection. After all, an effective prevention strategy is designed to be invisible, stopping threats before they appear.

Active shooter preparedness manifests itself in the training and tools that bolster employee safety and wellbeing. During a crisis, quick and coordinated communications are needed, and there is little to no time for planning. This urgency demands staff already have proper training through education and drills. Proper preparation also means an organization has defined reporting methods, and an emergency manager has tools in place for a tactical response.

Reports are vital to effective analysis and response. Common types include checklists, action plans, response playbooks, situational reports (SitReps), and After-Action Reports (AARs). Each of these forms should be thoroughly vetted to ensure your organization is recording and reporting data of value. Unfortunately, no innovative technology can compensate for poor or missing data.

Rather, digital systems are designed to enhance critical data during and after an active shooting event. Organizations should have a digital reporting method to handle reporting, communications, and assessment. The bundled set of tasks is vital to prevent delayed responses, communication gaps, and inaccurate data. The system should have robust features that can connect easily with first responders, incorporate an intuitive user interface, and have the capacity to manage workflows easily.

Protect Staff through Emergency Action Planning

The next strategic step to protect your organization is to create an EAP. This plan is an emergency response playbook for staff. EAPs help staff react quickly, improve decision-making, reduce panic, and help organizations spot potential emergency management obstacles before they turn into problems.

Create a Threat Assessment Team to Mitigate Damage

Most emergencies do not call for a superhero. Typically, they demand a team of superheroes.

This is the case when confronting the threat of an active shooter. Organizations can benefit from professionals in different sectors, geographies, and industries.

They also benefit from individuals with diverse skill sets. For these reasons, the FBI recommends creating a Threat Assessment Team (TAT), a group of professionals that works with law enforcement to forecast risk and provide recommendations.

A TAT strategy can be used, even with one emergency manager on stff. For an active shooter, this means building a team — whether paid experts or experienced community volunteers — that analyzes an organization, its staff, and stakeholders and provides an objective, data-driven risk analysis. TAT members conduct interviews, gather information, evaluate threats, aid in decision-making, and follow up to re-assess strategies and impacts.

A TAT connected to a digital network and operational intelligence is even more useful. Juvare has seen this first-hand across diverse industries and organizations. An emergency intelligence network can provide a consistent and comprehensive view of operations, highlight essential resources, and deliver updates.

Data visualizations, mapping, third-party data, and custom dashboard analytics can increase awareness and ensure a targeted response. This applies to one person, or many people, tasked with handling operations.

Centralize Systems for a Rapid Response

For the fastest response, it is imperative to reduce unnecessary decision- making and unneeded tasks. Organizations respond with speed when there is an emergency plan in place, regular employee training through education and drills, and an effective emergency response management system.

A centralized crisis and emergency management system has the power to accelerate and simplify processes. These systems do this by eliminating the need for multiple software applications and manual work.

Further, they quicken emergency response by automating reporting tasks and communicating in real-time with first responders for additional support. All key stakeholders during an active shooting — be they law enforcement, medical teams or leadership — kept up to speed of critical events as they develop. When an emergency manager has a clear picture and a fast response to an active shooter, they are able to provide law enforcement with vital details that save lives.

Review Data for a Resilient Recovery

Recovering from an active shooting event is one of the most challenging things an organization can go through. Many staff will be trying to cope. Leadership must notify loved ones in the case of injury and casualties. There will be pressure from the media and authorities to get an accurate account of what happened.

To effectively plan for the future, the DHS recommends emergency managers and organizations analyze the incident in-depth and create a report that assesses how critical events transpired. The report recommends looking at the successes and failures for improvements. It also suggests that leadership re-examine its Emergency Action Plan and look at data to make improvement recommendations. Digitizing this effort can alleviate some of the stress and work tied to this "after-action" report. Emergency response software breaks down when authorities were contacted, details how updates were delivered, notes losses and identifies impacted facilities.

The lamentable truth today is that violence threatens every organization. In the case of active shooters, this means dealing with attackers that are “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill” colleagues, faculty, or students you know and care about. Unlike some natural disasters, these active shootings escalate rapidly and are hard for emergency managers to predict. What’s more, organizations have a greater responsibility to prepare employees since much of an attack happens before police arrive. By having an effective real-time action plan in place, emergency managers can focus on mitigation, response, and recovery during an active shooter incident. Put simply, this level of preparation for an MCI event is no longer a choice but a must.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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