Enhancing Workplace Safety: The Importance of Utilizing Outside Experienced Experts and The WAVR-21 Assessment

Enhancing Workplace Safety: The Importance of Utilizing Outside Experienced Experts and The WAVR-21 Assessment

Workplace violence is a serious and increasingly prevalent issue, requiring meticulous and impartial assessment for effective mitigation and prevention. It is vital that organizations leverage the expertise of external specialists in workplace violence assessment to navigate this complex and sensitive landscape. These professionals bring a unique blend of neutrality, proficiency, and experience that ensures a comprehensive and accurate evaluation of workplace violence risks.

External experts, unburdened by ties to the company or its employees, offer an unbiased evaluation of workplace violence risks, navigating the situation without being influenced by internal politics or personal relationships. Their impartiality is vital for an unfiltered assessment, identifying potentially hidden or understated risks, thus ensuring an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the situation.

Their specialized knowledge and experience further bolster the effectiveness of their assessments. Equipped with the latest research, industry best practices, and legal requirements associated with workplace violence, these experts can identify early warning signs and devise strategies to counter potential threats. Their in-depth understanding and practical expertise make them invaluable assets in providing sound advice that can significantly mitigate workplace violence risks.

One of the key tools these experts leverage is the Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk (WAVR-21), an empirically based structured professional judgement instrument (SPJ) designed to evaluate the risk of violence within a workplace environment. Developed by leading experts in threat assessment, the WAVR-21 is a comprehensive approach to workplace violence, incorporating 21 dynamic and static factors relevant to this issue.

The WAVR-21’s methodical approach ensures a balanced and accurate evaluation by encouraging the consideration of multiple information sources. It aids in identifying the context and nature of the threat, as well as the personality and situational factors influencing an individual’s behaviors. Crucially, the tool guides the development of effective management and intervention strategies.

The importance of having an outside expert who is properly trained in use of the WAVR-21 instrument cannot be overstated. These professionals have undergone specific training to conduct assessments accurately and effectively. They possess a deep understanding of different risk factors, ensuring an accurate and nuanced assessment. Additionally, they can incorporate the tool into a broader assessment strategy, considering other relevant factors such as organizational culture, policy, and procedures.

WAVR-21 qualified professionals are trained to interpret the results of the assessment in a meaningful way, considering the specific context and dynamics of the workplace. They can provide detailed recommendations for risk reduction measures, intervention strategies, and ongoing management practices, thus ensuring a thorough, informed assessment tailored to the unique circumstances of each workplace.

Another crucial benefit of engaging an outside expert is their ability to maintain confidentiality and trust, often creating a secure environment for employees to express their experiences and concerns. Given the complexities of legal and compliance issues associated with workplace violence, outside experts adept at navigating these regulations and standards can ensure a comprehensive, legally sound assessment, helping organizations avoid potential liabilities.

Upon completion of the assessment, the outside expert can provide expert guidance in developing preventive measures and response protocols. Their recommendations, grounded in industry best practices and tailored to the organization’s specific needs and challenges, strategically equip the organization to prepare for and mitigate potential threats effectively.

In conclusion, engaging a WAVR-21 certified outside expert for workplace violence assessment isn’t just a prudent decision—it’s a vital strategic move that ensures the long-term safety and success of an organization. By combining their expertise with the structured approach of the WAVR-21, these experts ensure a comprehensive evaluation of potential risks and a robust strategy to mitigate workplace violence. The result is a safer, more secure work environment that promotes productivity and employee well-being.

Finding an expert

Finding an expert, specifically a WAVR-21 qualified professional for workplace violence assessment, involves a few steps:

    1. Professional Associations and Organizations: Professional associations related to workplace violence prevention and threat assessment are excellent resources. They also provide resources and information that can be helpful in your search.
    1. Referrals: Talk to peers in your industry or a trusted legal advisor who may have used such services before. They can provide a firsthand account of their experiences and recommend experts they’ve found reliable and competent.
    1. Online Search: A simple online search can also help you identify potential experts. Look for professionals who specialize in workplace violence assessment and are WAVR-21 certified. Ensure to verify their credentials and look for reviews or testimonials.
    1. Training Providers: Institutions that provide WAVR-21 training may also offer consultation services or be able to recommend certified professionals. The creators of WAVR-21, for instance, offer training and consultation services.
    1. Consulting Firms: There are many consulting firms specializing in workplace violence prevention and threat assessment that employ WAVR-21 certified professionals. Look for firms that have a solid reputation and extensive experience.

Once you have identified potential experts, consider the following:

Experience: Check the expert’s experience in workplace violence assessment. How many assessments have they conducted? What types of organizations have they worked with? Do they have experience in your specific industry?

Qualifications: Ensure that they are appropriately trained in use of the WAVR-21 instrument and check for any other relevant qualifications or certifications.

Approach: Talk to them about their approach to violence risk assessment. Does it seem comprehensive and systematic? Does it align with your organization’s needs and culture?

References: Ask for references from previous clients. Reach out to these references to learn about their experiences with the expert.

Remember that the process of finding an expert might take some time, but it is an investment that could potentially save lives, prevent harm, and protect your organization in the long run.


Egress Design and The Active Shooter Threat (Pt. 10)

Egress Design and The Active Shooter Threat (Pt. 10)

Egress planning is often regarded as a life safety matter with influence on security, but otherwise a discipline independent from physical protection. However, when preparing facilities for active shooter violence, egress design should be approached as an integral component of our protective strategy.

As discussed in earlier articles in this series, security measures and facility preparations should be carefully designed to augment and anticipate the actions of building occupants. For people located at ground level during an attack or in building locations without safe refuge options, escape (what DHS calls ‘Run’) is the preferred response. To effectively facilitate this response, escape routes should be readily available that permit fast and unobstructed egress to safe outdoor locations away from the facility.

Although all buildings are required to comply with life safety codes related to emergency egress, International Building Code (IBC), NFPA 101, International Fire Code (IFC), and municipal codes often fall short in considering the unique dynamics of evacuation during armed events. Historically, these codes were designed with fire as the focus and don’t fully account for issues such as severe impairment of evacuees due to sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation, the unpredictable actions of mobile attackers, and lack of situational awareness that may render multiple exit routes unsafe or at least perceived by evacuees as potentially-dangerous.

Many facilities rely on the advice of fire marshals and the results of inspection reports as a measure of readiness. Candidly speaking, this is a major concern. Aside from the inadequacy of current regulations, I often find violations of existing code during my work as a consultant that have somehow survived years of inspection.

So let’s take a walk beyond IBC and NFPA and explore considerations for designing an egress plan optimized to support response actions during active shooter events.

Egress Routes

To ensure building occupants have options for escape regardless of an attacker’s location, alternate egress routes should exist from all normally-occupied areas providing versatile access to safe exits. In most situations, providing two or more alternate egress paths from each occupied area (routed in different directions) is sufficient.

