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Active Shooter Situations: How CEOs Can Plan And Prepare for the Worst

November 15, 2017

By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith

Active Shooter Situations Are a Realistic Risk For Which CEOs Should Prepare

Critical Takeaways

  • Crisis simulations help your organization prepare for every scenario, even the ones that are painful to think about
  • In an active shooter situation, law enforcement runs the show. Training now helps you maximize what little control you have in a situation.
  • Employee and core stakeholder communications should be your top priority in an active shooter situation

It’s become upsettingly commonplace to see news of a mass shooting in America. While it’s a difficult subject, CEOs must consider what this disturbing trend means for their businesses. According to the FBI, the largest proportion of active shooter incidents (44%) occurs in areas of commerce, including businesses both open and closed to the public. In this day and age, businesses are at an unprecedented level of danger, liability and reputational damage when it comes to an active shooter.

At Kith, we’re big believers in preparation and training for risks that face your organization. Training and planning have the largest impact on protecting your reputation when it’s tested with a crisis.


A circle split into three different sections. The largest section says training and the remaining sections say planning and response.

It stands to reason that CEOs would put preparing for or protecting their organizations against an active shooter a top priority, right? Unfortunately that’s not the case. According to Everbridge, 69% of businesses view an active shooter incident as a potential top threat, but 79% of the organizations admitted to not being fully prepared for one. Other key data from the study:

  • Communicating with and confirming the safety of those in an impacted building were seen as the biggest challenges during an active shooter situation by 71 percent of organizations. Despite that, 39 percent still said they didn’t have a communications plan in place.
  • A majority of respondents (61 percent) do not run any active shooter preparedness drills
  • Only 7 percent of respondents described themselves as “very much prepared” for an active shooter

While an active shooter situation is every company’s worst nightmare, ignoring the risk and just hoping it never happens is a dangerous approach. CEOs must be proactive in their preparations and training for the dynamic and even frightening risks facing organizations today.

Crisis simulations are a unique approach to aiding businesses with their response by performing fast-paced, hands-on exercises that mimic an active shooter scenario. More than a third (39 percent) of the organizations surveyed by Everbridge said they don’t have a communications plan in place. Crisis simulations prepare employees and implement a protocol, but they also create a framework and foundation on which to build out your crisis communication plans.

When we conduct active shooter crisis simulations, once of the first things participants realize is that law enforcement takes over. The tool kit left to CEOs is extremely limited– law enforcement controls what CEOs can or cannot say and what they can and cannot do. That’s why it’s critical that organizations train for what they can do: focus on internal and stakeholder communications.

Beyond practicing internal and stakeholder communications, one of the assets of implementing a crisis simulation framework is learning the trajectory of a crisis. Crisis simulations allow executives to test their strategic thinking, response times, and resources in a realistic and interactive setting. Training executives on pattern recognition is a key component in ensuring a crisis does not become debilitating for a business. In the case of the Las Vegas shooting that occurred on October 1st, the eyes are now on Mandalay Bay as investigators and victims question the strength of security and hotel employee awareness to recognize the shooter’s actions. A crisis simulator prepares companies for gaps that may be examined, allowing businesses to have the foresight to regulate those sensitive areas prior to a crisis.

In addition to testing the preparedness of a business through crisis simulations, executives need to actively engage with community stakeholders. Law enforcement will be the first call that an employee makes in an active shooter crisis. CEOs and their communications team should have an established relationship with local police and sheriff departments. Law enforcement will be the primary communicator with the media and the first purveyor to control your message. As police gather information and witness accounts, there is an increased chance for misinformation and mistakes fueled by a hectic environment and raw emotion. If a designated team is in place to build and maintain a rapport with law enforcement, businesses will be in a more favorable position to accurately convey the crisis and response.


Image showing a hand drawing stick figures that say chain of command.


A controlled response can only be achieved if businesses have a clear understanding of the chain of command within the company. While an entire organization should be privy to the immediate response during a crisis, communications executives and other leadership positions should have key roles and responsibilities in place after an active shooting has occurred. One of the primary complaints following a shooting is the lack of communication to families following the incident. Law enforcement officials are limited in the communications they can provide to families, but businesses can elect an employee to run point on those calls.

Police officers are frequently trained with crisis scenarios. Actors are hired to simulate domestic violence emergencies, suicide attempts, and more. Based on an officer’s response, the actor playing a domestic assailant may decide to pull the imaginary trigger or surrender. What fuels the difference in those reactions? Empathy. Business leaders cannot be expected to talk down an active shooter, but the importance of empathy still plays a crucial role in the aftermath. An organized plan is essential in response to a crisis, but it does not mean that leadership or employees should be expected to have a robotic reaction after a tragedy. Humanity will be the saving grace for any post-crisis plan and cannot be replicated or replaced by any tangible strategy.

The likelihood of active shooters attacking a business and its employees is a difficult subject to discuss. Preparation for such atrocities and the reality of its impact on families is deeply unfathomable. And while such horrific events are not always predictable, they can be prepared for.


Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.