Preparing for the threat of an active-shooter event in your community
2017 was a shocking and terrifying year that brought some of the most severe and devastating natural disasters in modern American history. It also saw the deadliest mass shooting that has ever occurred in the United States when a gunman opened fire on concert goers in Las Vegas from his position inside a nearby hotel. Sadly, the Las Vegas shooting was only one of 317 active-shooter events that took place that year. According to Gun Violence, in 2018 there were a total of 340 mass shootings and, so far this year, there have been more than 135.
The increasing frequency of active-shooter events and the variety of open, public locations where shooting events have occurred is raising awareness of the threat that communities face from violent individuals aiming to endanger the lives of large groups that have gathered in outdoor locations. While many of the latest, devastating mass-shooter events have occurred at schools and places of worship or business, local park and rec departments are now asking themselves how they would react if a mass-shooting event were to occur in a public park or during a local event where hundreds or thousands of citizens have gathered.
No matter the location of your community, every single city, county, village and township across the nation needs to have a plan in place in the event of a local emergency or act of terrorism. While no municipality can fully protect its citizens from dangerous situations, all are empowered to work with local law enforcement agencies and communicate with citizens in the event of local terrorism. Such planning reduces the risk of citizen exposure to life-threatening situations and enables an expedited and efficient response.
The Importance of a Proactive Plan
An emergency response plan may not seem like the responsibility of a park and recreation department, but in an era where an active shooter could threaten citizen lives in any open public setting, park and recreation departments should work on a proactive response plan with their public safety officers. Safety experts consider all public spaces, including churches, shopping malls and chain restaurants where mass casualties have occurred, to be “soft targets,” which means they pose a high risk of mass casualties should an active shooter event occur. Collaborate with safety experts to not only build an emergency response plan, but also to provide adequate safety and response training to all members of your department. The plan and any correlated training should outline the steps needed to:
- Contact emergency response teams and provide actionable details to expedite assistance
- Evacuate the scene and quarantine the shooter to minimize citizen-risk exposure
- Issue mass communications to all citizens in the vicinity or traveling toward it
- Incorporate the following steps into your emergency response planning initiatives:
Outline Active Shooter Scenarios
Work with your public safety office and police or sheriff’s department to assess all the public spaces under your department’s purview that may be considered a soft target. This process should include your public parks and large community facility venues. Build safety evacuation plans for each venue and ensure that there is not only a way for victims to quickly escape from a shooter, but also multiple ways for emergency personnel to reach the scene. For example, if a public park only has one main pedestrian and vehicle entrance road, scope out other possible private access routes emergency personnel can use to bring police, fire and medical vehicles to the scene.
Establish and Communicate Evacuation Procedures
In the event of a disaster that requires the evacuation of event attendees or facility users, your park and recreation department will need established mass-evacuation procedures that are intuitive or easily facilitated during a crisis. Include emergency evacuation maps on your website, along with your facility and parks descriptions, so citizens can familiarize themselves with all major and alternate evacuation routes that lead out of public areas.
Practice Emergency Notifications with Your Public Safety Office
Once your team has effectively established emergency response protocols, you will need an effective mass-communication system to notify citizens when a disaster has occurred or is imminent. If your public safety office is already utilizing a mass-notification system, work with it to create templated emergency evacuation messages, and test those messages at least twice per year. Remember, if an active-shooter event does occur in one of your facilities or parks, you will need to notify the individuals physically located in or near the area, as well as those who live or work nearby and may be heading toward the scene.
Encourage Emergency Notification Sign-ups
Work with your public safety office to encourage citizens to sign up for your emergency notification system. Together, you can expand the reach of sign-up reminder education and increase the number of citizen subscribers. Include a sign-up link in all facility registration materials and educate citizens, especially parents, about the importance of receiving emergency notifications if an emergency unfolds in your public areas or during a community event.
Prepare to Provide Details to Emergency Responders
Make sure all coaches, facility supervisors and public park staff know who to contact in the event of an active-shooter event. Personnel should first ensure they are in a safe location and should then call 911 and provide as much detail as possible, including:
- The location and number of shooters
- A detailed description of the shooter(s)
- Their current location
- A description of the events that are occurring
- The number and types of weapons used
- The number of people in the impacted area
- Any actions taken
By sharing this information with all employees during required safety training seminars, you maximize the opportunity for a life-saving phone call to quickly reach emergency responders.
Hold Regular Active Shooter Drills
Coordinate an active shooter drill with your local law enforcement to allow staff to practice the safety precautions and responses outlined in your emergency response plan. Like a fire drill, an unexpected active-shooter drill will test employees’ recollection of the safety skills they learned and will be an impactful way to recall safety measures in the event of an actual emergency. Involving citizens so they can also become familiar with the steps needed to take cover and safely evacuate in a dangerous situation.
No community can predict a mass-casualty event, but every community should be prepared for one. By developing an emergency communication plan you hope never to use, you can confidently focus on delivering engaging, educational and valuable public events, activities, leagues and classes to citizens, so they can safely take part in your community offerings.
For more information and expert guidance on how to protect your community from an active shooter, visit the resources below:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter: How to Respond
Ready.gov Active Shooter Guidance
FEMA Active Shooter Training