In newly-constructed buildings, identifying alternate egress paths isn’t usually difficult. In facilities constructed before modern building code, options are often limited. 

During the 2008 assault on the Leopold Café in Mumbai, approximately 30 people were eating dinner in a narrow corridor of booths located on the second level when the attack commenced.[1] There was only a single stairwell and no room on the second floor capable of safe refuge. Fortunately for those on the second floor, the terrorists were satisfied after killing ten people and wounding numerous others and never noticed the unlocked door discreetly leading upstairs.

The Bataclan Theater in Paris, attacked by Islamic State terrorists in 2015, was another example of a building with limited escape options. At the time of the attack, there were three exits accessible to the public. One was the main entrance on Boulevard Voltaire and two emergency exits which discharged into an alley on the south-side of the building.[2] With the main entrance blocked by the terrorists’ presence, people located on the dance floor and north-side of the building had no way to escape without passing the attackers’ aim.

Bataclan Theater Exits

Installing new exits is the obvious solution to this problem. However, in situations where there are no options due to adjacent buildings (such as the Bataclan Theater) or similar circumstances, consider upgrading or constructing rooms for safe refuge purposes. As an additional measure, explore options for providing unconventional routes of escape as described later in this article.

The capacity of exits is another matter to consider. In situations where it is predictable that attackers will approach from a specific direction, expect a panicked reaction as everyone seeks to escape away from the gunman’s location. When faced with an imminent threat, people instinctively flee the direction of harm. Now if there are few people in the area, this type of reaction usually poses no special problems. But locations where this concern arises are often highly-populated and confined areas with limited exit options.

As discussed in Part 6 of this series, many armed attacks by outsider adversaries originate through public entrance doors and shooting commences immediately. This behavior has been very consistent in attacks against public buildings such as nightclubs, churches, and museums. In this situation, the natural reaction of people is to flee toward the opposite side of the room often resulting in tripping, trampling, and a bottleneck near whatever exit doors are present.

In some cases, the presence of furniture and other obstructions prohibit many from even reaching the exits. This situation has been especially common in attacks against church sanctuaries where the location of pews often block people from quickly reaching exits in the front of the room.

Church Attack Infographic Diagram

If this concern is foreseen during the initial design phase, solutions are often easy and don’t require major investment. For those with existing buildings, remedy often involves some expense.

If dangerous congestion is predicted at single-door exits, consider enlarging the present exits with the use of double-doors. If enlargement is insufficient or the situation prohibits modifying existing exits, consider installing new exits as illustrated in the following example.

Upgrading Church Sanctuary for Active Shooters

In some cases, the situation can be eased by simply working with what’s available. In several buildings we’ve assessed with this concern, locked doors were present in areas where congestion was predicted providing access to service corridors or private hallways. By unlocking these doors and equipping them with appropriate hardware, we can provide an additional route of escape and ease congestion at the existing exits. However, implementing this solution may require other measures to address new concerns about public access into previously secured areas.

As a final point about escape paths, egress routes should be intuitive and simple to navigate under high-stress conditions. Several years ago I conducted an assessment of a community center building during the final phase of a major renovation. Unfortunately, most construction was nearly finished before we had a chance to offer useful comment. One of my greatest concerns in this situation was the addition of a new building level (earmarked for after-school programs) featuring two stairwells that discharged one level below into a second-floor hallway. After exiting to the second floor, evacuees were required to proceed down the hall to access a different stairwell in order to reach the first-floor exits. Despite the approval of local authorities, this type of complex egress path should be firmly avoided in active shooter planning. In the absence of any alternatives, our advice was to build a robust safe room in the kids’ area with sufficient capacity and train staff that lockdown is their only safe response during an attack.

Exit Signage

Exit signage should be clearly visible inside all work areas and hallways and direct evacuees to the most accessible stairwells or discharge doors. These are obvious points, but this subject is a common problem in many facilities. Where I encounter this issue most frequently is in renovated buildings that have changed their original room configuration or created expansive workspaces with cubicle walls. When facilities reconfigure walls and don’t update exit signage correspondingly, the result is often chaos—Signage directing evacuees to dead ends or locked doors, signage leading into areas with no further direction, locations where no signage is visible, etc.

Exit Signage Problems

Another problem, albeit less common, are situations where signage was incorrect from the beginning. Some time ago, I encountered a facility where the exit signage plan was similar to a puzzle game. Most arrows directed me in a circuitous loop around the outside of the floor and nowhere near the exit stairwells (which were positioned in interior hallways). Realizing I was walking in a circle, I followed alternate directional arrows and found myself at a dead end elevator landing with no nearby exits. Bear in mind, we’ve been conducting assessments of this type for years. If I can’t find my way out of a building, it’s likely a deathtrap during an active shooter attack.

If a building is configured with tall cubicle arrangements or corridors constructed of glass walls, consider placing directional signage on the floor if overhead visibility is a problem. In facilities like this, ceiling-mounted exit signage is often difficult to locate due to obstruction or the hall-of-mirrors type atmosphere often created in narrow corridors lined by glass. In these cases, providing additional signage on floors is often effective.

Emergency Stairwells

Exit stairwells should be well illuminated and clear of obstructions. Although these points are universally mandated under building and fire codes, this is another common area of concern.

On the subject of stairwell lighting, IBC permits illumination levels of 1 fc (10.8 Lux) and NFPA dictates 10 fc (108 Lux).[3] [4] Regardless of your location and regulatory mandates, I strongly recommend adopting the NFPA specification of 10 fc (108 Lux) as a minimum guideline. Over the years, I have assessed a number of facilities (particularly in Europe and the Middle East) where stairwell illumination was so poor I needed to use a flashlight to safely navigate the stairs.

Obstruction is another common problem. In the absence of adequate storage rooms, many facilities resort to stairwell landings as convenient spaces for overflow.

Egress Obstructions at Exit Doors

The location of stairwells is another issue to consider. In armed attacks against multi-floor buildings, the ground-level is often where the attack originates and may be a dangerous location while an event is active. If building occupants are not aware of the exact location of the threat, the combined effects of fear and lack of situational awareness may make people hesitant to evacuate if they need to navigate through interior hallways to access exits. This issue is often compounded further by the effects of the SNS on problem-solving ability.

To address these concerns, emergency stairwells should ideally discharge directly outdoors through exit doors at ground-level. Stairwells that discharge into lobbies or central hallways should be strictly avoided. If a facility has stairwells that discharge into potentially hazardous areas, employees should be warned of which stairwells to avoid as part of their active shooter training.

Stairwell Escape During Active Shooter Events

If an exit stairwell has multiple doors at ground-level, signage should be clearly visible indicating the proper door for discharge. Although this is not a common problem, I occasionally encounter situations where there are multiple doors at the base of a stairwell and no clear indication of which is the proper exit door. In this situation, choosing the wrong door may be a fateful decision.

