Active Assailant Prevention And Response

Facility managers should evaluate their approach to preventing workplace violence on a yearly basis.

By Dave Hunt, CPP, FBCI
From the August 2023 Issue


Identifying the “correct” level of physical security has challenged facility managers for millennia. One important lesson is that as physical security measures are hardened, the nature of the threat and their capabilities will be modified. We see tactics constantly evolving and physical security measures must be modified to address the current threats.

Recent events have been challenging for facility managers, beyond dealing with the pandemic. Violent protests and riots affected many cities across the nation, changing the nature of the threat facilities face. Addressing these challenges requires a diligent approach to identify and implement security measures.

Active Assailant, workplace violence prevention and response
(Credit: Adobe Stock / BPawesome)


Facility managers also have a major role in preventing and preparing for active assailant response. In addition to making sure emergency plans include active assailant protocols, facility managers should conduct an annual review of their sites with their team incorporating an active assailant focus. Use a “concentric ring” model, with the goal of protecting all of the employees, visitors, and contractors. While all of this guidance will not fit all of your sites, these concepts can be applied to protect your most valuable human assets.

Protecting The Perimeter

Starting at the perimeter, examine fencing to assure it is in good repair. Ideally fencing or walls should be tall enough to provide deterrence, or to funnel persons to controlled areas of access. Use the “broken window” analogy to assure that all of your facility grounds, fencing, signage and lighting are well maintained. It projects an image that your facility is well managed, and security is taken seriously. Hedges or berms can also be used to direct persons to entry areas following CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) policies. Any tall shrubs or wall should not be near the buildings to prevent anyone hiding themselves from view. Local law enforcement also has officers trained in CPTED principles to assist if requested. They can provide an independent perspective and share what measures other facilities in the area are implementing to manage security.

Ideally, security cameras should be able to monitor the entire perimeter, parking areas, and all access points. While cameras may not be a deterrent to an assailant who is intent on harm, they are a deterrent to intruders. Exterior lighting should meet national standards and allow camera systems to monitor the facility at night.

Active Assailant, workplace violence prevention and response
(Credit: Adobe Stock / ChaoticDesignStudio)

Vehicle barriers should be in place to protect the employee access points. These can be decorative planters, to provide a welcoming tone. Walkways and signage should funnel persons to monitored entry points. During shift change, strive to have staff at each employee entrance to supervise entry.

In addition, signage should indicate restricted areas and indicate the presence of security measures. Do not post “gun free zone” signage. Employees will be familiar with your weapons policies.

Visitors should be directed to a monitored entry point and required to show identification and sign into a log. Route visitors through a security station. The presence of a magnetometer will deter all but the most determined assailant. Escorting visitors should be a standard practice, as well as visible badging for all persons on site. Because you are responsible for all persons in the facility, make sure your guard or receptionist signs people out when they leave. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing what visitors are still in the building should an incident occur, complicating accountability measures.

Securing Entry Points

Entry security staff should have the ability to immediately lock the entry doors. Turnstiles and other anti-tailgating options should be employed. For employees, they should have key card, key fob, or biometric access requirements.

The ability for rapid escalation of response procedures and the ability to immediately notify all personnel on site are a key to mitigate any active assailant incident.

The reception desk should have two panic alarms, one locally to the security office for lower-level concerns, and one to notify law enforcement. Other panic alarms should be placed in strategic areas, often C-suite reception, HR, and guard stations. These need to be tested regularly. Keep a log of all your security system tests to document your findings.

Now, surveillance cameras need to be monitored, either by security or front desk staff.  Ideally security patrols and video analytics alerting to suspicious behavior should be employed. Maintain video footage for a minimum of 30 days. The system should be accessible online, and available to support law enforcement response.

Trained guards, or a visible security presence should be in place. Make sure the visitor entry is manned during all business hours. The ability for rapid escalation of response procedures and the ability to immediately notify all personnel on site are a key to mitigate any active assailant incident. If employees know of the danger, they can use their training to implement personal protective measures.

Cement Communication Strategies

Notification software tools can be configured for geo-notification and tied in with timecard programs to know who is on site. Make sure these systems can be activated remotely, not just by the front desk staff. Build pre-scripted messages for active assailant and other emergencies. Test these systems regularly to assure staff are familiar with the system capabilities. If intercom or PA systems are available, have policies for their use in emergencies. Effective use of notification systems requires planning, training, implementing and testing. Notification tools are an important element in managing any emergency incident.

