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Active Shooter vs. Workplace Violence

The Difference Between an Active Shooter and Workplace Violence

I was watching a video on the most recent workplace shooting in Indianapolis and a question that is often asked of Security consultants came up. “What the difference is between an active shooter and workplace violence?”

I’m also asked this question quite often during Active Shooter Survival training courses, and my usual response is that, when it occurs in a business context, an Active Shooter is the worst kind of workplace violence.

During the video I referenced earlier, they distinguish an active shooter as one who is trying to kill as many people as possible with a firearm. Whereas, they believe an incident of workplace violence involves only one or two people.

An Active Shooter Is the Worst Kind of Workplace Violenceworkplace violence

While I have to admit the line between the two is pretty blurry, I disagree with their definition of an active shooter on a couple of points:

First, stating that an active shooter is trying to kill as many people as possible is over simplifying the issue. We’ve done numerous case studies for course development on active shooter incidents, and our studies show that many gunmen are not trying to kill as many people as possible. If fact, several shooters have bypassed some people that they could have killed easily and then seemed to be on a clear mission to get others.

Second, It doesn’t make a difference whether the shooter was trying to kill one person, several, or everyone in the building. As soon as someone walks into a business and starts shooting, they’re an active shooter and its an act of workplace violence.

Active Shooter or Workplace Violence Doesn’t Matter

Whether a shooter is “active” for 5 seconds or 5 hours doesn’t matter. Neither does how may people he intends to kill. All incidents should be responded to in the same way.

No one knows how many people the shooter intends to kill. In fact, the shooter may not even know himself. He may start with the intent of killing only his boss, but then decide that act was so satisfying that he should work his way through the office; killing everyone that has ever upset his fragile self-image. Conversely, he may start with the intent of killing everyone on a list, kill the first person, and then become so overwhelmed with guilt that he takes his own life.

Any active shooter policy should be: If you’re in the office and you hear gunfire, run, hide, or fight. That is not the time to be concerned with whether or not the shooter is going to stop after one person, thus rendering the incident workplace violence and not an active shooter.

If you follow the run, hide, fight model (originated by DHS and taught by PRMG), hopefully you can discuss the nuances of defining the active shooter vs. workplace violence over dinner with your friends and family.


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