Another matter to consider is the possibility of stairwells being used by attackers in navigating the building. During attacks inside multi-level structures, adversaries frequently use stairwells to move between levels.  A few examples include attacks at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center (2019), Corinthia Hotel Tripoli (2015), and Washington Navy Yard (2013).[5]

Addressing this concern raises several challenges.

First, it is often cost-prohibitive to install CCTV cameras in stairwells in a manner suitable for tracking movement between floors (and especially in high rise structures). So if we have a control room employing CCTV to monitor the progress of attackers, stairwells are often a blind spot. Second, although IBC permits interior stairwell doors to be locked against entry from the stairwell side, code requires that interior stairwell doors are “capable of being unlocked simultaneously without unlatching upon a signal from the fire command center…[or] signal by emergency personnel from a single location inside the main entrance…” [6] NFPA regulations are different in detail, but the same concern is present. As discussed further in this article, the fail-safe operation of electrified locks is a major concern during active shooter attacks.

To address the possibility of adversaries navigating floors by stairwell, it may be permissible in some locations to install barriers inside existing stairwells featuring secured egress doors and exit bar devices to restrict upward movement. The photo below is an example of this type of barrier using wire mesh and an acrylic panel to prevent manipulation of the door handle. Although I like this approach in concept, code requirements should be carefully assessed before implementing this type of measure.

Stairwell Cage Barrier

If the Design Basis Threat is an outsider adversary and placing barriers inside stairwells is permissible, I recommend installing them between ground-level and the next higher floor. This recommendation is based on the fact that most attacks by outsiders initiate at ground-level. In the case of buildings with interior public staircases providing access to second or third levels (such as a hotel with a mezzanine), the placement of stairwell barriers should be adjusted accordingly.

Exit Doors

Exit doors should be clearly visible and identified by overhead signage. Although this is not a common issue of concern, situations occasionally arise where architects have visually concealed the exit doors to create a unified aesthetic appearance. Following is an image illustrating this concern provided by Lori Greene, Manager of Codes & Resources at iDigHardware (Allegion).

Avoid the use of electromagnetic locks on egress doors!

Although mag locks offer versatile benefit in access control design, they present several problems during active shooter attacks. First, building and life safety codes universally require that egress doors equipped with mag locks fail safe (unlocked) during fire alarms. In this situation, every alarm pull station inside the building is a ‘virtual master key’ and will compromise all doors equipped with mag locks with one pull of a handle.[7] We have had multiple attacks where fire alarms were manually activated by building occupants (e.g., 2013 Washington Navy Yard), activated by smoke or dust (e.g., 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, 2008 Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, etc.), or used by attackers to deceptively herd victims outdoors for ambush (e.g., 1998 Westside Middle School, 2013 UCF, 2015 Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, etc.).[8] [9] [10]

In addition to fire alarms, mag locks also fail safe if electricity is disrupted for any reason such as an extended power outage or if lines are damaged during an explosion. This is a particular concern in situations where the Design Basis Threat includes terrorists employing body-worn IEDs.

As an added concern, electromagnetic locks require door-mounted exit hardware (e.g., switch, lever, etc.) or alternatively, an exit sensor to unlock egress doors when an alarm is not activated. In many facilities I encounter, solitary wall-mounted push-to-exit (PTE) switches are used for this purpose despite code requirements stipulating door-mounted hardware or exit sensors. Furthermore, PTE switches used for this purpose are often small in size and easily overlooked when people are trying to escape under high stress conditions. Poor placement of PTE switches compounds this problem even further. During assessments, I often find PTE switches mounted away from doors in a manner that requires evacuees to stop and scan the area for a switch.

As a tragic example of this concern, in the 2019 shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, 17 people were killed while trapped at an exit door operated by a PTE switch. [11] It is unclear from news reports whether the door failed to open because of an electrical problem or if there was difficulty by evacuees in locating and operating the PTE switch.

Exit sensors for mag locks often pose a different problem. If an exit sensor is placed above doors in a high traffic area, every time someone passes the sensor the door is unlocked. I’ve encountered many facilities where intrusion was as simple as waiting outside a door for a few minutes and listening for a click.

An even greater concern is when facilities opt not to install PTE switches or exit sensors on doors as a means of restricting use for fire evacuation only. The image below displays a bank of controlled exit doors at the entrance of an expo hall. To direct patrons to a nearby revolving door, the facility management decided (in violation of code) not to install PTE switches or exit sensors. When I inquired about this matter, I was assured that the fire alarm and/or control room operator would disengage the doors during an emergency. Nevertheless, if the operator is disabled or delayed in responding to an attack, the consequences of mass evacuation through this area would be tragic.

For access control purposes, we generally recommend using electrified panic bar devices or electric strikes with mechanical hardware. During an evacuation, electrified exit bar devices operate identically to mechanical exit bars—push the bar and the door opens. Aside from ease of operation, doors equipped with electrified exit bars and electric strikes can remain secured during power disruption and fire alarms (withstanding stairwell doors and other situations as defined by code).  

As a final point about access control, avoid the use of delayed egress on exit doors. Many facilities employ egress delays (15-seconds or 30-seconds) as a means of discouraging occupants from exiting through doors reserved for emergency purposes. Although egress delays are often useful for channeling occupants to designated exits, any measure which delays escape during an attack increases the risk of avoidable casualties.

The following video illustrates how long 30 seconds is while standing at an exit door during an active shooter attack.

Unconventional Exit Options

When normally discussing the topic of egress, ground-level exit doors are presumed to be the main points of building discharge. However, during active shooter events, there are often many opportunities for escape that don’t meet the standards of fire code.

For people located on higher building levels, it is often safer to escape upward toward the roof than downward through stairwells. During the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, employees of a company located on the third floor above the Charlie Hebdo office sought safety on the rooftop due to concern about gunfire penetrating their office. In the 2004 attack at the Oasis Compound in Saudi Arabia, two people hid on a roof for two days before rescue. Several employees at Washington Navy Yard’s Building 197 also took refuge on a roof rather than risk harm below.[12]

As part of active shooter training, advise employees about the availability of the roof as a safe area. And if the roof is presently locked, consider placing an escape key near all rooftop doors specifically for use during an active shooter event. If safety concerns override the decision to place escape keys near doors, consider installing electrified locks on the rooftop doors that can be released through a lockdown event macro programmed in the building’s access control software.

Roof Top Escape Key

During an attack, any window less than three stories or aperture large enough to crawl is a potential route of escape. In the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, students in Room 204 escaped by jumping out the second story windows of their classroom.[13] During the 2016 siege at the Pulse nightclub, eight people escaped through an air conditioning vent with police assistance. In the 2013 attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall, people in a restaurant also escaped by crawling through an air vent.

