Mass shootings in the United States were ubiquitous occurrences in 2019. There were more mass shootings across the country in 2019 than there were days in the year. A total of 417 mass shootings occurred in the United States during the course of 2019. A considerable percentage of these shootings took place in the workplace, shooters having different motivations for their horrific rampages at businesses. 

The deadliest mass shooting of 2019 took place in a business. On August 3, a shooter opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. 22 innocent lives were taken in the shooting with 24 other individuals wounded. The El Paso Walmart shooting is the seventh deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Most Commonplace Workplace Mass Shooting Scenarios

The shooting just described at the El Paso Walmart falls into the broad category of crimes perpetrated by third parties at a place of business. There is something uniquely horrendous about mass shootings perpetrated in businesses like retail stores. In addition to these crimes being committed by third parties like the El Paso shooter with no specific connection to the business, there are other categories into which mass casualty events in the workplace fall. The most common underlying workplace mass shooting scenarios include:

  • Acts perpetrated by disgruntled coworkers
  • Acts perpetrated by disgruntled former coworkers
  • Dissatisfied customers or clients
  • Robberies and other crimes perpetrated by third parties
  • Incidents of domestic violence that spill into the workplace

An example of a former employee committing a mass shooting in 2019 involves a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In this case, a former city employee entered the municipal building and opened fire. The man killed a dozen people and wounded four others. 

Comprehensive Mass Casualty (or Active Shooter) Preparedness Plan for a Business

Businesses of all types must develop a comprehensive mass casualty or active shooter preparedness plan. Reference is made to an active shooter because a person with a firearm is usually the cause of a mass casualty event at a business in the United States. 

When it comes to developing a mass casualty preparedness plan for a business, the inclusion of five essential elements make such a plan comprehensive. These elements are:

  • Prevention
  • Protection
  • Mitigation
  • Response 
  • Recovery 

Prevention

While mass shootings involving perpetrators who oftentimes fairly can be called domestic terrorists can cause horrific consequences in the workplace, more often than not a mass casualty incident in a place of business is somehow associated with a worker or former employee. With this in mind, there are some pre-attack behaviors that experts in the realm of mass casualty events maintain are instructive and warning signs about what might lie ahead. These include:

  • History of aggression towards authority figures
  • Recent acquisition of multiple firearms
  • Interest in explosives
  • Fascination with past shootings or other types of mass attacks
  • Traumatic life events such as a death, divorce, or loss of employment
  • Being the victim of bullying in the workplace 

Protection

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, has developed emergency preparedness protocols for businesses when it comes to mass casualty incidents of different types, including those associated with violence in the workplace. The protection process includes the preparation of a preparedness plan that needs to address the following considerations, according to OSHA:

  • Conditions under which an evacuation would be necessary
  • Conditions under which a decision to shelter in place would be advisable
  • Establish a clear, well-defined chain of command
  • Specific designation of the person in the workplace authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown
  • Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
  • Specific evacuation procedures for workers in buildings (including high-rise buildings)
  • Specific evacuation procedures on construction sites or non-fixed facilities
  • Procedures for assisting visitors and workers to evacuate
  • Designation of which, if any, workers will remain after the evacuation alarm to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating
  • A means of accounting for workers after an evacuation
  • Special equipment for workers, such as appropriate respiratory protection
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Procedures that address special needs workers, such as those that may have physical limitations
  • Any special actions for evacuation during an active shooter or other dangerous intruder situation

Mitigation

The protection component of a mass casualty preparedness plan is designed to ensure resources are available to protect workers and others in the event of an incident like a mass shooting. The mitigation component addresses specific strategies designed to lessen the impact of an actual mass casualty incident at a workplace. In other words, the mitigation element of a plan is designed to provide tactics on how to best use available resources to reduce or eliminate loss of life and property damage when some sort of violent incident occurs in a workplace that has the potential to become a mass casualty event. 

Experts in the field of threat and mass casualty mitigation sum up the objective of the mitigation process: “Ultimately, the goal of mitigation is to err on the side of caution and utilize the resources at your disposal. Your goal during this stage should be to shield your people from danger and limit the damage of an active shooter attack.”

Response 

The response component of an action plan is designed to outline how a business specifically should respond to an incident of workplace violence, including some type of mass casualty event. There are a number of specific issues that need to be addressed in the response component of a comprehensive action plan:

  • Stabilize the incident
  • Establish a safe environment
  • Communicate with workers and others
  • Transition into recovery mode 

Recovery 

After the incidence of workplace violence or of a mass casualty event at a business, the recovery process needs to commence forthwith. There are four primary elements associated with a general recovery plan following a mass casualty event at a workplace:

  • Provision of services to workers and others (including counseling)
  • Physical support (including treatment for injuries sustained during an incident)
  • Financial support (including funds available for workers who are unable to immediately return to the workplace in the aftermath of a mass casualty event)
  • Emotional and psychological support on an ongoing basis