How does a small business prepare for an attack?

People pay their respects at a makeshift memorial for the 11 people killed while worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

NEW YORK — News of another mass shooting, including the recent attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, makes many people wonder what they would do if confronted with an active shooter or other assailant. And small business owners may wonder how they can prepare their companies to deal with a possible attack.

Here are some questions and answers:

What resources are available to help small business owners prepare their staffers to deal with potential violence?

There are websites and videos online that describe what employees should do if there is an active shooter. Government agencies have web pages with instructions and videos, among them the Department of Homeland Security (, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ( Another site is , also operated by Homeland Security.

But sending employees an email with a list of online resources may not help prepare people, says Sean Ahrens, a security consultant with AEI Affiliated Engineers. In-person training sessions that include role-playing and tours of a company’s facilities to point out exit routes and potential hiding places are more likely to have a lasting impact, he says.


"When you put someone into that role-playing, the adrenaline gets going," Ahrens says.

Owners may want to consider bringing in security consultants to train staffers. And many local law enforcement agencies are willing to analyze small businesses and help owners and employees understand where and how they can escape or hide. For example: If they hide inside a room with furniture, they should block the door with pieces of furniture piled on top of one another, creating as big a barricade as possible.

What’s involved in preparing to deal with an active shooter?

There is no way to prepare for the exact circumstances of an attack because each situation is unique and unpredictable. But a company can create a plan that helps people know generally what to do, says Rob Shuster, a vice president at the security consultancy AFIMAC Global.

For example, everyone should know how to report that there’s an assailant on the premises, and they need to know how the company will communicate with everyone on the premises. They should know that they need to run from the building if possible, where all the exits are and where they should assemble. They need to know all the possible hiding places, and how to secure the doors of rooms and closets. They need to know quirks in the building that can save their lives — like a crawl space that a shooter or other assailant doesn’t know about.

A plan can also help people know what common mistakes to avoid, Shuster says. For example, escaping employees may want to run up to a law enforcement officer, a dangerous idea because officers may not know whether the people approaching them are innocent or assailants, he says. And, their hands should be empty, so no one mistakenly believes they’re carrying a weapon.

Are there potential incidents besides a random active shooter that companies should prepare for?

Security experts also train owners and workers about what to do in the case of disgruntled staffer or a domestic dispute — two situations that are more likely to happen at a workplace. They also instruct companies about how to deal with a robbery or other criminal act.


In the cases of a vengeful staffer or a domestic dispute, employees would take some of the same steps, starting with running and hiding, as with a random shooter. In the case of a robbery, the safest approach is to give criminals what they’re looking for, says Brent O’Bryan, a vice president at Allied Universal, a company that provides security and other services. While there have been videos on TV and online of some store employees tackling robbers, that is not recommended, and could be deadly, he says.

It’s not possible to know in advance that a current or former staffer will come into a workplace and begin attacking employees and managers. But owners can lessen the possibility of an attack by addressing problems as they come up, O’Bryan says. An owner should consider asking human resources professionals for advice in dealing with angry or troubled staffers.

"A business owner needs to make sure he or she as leaders are willing to step in and stop issues — whether it’s an employee acting up for a problem between employees — and snuff it out so it cannot evolve into something worse," O’Bryan says.

Violence related to a domestic dispute is equally hard to predict. But owners also need to encourage staffers to speak up if they are having domestic issues or have obtained an order of protection against a spouse, partner or boyfriend or girlfriend, O’Bryan says.

Co-workers also need to feel free to approach the boss if there seems to be a problem, such as a troubled or angry staffer, or an employee suffering through a difficult and possibly threatening domestic situation.

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