Window Escape During Active Shooter Attacks

If our present building has windows and other unconventional escape opportunities, make note of these options and advise employees during active shooter training. Simply mentioning the examples already cited in this article calls attention to the possibilities and provides a point of reference if employees ever find themselves trapped during an attack.

Now if we are working with an existing structure, it usually doesn’t make sense from a cost-benefit perspective to install new windows or make other building alterations specifically to facilitate unconventional modes of escape. An exception to this might be situations like the Bataclan Theater (described earlier in this article) where the absence of exits is a major concern and there are no options for remedy.

When designing new facilities, consider placing windows in select locations where it is likely people will be trapped during an attack. One example is public restrooms. Although public restrooms rarely feature door locks, they are commonly used by people seeking refuge during active shooter attacks. If we anticipate this problem and the restroom is adjacent to an exterior wall at ground level, install a 24” tall horizontal sliding window just below the ceiling to provide anyone trapped in the restroom with a possible means of escape. If this had been done at the Pulse nightclub, thirteen people might be alive today.[14]

[1] Details provided by a confidential source during the author’s visit to the Leopold Café in 2016.

[2] Details confirmed during the author’s visit to the Bataclan Theater in 2018.

[3] 2015 International Building Code. Chapter 10 (Means of Egress). International Code Council. N.p. 2015.

[4] NFPA 101 (1)

[5] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[6] 2015 International Building Code. Chapter 10 (Means of Egress). International Code Council. N.p. 2015.

[7] As a caveat to that statement, NFPA 101 states that the pull stations don’t have to unlock the doors: The activation of manual fire alarm boxes that activate the building fire-protective signaling system specified in shall not be required to unlock the door leaves. (Comment by Lori Greene, iDigHardware)

[8] Initial Report Submitted to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. January 2, 2019.

[9] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[10] Harms, A.G. UCF After-Action Review. Tower #1 Shooting Incident. March 18, 2013. Final Report. N.p. May 31, 2013.

[11] “’It doesn’t open’: Christchurch mosque survivors describe terror at the door” Stuff. March 28, 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-shooting/111632051/it-doesnt-open-christchurch-mosque-survivors-describe-terror-at-the-door. Accessed 25 March 2020.

[12] After Action Report. Washington Navy Yard. September 16, 2013. Internal Review of the Metropolitan Police Department. Metropolitan Police Department. Washington, D.C. July 2014.

[13] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007.

[14] Harris, Alex. “New details emerge about where the victims of the Pulse massacre died.” Miami Herald. June 14, 2017, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article144586874.html. Accessed 13 March 2020.


Considerations for Designing Active Shooter Protection Measures (Pt. 4)

Forced Entry Standards

Considerations for Designing Active Shooter Protection Measures (Pt. 4)

Parts 1 and 3 of this series surveyed important principles of physical security and facility preparation for mitigating the consequences of active shooter attacks. Although the concepts described in the preceding articles are universal, there are often unique circumstances that influence how these principles are best applied in different situations.

The following are some preliminary questions to consider with bearing on the practicality and prioritization of security measures.

Is it feasible to employ restrictive entry control and screening measures?

In an ideal situation, entrance into the facility is channeled to a limited number of secured entry points and all entrants are subject to verification and weapons screening before admittance. However, there are many situations where restrictive entry controls are impractical (or impossible) due to reasons of high volume of public traffic, cultural expectations, budget, or low-risk justification. Common examples of this situation include malls, hotels, train stations, entertainment districts, houses of worship, hospitals, multi-tenant office buildings, and similar facilities. This is also a common situation in schools and universities with complex campuses, or where concerns about negative impact on school climate, cost, and operational burden outweigh the risk.

In these situations, an adversary could access populated areas of the facility undetected before commencing an attack. To compensate for this, high priority should be given to measures that simplify rapid escape from public areas and expedite the actions of armed responders.  In large buildings (such as multi-level office buildings, schools, hospitals, and hotels), alert communication is critical and safe refuge options should be abundantly available for people unable to escape or who are unaware of the threat’s location.

Although restrictive entry control may not be practical in these cases, it may be worth configuring an access control macro to facilitate the rapid lockdown of exterior doors and high-risk indoor locations if an attack is detected outdoors.

Are there groups of occupants present whose capability to respond is likely impaired or who are unable to easily evacuate during an attack?

This is generally the case in schools, daycare facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. In these situations, alert communications and ensuring the availability of safe refuge areas are top priorities. In schools and daycare centers, all classrooms should meet criteria as basic-level safe rooms. In hospitals and nursing facilities where it is not feasible to secure patient rooms, measures should be implemented to rapidly secure wards and hallways wings occupied by vulnerable groups. Additionally, all employees caring for vulnerable populations should be trained in lockdown procedures and drill regularly to ensure reliable performance under stress.

In nightclubs and entertainment venues, we often have a different type of concern—alcohol. When considering other conditions typical in nightclubs and party venues (e.g., dense crowds, low lighting, loud music, light shows, etc.), alcohol is the final ingredient in a recipe for disaster. In previous nightclub attacks (e.g., Pulse, Reina, Bataclan Theater, etc.), the reaction of patrons was initially delayed by confusion and followed immediately by panic as occupants fled the direction of danger. To address this concern, priority should be given to designing intuitive and high capacity egress routes in directions away from the main entrance. Ideal preparation also includes options for direct escape from all locations inside the building (incl. restrooms, service hallways, etc.). To further address the problem of confusion, measures should be explored for quickly shutting off the A/V system and illuminating exit doors.

Are there large numbers of people present who are expectedly unfamiliar with the facility?

If yes, careful consideration should be given in the design and marking of egress routes, public notification systems, and training employees in procedures for directing guests’ response.

Does the interior layout of existing buildings provide ample options for occupants to take safe refuge?

In schools, hotels, and many office buildings, the existing indoor layout usually provides adequate options for designating rooms which can be easily upgraded to meet basic requirements as safe rooms. Where I often encounter problems with this matter are industrial facilities, telephone call centers, and office buildings with extensive use of indoor glass walls.

If budget permits, the preferred remedy is to construct (or upgrade) several intrusion-resistant rooms throughout the facility to provide accessible refuge options for employees regardless of location. As a minimum, we recommend at least one safe room per floor wing with adequate capacity for all employees in proximity. In call centers and office buildings with open floor plans, the newly constructed safe rooms can often serve a practical role as conference rooms during day-to-day activities.

If constructing safe rooms where needed is not possible, egress routes should be easily accessible and discharge directly outdoors. Additionally, employees should be trained to know that hiding in an unsecured work area is unsafe and escape is the preferred response when possible. Training should also include a discussion about optional egress paths (e.g., alternative exits, roof access, etc.) and high-risk areas to avoid during evacuation (such as first floor lobbies and central hallways).

