Active Shooter Safety and Prevention: What Fire Safety Can Teach Us
Only 150 years ago, fires were a major public safety threat. They could burn down houses or buildings in a flash, spread through neighborhoods and knock out major cities. Their horrendous outcomes were hundreds and thousands of casualties. Today, fires are still considered a threat but they are no longer a certain catastrophe. Over the years, we’ve added preventative measures that manage and limit the damage. The same can be done for active shooter situations. Here’s how.
Fire Safety: A Short History
The first electric fire alarm was invented 130 years ago by Thomas Edison’s associate, Francis Robbins Upton. Initially, many different types were invented, until one became the standard. Fire drills and safety codes and standards started being enforced in schools after a deadly school fire in Illinois in 1958. Ever since then, fire alarms, together with the numerous drills of - see, smell, hit alarm, get out - have become a standard practice. Building materials have been changed to non-combustible, sprinkler systems and smoke detectors have been added by law, and clothing and curtains are made of flame-retardant fabrics.
The result: the number of fires in buildings dropped by 54% between 1980 to 2013, saving hundreds of thousands of lives over the years.
Fire Safety vs. Active Shooter Safety
Response to violent shooter crimes, on the other hand, is still not standardized to the same extent, despite the alarming rates of dangerous incidents. To see which measures we can put in place to help prevent the catastrophic outcomes, let’s start by understanding the similarities and differences between fire emergencies and gunner emergencies.
As can be seen from the comparison table above, an active shooter situation is much more complicated and unstable compared to fires. It’s not a matter of calling the police and walking out the door. Rather, being in an active shooter situation requires being constantly alert until the shooter(s) is neutralized. An action that might have made sense two minutes ago no longer does, and people in different locations need to react in different ways.
5 Measures for Active Shooter Prevention
Based on what we know about fire safety and how it compares to active shooter safety, here are five measures that can be standardized in crisis management planning to help save lives today.
1. Add an Active Shooter Alarm or Panic Button
Similar to fire alarms, an active shooter alarm alerts everyone on-premises of the danger and the need to find a safe haven. Emergency panic buttons should be installed in multiple places, and within reach. The panic buttons need to provide instant and ongoing alerts to everyone in the building, to law enforcement and to everyone in the neighborhood (see section 4) via a mass notification system.
In the case of fires, the first five minutes of the fire department’s reaction will determine the next five hours. In the case of an active shooter, the first fifty seconds will determine the lifetime of the community. Therefore, it’s crucial that police and civilians are alerted as soon as possible, to enable the quickest reaction possible and to prevent response delay due to cut off communication. A smart emergency button does just that.
2. Make Active Shooter Drills Mandatory for Situational Awareness
Regulations in many states specify monthly fire drills and tornado drills. Many of them have also instated active shooter drills. However, some places, even nurseries, do not have any standards in place.
One of the main purposes of drills is to gain muscle memory. In a frightening situation, people need to get to a safe place with the least friction. If they are practiced and prepared, their mind and bodies will take them to the right place without requiring too much thinking. This is especially true for an active shooter situation, which is daunting and hard to grasp.
Therefore, it’s important to constantly practice how to get to a safe place, and to learn about the various escape routes and secure spots. As mentioned above, an active shooter situation is constantly changing so it is important to understand and practice the different options.
3. Get Eyes and Ears in the Building for Situational Awareness
Today, law enforcement forces approach active shooter situations in the dark. Often, only simple radios or PA systems are used for communication. Police do not know who is where, who is safe, who is hurt, where the perpetrator is, etc.
Connections should be set up in advance between law enforcement and inside institutions to enable two-way communications. In addition, video cameras should be installed to enable visibility into the institutions, so police can see where the perpetrator is and where he is going. This will save lives by providing opportunities to evict people safely as well as a clear path to neutralize the shooter.
4. Remember the Network Effect
Violent crimes spread, but not like fires. The shooter might move to different locations, and sometimes additional shooters might appear as well, especially if the motive of the shooting is ideological/political.
Therefore, it’s not enough to get people in the original shooting zone to safety. All civilians in the area need to take cover, getting to safe rooms indoors and closing all windows and doors. Unlike fire alarms, the active shooter alarms should alert everyone in the surrounding area, be it the neighborhood, the compound, or the campus. This can be done through speakers, phone apps, text messages, and additional methods.
5. Develop Various Escape Routes
The recurring theme of active shooter incidents is the uncertainty and the unknown. Therefore, it’s important to prepare for a myriad of possibilities. Plan and practice a number of escape routes from the building. In real-time, some might be blocked by the shooter or his accomplices, others might be booby-trapped or blocked. The shortest way out is not always the safest.
Gabriel is a smart emergency response alarm and app for saving lives during active shooter incidents. In the case of an active shooter, civilians can press the Gabriel physical emergency button or signal via the Gabriel app. Gabriel alerts everyone in the network as well as law enforcement agencies. By leveraging the network effect, the entire community gets warned, providing them with time to get to safety. Gabriel also provides law enforcement agencies with eyes and ears into the building so they can act according to what is actually going on in the building. Active shooter alerts are the public safety threat of today. Contact us to protect your community.