Team Up With Law Enforcement

(Credit: Adobe Stock / Aldeca Productions)

Facility managers should partner with local law enforcement to access relevant threat information from state and federal intelligence fusion centers that can be shared with private partners. Join the FBI InfraGard program to access law enforcement sensitive reports, and partner with other regional companies and special interest groups in similar industries. Remember: the threat is constantly changing, so conduct these sessions on a regular basis, and update protection measures based on events in your region and in the nation.

Furthermore, meet onsite annually with local law enforcement and emergency responders so they are familiar with your facility. Implement measures to give them immediate access to all of the facility, as well as facility maps, login to the camera system, and a radio to coordinate with your security staff. Any other items they request should be in a go-kit, which is secured but available for rapid deployment. Inform staff that they are permitted to provide their access cards to emergency responders during an active assailant incident.

Preparing Staff

Including workplace violence and insider threat recognition in corporate training sessions will allow all employees to be aware of the behaviors that would indicate an employee may be a potential threat. Many companies are moving to computer-based training sessions managed on learning management platforms.

It is far more likely that a disgruntled employee would compromise corporate assets than bring a gun to work and kill other employees.

There is no valid profile of an employee posing workplace violence or insider threat. However, these employees will likely exhibit behaviors that may indicate their intentions. It is far more likely that a disgruntled employee would compromise corporate assets than bring a gun to work and kill other employees. They may feel justified in committing these acts, and over time, will “leak” their true feelings about the company and share their “righteous” motivations. Organizations should also have an anonymous reporting system in place to allow employees to share their concerns without fear of blowback. Usually, these are monitored by security staff 24/7 in case a report indicates an imminent threat.

Aside from preparing staff for the potential of insider threats, it’s important to ensure they can get to a safe space if an active assailant incident occurs. Here are some points to drive home:

Make sure all exits are clearly marked and accessible. Because most staff only use one doorway for entry and exit, during fire drills, block the main exits and direct staff to use alternate exits. Warn them this will be part of the drill; some staff may be concerned. Have exit maps located in each hallway area, directing them to two nearest exits and fire extinguishers.

Pre-identify all areas of refuge for employees. With many facilities using all glass walls and doors to address sexual harassment issues, it becomes harder to designate areas for employees to hide. Consider storage areas, copy rooms, break rooms, and restrooms as options. Put simple door chocks on the interior of these doors, using double-sided tape, to allow staff to quickly block entry. You may choose to add doors to some of these areas, to accommodate all staff in that area. If possible, have locking mechanisms for each door to slow or deny entry. Provide extra fire extinguishers in main refuge areas and instruct employees on using them to defend against an active assailant entering their space.

Develop Stop the Bleed kits for emergency use. These kits will include tourniquets, quick clot, occlusive dressings, and trauma dressings. Include optional training for employees on how to use the equipment; some organizations are making training part of their emergency warden program. Put seals on these kits to assure they are still complete. There should be kits on every floor and in larger areas of refuge.

Identify areas where employees should go when they exit. These sites should be out of sight from the building. If possible, plan for a recovery site, which may be a nearby facility, school, church, community center or another commercial site. If appropriate, put a memorandum of agreement in place to provide space for their employees during an evacuation in severe weather, to reciprocate.

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Engage in the threat management process. As part of the threat assessment team, your knowledge of the facility, system, and options for implementing intervention measures are vital to resolving threat incidents. Make sure security staff know how to handle reports of concerning behavior, reporting requirements, and incident escalation. Get their input into the assessment process—they may have excellent suggestions.

Updating Existing Plans

Conducting a comprehensive assessment on an annual basis will help protect your human resources and bolster your security posture. Build these elements into your security reviews and train your onsite staff to conduct weekly or monthly audits. These assessments are valuable for designing upgrades to your systems over time. Logged reports of system outages can justify expenditures for systems that aren’t operating reliably.  

Facility managers shoulder a significant responsibility for the safety of their facilities and more importantly, their human resources. Be proactive in protecting your facility and your people. Establish your team to evaluate risk, identify threats, and build capabilities to quickly respond. Implementing this review process will significantly improve the active assailant prevention and preparedness levels for your sites.

Dave Hunt, Homeland Security ConsultingHunt, CPP, FBCI is the President of Homeland Security Consulting, and has a 36-year background in law enforcement, terrorism response, fire/arson/explosives investigation, hazardous materials response, and emergency medical response. He has been a presenter at our Facility Executive Live conference and delivered our active shooter preparedness webinar. In addition to developing many of the nation’s terrorism response training courses, he is a subject matter expert on workplace violence and active assailant preparedness. 

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