If circumstances dictate that escape is the preferred response, situational awareness is critical and measures should be explored for monitoring the movement of attackers by CCTV and relaying real-time updates to employees.

Do cultural expectations or public image concerns restrict the employment of high profile security measures?

This issue frequently arises in corporate and hospitality facilities conscientious about branding. Many schools are also sensitive to this matter considering research by psychologists warning of the potential for negative impact on school climate. In many cases, this concern can be easily addressed by employing locks, barriers, and other hardware with a low profile appearance. Egress design, communications systems, and other infrastructure preparations are generally unnoticed by employees and the public.

Where concerns about high profile measures most often influence protective strategy are decisions about posting armed officers inside the facility and implementing entry screening measures (as described earlier in this article).

As discussed throughout this series, few measures offer as much benefit during an attack as having an on-site armed response force. If an organization is attracted to the idea of armed protection, but hesitant due to public image concerns, some measures can be employed to address this situation.

One option is to stage armed response officers in a location out of public view. Several years ago we aided an organization in evaluating potential security strategies for a parliament building. At the time, the facility was protected by several police officers armed with handguns posted outdoors. Considering the facility’s risk profile and Design Basis Threat (terrorists armed with assault rifles), we strongly recommended they augment their current security force with an on-site tactical response team equipped with military small arms. This proposal was initially rejected due to public image concerns. Our recommendation, in turn, was to stage the team inside a room hidden from public view and within 120 seconds travel time to all critical locations inside the facility. This same approach can be adopted in office buildings, hotels, schools, and any other location where public image is a concern.

Other methods for addressing this concern include substituting plainclothes officers for uniformed personnel and carefully selecting officers for their unique combination of tactical capabilities and interpersonal relations skills.

Is it expectedly safe for people to evacuate the facility during an attack, or is the facility located in a geographic area where escape outdoors is impractical or possibly dangerous?

This is not generally a concern for most facilities. Where this issue most often arises is when a facility is remotely located away from civilization or in hostile threat environments.  An example of the first situation would be the Tigantourine gas facility in Algeria targeted by Al-Mourabitoun in 2013. An example of the second situation might be a compound located in a war zone where friendly authorities have little control and hostile actors abound (e.g., 2012 Benghazi attacks).

In these situations, on-site armed response capability is paramount. Additionally, perimeter defensive measures should be designed to provide the armed response force with a tactical advantage and create time for occupants to seek refuge. Additionally, safe havens should be provided capable of advanced delay times and sustained life support under attack by fire, smoke, and other methods of asphyxiation.

Is it feasible to have an on-site armed response capability?

As detailed in Part 1 of this series, barriers need to be designed to delay an adversary’s ingress into populated areas with sufficient time for a response force to intervene. If it is not possible to have an on-site armed response capability, the emphasis often needs to be placed on measures that facilitate delay (e.g., barrier construction, egress design, etc.) and expedite the response of local police.

Are we located in a region where previous incidents often result in a siege or delayed intervention by security forces?

If yes, there may be justification for upgrading safe rooms to an intermediate or high level of protection. As discussed in Part 2 of this series, most previous attacks where adversaries committed time and effort to forcibly enter rooms were in situations where authorities delayed entry. As an added measure, safe rooms in these cases should be equipped with supplies to sustain occupants for the duration of a siege.

Is our Design Basis Threat adversary an insider, outsider, or both?

As explored in Part 2 of this series, the relevancy of many protective measures is directly related to the attacker’s expected access to the facility. The following table is provided as a general guide to the applicability of physical security and facility design measures to different categories of adversary.

Active Shooter Facility Security Measures

These are some of the many questions to consider as part of the physical security and facility design process. In upcoming articles, we’ll explore these issues in greater depth and present examples of how custom protection strategies can be designed for different types of facilities.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), Situational Awareness, and Active Shooter Attacks

Another important issue to consider in active shooter planning is the potential effects of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and lack of situational awareness on employee response.

During life-threatening emergencies, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is often activated. The SNS governs human flight-or-fight response to imminent threat situations. Although the SNS served an important survival function in human evolution, its effects can impair response actions by building occupants during high-stress events. When the SNS awakens, a person’s heart rate may exceed 200 bpm resulting in cognitive impairment, loss of fine motor skills, irrational behavior, or freezing.[1]

In addition to the SNS, rarely during armed attacks do employees have real-time situational awareness of the attacker’s location and activity. The combined effects of the SNS and lack of situational awareness may result in dangerous and sometimes irrational behavior. For example, employees may be hesitant to abandon a presently unsecured location and relocate to a nearby safe room if getting there requires moving through space they cannot see (e.g., around a corner and into another hallway). If a door is equipped with a single-cylinder lock and no thumbturn, employees may be hesitant to open the door to lock it if they fear the gunman may enter the hallway.

Effective active shooter planning should anticipate the effects of the SNS and lack of situational awareness. Every effort should be made to compensate for these challenges by simplifying the expected actions of employees. Some practical examples include establishing emergency phone numbers that are easy to remember and dial under stress, ensuring that mechanical locks on doors feature a thumbturn and do not require a key for locking, providing abundant availability of safe rooms, and ensuring that escape routes do not require complex navigation to access discharge doors.

As an additional point, employees and on-site responders are not the only ones affected during high stress events. Security control room personnel suddenly launched into action with life-and-death consequences (even when remotely located) may experience some of the same impairing effects as people in the ‘hot zone.’ For this reason, critical communications systems should be designed for simplicity and control room personnel should drill regularly to minimize delays or omission of key tasks.

As we continue in upcoming articles, specific recommendations will be offered in hope of avoiding some of the many problems witnessed in previous attacks resulting from SNS impairment and lack of situational awareness .

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore recommendations for protecting people from outdoor ambush and early attack recognition.

[1] Grossman, Dave, and Loren W. Christensen. On Combat: the Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. Warrior Science Pub., 2008.


Physical Security Design and The Active Shooter (Pt. 1)

Physical Security and Active Shooter Attacks

Physical Security Design and The Active Shooter (Pt. 1)

When many people think of physical security, the first ideas that come to mind are things like locks, alarm systems, screening with metal detectors, CCTV, etc.—hardware components or procedures. Although these elements play a role in physical security, they have no value outside the context of the overarching system design.

In the context of active assailant attacks, performance-based physical security design integrates Detection, Delay, and Response elements in a manner that mathematically reconciles the time required for an adversary to commence mass killing and the time required for detection and response by security or police.

Fundamentally, physical security design is a mathematics problem defined by several key times and probabilities. The main performance metric of a Physical Protection System (PPS) design is its Probability of Interruption, defined as the probability that an adversary will be detected and intercepted by a response force before he/she can complete their objective.[1] The most important elements determining the Probability of Interruption are the Adversary Task Time (total time required for an adversary to enter a facility and access their target) and response force time. If the total time for detection, assessment, communications, and response force intervention is longer than the adversary task time, the system will fail. Specific elements alone (such as having an access control system or CCTV cameras) mean nothing outside the context of the overall system design. Individual PPS elements must work together integrally to reconcile these key times or the adversary will succeed.

In the context of active shooter events, detection usually is the result of visual or audible observation when the attack commences. Detection may also result from an alarm signal generated by forced entry into secured spaces or gunshot detection systems. The Time of Detection during an attack is represented in figure 1 as TD.

The time the report is received by authorities and/or assessed by a security control room for deployment of on-site armed officers is represented in the diagram as TA (Time of Assessment).

After the 911/112 center or security control room is alerted, the response force is subsequently dispatched to intercept and neutralize the adversary. This is represented in the following diagram as the Time of Interruption (TI).

Physical Protection System Times and Functions

While the alert and response force deployment is in progress, the adversary advances through barriers and distance to access targets and initiate mass killing. The time mass killing is in progress is represented in the previous diagram as Time of Completion (TC). The Adversary Task Time is the cumulative time between the Time of Detection and the Time of Completion. If the Time of Interruption is before the Time of Completion, the Physical Protection System (PPS) is successful in its function of preventing mass killing.

In most previous active shooter attacks, deficiencies in one or more key functional elements (Detection, Delay, or Response) result in a situation where mass killing (TC) initiates before the response force intervenes (TI).

Based on data yielded during several studies of active shooter attacks, the consequences of the difference in time between commencement of mass killing and response force intervention (TC versus TI) can be estimated as one casualty per 15 seconds.[2] 

Physical Security and Active Shooter Planning

Although the ideal objective of PPS design is to interrupt mass killing before it commences, real world conditions often limit the possibility of achieving a high Probability of Interruption. This type of situation is often common in ‘soft target’ facilities due to the need for unobstructed public access and facilities reliant on the unpredictable response times of off-site police. Other real world challenges such as cultural expectations, branding, and budget boundaries often limit the feasibility of implementing ideal physical security measures. And if an attack is launched by an insider adversary (e.g., employee, student, etc.) already inside the facility, physical protection elements at outer protective layers (e.g., perimeter, building envelope, entrances, etc.) will have little or no benefit.

Nevertheless, all measures that increase Adversary Task Time and expedite response time have a direct benefit in reducing potential casualties by narrowing the gap between TC and TI.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, 14 December 2012: Case Study of Performance-Based Physical Security Principles in Practical Application

 At approximately 09:34, Adam Lanza used an AR-15 rifle to shoot through a tempered glass window adjacent to the school’s locked entrance doors and passed into the lobby.[3]

 After killing the school principal and a school psychologist and injuring two other staff members who entered the hallway to investigate, Lanza entered the school office. Meanwhile, staff members concealed inside the school office and nearby rooms initiated the first calls to 911. Staff located throughout the building were alerted when the ‘all-call’ button on a telephone was accidentally activated during a 911 call.

After finding no targets in the office, Lanza returned to the hallway and proceeded into the unlocked door of first grade classroom 8 where mass murder commenced (approx. 09:36).[4] In less than two minutes, Lanza killed two teachers and fifteen students.

Sandy Hook Elementary Attack Diagram

As the attack in classroom 8 was in progress, teacher Victoria Soto and a teaching assistant in classroom 10 attempted to conceal children in cabinets and a closet.

After exhausting targets in classroom 8, Lanza proceeded into classroom 10 and killed Ms. Soto, assistant Anne Murphy, and five children. Although the exact reason Ms. Soto did not lock the door to classroom 10 is unknown, all classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School featured ANSI/BHMA “classroom-function” (mortise F05 and bored F84) locks which can only be locked with a key from the hallway-side of the door.

The tragedy ended in classroom 10 when Lanza committed suicide at 09:40 while police were preparing for entry into the building.

As common in U.S. primary schools, Sandy Hook Elementary School relied on off-site police as their response force during emergency events. Response was first initiated at 09:35 when a staff member called 911 to report the crisis. At 09:36, an alert was broadcast by radio and police units were dispatched to the school. The first police unit arrived at 09:39, followed immediately by two other units. After assessing the scene and planning a point of entry, the officers organized into a contact team and made entry into the school at 09:44.

In the context of physical protection system performance, the adversary task time (time between when Lanza’s entry commenced and mass killing was in progress) at Sandy Hook Elementary School was approximately 23 seconds. The time between detection of the attack and on-site arrival of police was slightly less than three minutes. However, there was an additional 5-6 minutes of time as officers assessed the situation and organized before making entry and effectively moving indoors to neutralize the killer. When assessing incidents involving response by off-site police, arrival time at the scene is irrelevant. What matters is the time ending when police arrive at the immediate location of the adversary ready to neutralize the threat. This describes the contrast between On-Site Response Time and Effective Response Time. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Effective Response Time was approximately nine minutes.

As illustrated in the following table, the variation between Adversary Task Time and Effective Response Time witnessed at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been historically common during active assailant attacks. In each of the six events documented below, mass killing was in full progress within 1-3 minutes of the time the attacker entered the building or shot the first victim. By comparison, the Effective Response Times ranged between 7 and 38 minutes, with most events ending prior to intervention by police when the attacker(s) escaped or committed suicide.

Active Shooter Timeline Infographic

Mitigating the consequences of active shooter attacks through better physical security design and integration


In the Newtown tragedy, PPS failure was largely the result of inadequate delay in relation to the time required for response by off-site police. When the attack is analyzed using Sandia’s Estimate of Adversary Sequence Interruption (EASI) Model, the original PPS at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have had a Probability of Interruption of 0.0006 (Very Low).

Sandy Hook Shooting Timeline
Sandy Hook Shoting - EASI Attack Analysis

In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are a number of measures that could have improved overall system performance.

Upgrade the facade with intrusion-resistant glazing. Adam Lanza entered the building by bypassing the locked entrance doors and shooting a hole through the adjacent tempered glass window. He then struck the fractured window and climbed through the breach. Tempered safety glass is generally only 4-5 times resistant to impact as annealed glass and provides minimal delay against forced intrusion. According to testing documented by Sandia National Laboratories, 0.25 inch tempered glass provides 3-9 seconds of delay against an intruder using a fire axe and the mean delay time for penetrating 1/8″ tempered glass with a hammer is 0.5 minutes.[5] However, impact testing documented by Sandia did not account for the fragility of a tempered glass specimen after first being penetrated by firearm projectile. In penetration tests Critical Intervention Services conducted of 1/4-inch tempered glass windows using several shots from a 9mm handgun to penetrate glazing prior to impact by hand, delay time was only 10 seconds.[6]

Upgrading facade glazing with the use of mechanically-attached anti-shatter film could have improved delay time at the exterior protective layer by 60-90 seconds.[7]

Construct an interior protective layer to delay access from the lobby into occupied school corridors. Once Adam Lanza breached the exterior facade into the school lobby, there were no additional barrier layers delaying access into areas occupied by students and faculty. A significant percentage of active shooter assaults by outsider adversaries originate through main entrances and progress into occupied spaces.[8] Some examples include attacks at the Riena Nightclub (2017), Pulse Nightclub (2016), Charlie Hebdo Office (2015), Inland Regional Center (2015), Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood (2015), Centre Block Parliament Bldg (2014), and US Holocaust Memorial Museum (2009).
An ideal lobby upgrade would be designed to facilitate reception of visitors while securing the interior of the school through a protective layer constructed of intrusion-resistant materials. Depending on material specifications, an interior barrier layer could have delayed Adam Lanza’s progress into the school by an additional 60-120 seconds.
Sandy Hook Elementary School Lobby Concept

Replace “classroom-function” locks on school doors with locks featuring an interior button or thumbturn. All classroom doors inside Sandy Hook Elementary were equipped with ANSI “classroom-function” locks (mortise F05 and bored F84). These are perhaps the worst choice of locks possible for lockdown purposes during active shooter events. As witnessed in a number of attacks, doors equipped with classroom-function locks often remain unlocked due to difficulty locating or manipulating keys under stress. In addition to Sandy Hook classroom 10, another incident where this situation clearly contributed to unnecessary casualties was the 2007 Virginia Tech Norris Hall attack.[9] In these two events alone, 26 students and faculty were killed and 24 wounded specifically because the doors to classrooms could not be reliably secured.

Ideal specifications for door locks would be ANSI/BHMA A156 Grade 1 with an ANSI lock code of F04 or F82.[10] Mechanical locks rated ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 have been successfully evaluated under a variety of static force and torque tests. Locks coded as F04 and F82 feature buttons or thumbturns to facilitate ease of locking under stress.

Although there are no empirical sources citing tested forced entry times against ANSI/BHMA A156 Grade 1 rated locks, it is estimated that a committed adversary using impact force with no additional tools could penetrate improved locks in approximately 90-110 seconds.

Replace door vision panels with intrusion-resistant glazing. During the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza was able to enter classrooms 8 and 10 directly through unlocked doors. If these classrooms were secured, the tempered glass vision panels on all classroom doors could have been easily breached to facilitate entry in less than 10 seconds.

An effective approach to physical security specification would ensure that all barriers composing the classroom protective layer are composed of materials with similar delay time values. This could be accomplished by ensuring that vision panels are no wider than 1.5″ (3.8 cm) or constructed of intrusion-resistant glazing such as laminated glass, polycarbonate, or reinforced with anti-shatter film.

If the aforementioned barrier improvements were employed in the PPS design at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Adam Lanza’s access into occupied classrooms would have been delayed by an additional 162-312 seconds. This would have improved the overall performance of the PPS by potentially increasing the Adversary Task Time to 185-335 seconds before mass killing was in progress. Although this is a significant improvement from the original Adversary Task Time (est. 23 seconds), 335 seconds is still less than the estimated response time of police during the original event (est. 544 seconds).

In many cases, accomplishing the performance-based objective of interrupting an active shooter before mass killing commences requires a combined approach aimed at both increasing delay time and decreasing response force time. In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School, decreased response time could have been facilitated by the use of gunshot detection technology or duress alarms, improved communications procedures, and similar improvements. Any measure that decreases alert notification and response times has a beneficial impact on system performance. Even if enhancements only reduce response time by 10 or 15 seconds, such improvements have the theoretical benefit of reducing casualties by one victim per fifteen seconds of decreased response time.

In the situation of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the greatest improvement could have resulted from having an on-site response force (e.g., armed school resource officer) capable of reliably responding anywhere on the school campus within 120 seconds of alert.[11] If this measure were implemented, the total estimated alert and response time could have been improved to 147-157 seconds. When compared to the increased Adversary Task Time of 206-316 seconds, the improved PPS design would have likely resulted in interruption before mass homicide commenced. When analyzed using Sandia’s Estimate of Adversary Sequence Interruption (EASI) Model, the improved PPS would have resulted in a Probability of Interruption of 0.87 (Very High).

The following table and spreadsheet models the PPS improvements described in this article to demonstrate how performance-based physical security design can influence the outcome of armed attacks.

Sandy Hook Elementary - Improved Security Design
Sandy Hook Elementary Physical Security

Threat Characteristics and Physical Security Performance

The delay time expectations of physical barriers cited in this article were based on the weaponry and methods of entry employed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If Lanza had employed different tools or methods, the delay time of barriers would have correspondingly been different. The same principle is true for bullet-resistant barriers. The ballistic resistance of materials is directly relative to the caliber and type of ammunition used by an adversary.

To ensure a security design performs as expected, it is first necessary to establish a definition of the adversary’s likely capabilities and tactics. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll continue this discussion by exploring trends in the behavior of attackers, threat capabilities and methods, and approaches to developing a Design Basis Threat (DBT) suitable for security planning.

[1] Garcia, Mary Lynn. Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007.

[2] Anklam, Charles, Adam Kirby, Filipo Sharevski, and J. Eric Dietz. “Mitigating Active Shooter Impact: Analysis for Policy Options Based on Agent/computer-based Modeling.” Journal of Emergency Management 13.3 (2014): 201-16.

[3] Sedensky, Stephen J. Report of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street, Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Danbury, Ct.: Office of the State’s Attorney. Judicial District of Danbury, 2013. Print.

[4] Time estimated based on witness event descriptions and assessment of time required to walk through the school office and down the corridor to classroom 8.

[5] Barrier Technology Handbook, SAND77-0777. Sandia Laboratories, 1978.

[6] Critical Intervention Services assisted a window film manufacturer in 2015 in conducting a series of timed penetration tests of 1/4-inch tempered glass windows with mechanically-attached 11 mil window film. The tests involved penetration by firearm followed by impact (kicking and rifle buttstock). The delay times ranged from 62 to 94 seconds and deviated according to the aggression of our penetration tester.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gundry, Craig S. “Analysis of 20 Marauding Terrorist Firearm Attacks.” Preparing for Active Shooter Events. ASIS Europe 2017, 30 Mar. 2017, Milan, Italy.

[9] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007. pp.13.

[10] ANSI/BHMA A156.13, Mortise Locks and Latches. Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), New York, NY, 2011.

[11] CIS Guardian SafeSchool Program® standards define a performance benchmark of 120 seconds as the maximum time for acceptable response by on-site officers. However, achieving this type of response time in many facilities requires careful consideration of facility geography, communications systems, access obstructions, and officer capabilities (e.g., training, physical conditioning, etc.).

Risk Management & Workplace Violence

Risk Management and Workplace Violence

Risk Management & Workplace Violence

By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

Workplace Violence: The Risk in Perspective

By comparison to many other security risks, workplace violence incidents are low-moderate frequency events and rarely result in lethal consequences. According to US labor statistics, workplace violence is only responsible for 18% of deaths in professional office and healthcare settings—less than transportation accidents or even slips and falls.[i] Nevertheless, nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year.[ii] For reasons of liability, productivity, and duty of care, it is important that all employers implement reasonable measures to mitigate the probability and impact of workplace violence incidents.

Most incidents of workplace violence are examples of impromptu violence, spontaneous and unplanned acts of aggression often happening in the heat of the moment.[iii] These types of incidents can range from verbal threats and oral abuse all the way up the continuum of aggression to physical assault and non-premeditated murder.

Of greatest concern from a risk management perspective are acts of intended violence (also referred to as ‘targeted aggression’) which result in a planned, premeditated act.[iv] Most acts of mass homicide in workplace environments are examples of targeted violence and result from progression on a ‘pathway’ of development over time.

Mass Homicide in the Workplace

Many individuals who perpetrate mass violence align with Dr. Park Dietz’s definition of a Pseudocommando.[v] Pseudocommandos often evolve from angry, narcissistic personalities and harbor perceived injustices as a grievance for revenge. Violent fantasies become a refuge for the pseudocommando’s damaged ego and provide a sense of power and control.[vi] Without intervention, this process may continue into obsession and escalate until violent fantasy becomes a template for action. If this pathway progression continues unabated until nihilism takes place, commitment to violence is affirmed and often commenced in a planned manner or initiated by a trigger event (e.g., termination, demotion, family crisis, etc.).[vii]

By contrast to other security threats and even incidents of impromptu violence, acts of mass homicide are extremely low in frequency and rarely does probability as a sole factor justify risk reduction. In most cases, it’s the potentially devastating consequences of an attack that warrant concern. Aside from the obvious and horrific impact of loss of life, active assailant attacks universally result in extended disruption of facility operations, loss due to reduced productivity, and diversion of leadership attention to crisis management. The duration of operational disruption can span months before police release the facility as a crime scene, cleanup and remediation are completed, and post-incident recovery activities have concluded.

In cases where the horror of the event is deeply imprinted into the psyche of the public, the facility may be deemed permanently inhabitable due to its presence as a reminder of the tragedy. Rather than repair and restore Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown Public Schools opted to demolish the building and build a new replacement school at an estimated cost of $50M.[viii] Similarly, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act authorized $25 million to replace building 12 in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, the owner decided to permanently close the business as a nightclub and rebuild the site as a memorial and museum.

Depending on the organization’s responsiveness in managing the post-incident psychological consequences, the effects of an attack can easily result in an exodus of employees and long-term negative impact on workplace culture. In addition to psychological wounds suffered by victims of attacks, the trauma of mass violence can extend far beyond the local community with measurable effects of sadness and anxiety experienced vicariously by people nationwide.[ix]

When all risk factors are assessed in context, it is often the combined results of duty of care obligation (i.e., legal and moral responsibility for occupant safety), community perceptions and expectations, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of an event that warrant a balanced and diligent approach to risk control.

Risk Management Strategy and Workplace Violence

Effective risk management programs employ a multi-layered approach to controlling risk by reducing both the Probability and Criticality of events.

In the context of security risk management, risk probability is the result of Threat (an adversary with intent and capability to cause harm) and Vulnerability (the state of conditions that would allow the adversary to succeed in causing the risk event). Proactive measures aim to reduce Risk Probability by either reducing Threat or reducing Vulnerability. If proactive measures are implemented effectively, they may be successful in reducing Risk Probability, but there is always an element of uncertainty. To further reduce risk, reactive/mitigative measures should be employed to reduce the harmful effect of risk events (Risk Criticality).

In protective design theory, this concept of employing multiple layers of proactive and mitigative measures aimed at risk reduction is often described as concentric rings of protection. The following diagram illustrates this concept as it relates to workplace violence. The outermost rings of the diagram (colored in blue) represent proactive measures aimed at reducing risk probability. This is then followed by inner rings (red) representing mitigative measures aimed at decreasing the impact of events.

Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Workplace Violence Prevention (Proactive Measures)

Proactive risk management starts with reducing potential Threat. As a first step, measures should be employed where feasible to reduce the likely presence of violent perpetrators. One example is subjecting applicants to criminal record checks and carefully screening candidates for indications of previous behavioral problems. Next, measures should be employed to reduce potential conditions that contribute to the formation of violent intent or progression on the pathway of targeted violence. Measures such as reinforcement of positive workplace culture, providing access to employee assistance programs, and using management practices that reinforce employee dignity all contribute to reducing potential threat.

Other threat reduction measures aimed at reducing the likelihood of violence by nonemployees (e.g., angry customers, criminals, etc.) include training personnel in conflict de-escalation, ‘do-not-admit’ and trespass of threatening patrons, and presence of visible security measures as a deterrent to aggressive behavior.

To address the possibility of a dangerous employee already within our midst, threat assessment and management is our next line of defense. Extensive research over the past 25 years has established that most acts of targeted aggression by employees are precipitated by behaviors that if recognized and properly assessed can warn of potential violence and provide opportunity for intervention. Effective implementation of threat assessment and management as a protective strategy requires establishing a system for investigating and assessing threats, training supervisors to identify behaviors of concern, and managing potentially threatening situations before they result in violence.

If an employee of concern is terminated, procedures should be employed to ensure the safety of staff and best alleviate potential grievance. Some examples of safety measures include conducting the termination in a manner that preserves the individual’s dignity, scheduling terminations in the late afternoon, having security nearby, and avoiding early warning or breaks which provide an opportunity for retrieving a weapon. If concerns are substantial, additional measures may be justified such as severance pay or surveillance over the following weeks to monitor the ex-employee’s behavior and warn/intervene if the individual travels to the facility without an appointment.

Consequence Management and Workplace Violence

The aforementioned measures are often effective in reducing the probability of violence. But if measures employed to prevent attacks are unsuccessful or someone targets the facility in a manner that evades our proactive influence, physical security becomes the next line of defense. In the case of a convenience store, this may simply mean the installation of bullet-resistant glazing at the checkout counter. For organizations at risk of active assailant attacks, effective physical security is paramount in reducing the overall consequences of the event.

For best performance, physical security design should integrate Detection, Delay, and Response elements in a manner that mathematically reconciles the time required for an attacker to commence mass killing and the time required for detection and response by security or police.

If an event does occur, additional measures should be implemented to mitigate the impact of the risk event. This includes items such as early event detection and alert communications, emergency response plans and employee training, effective provisions for egress/escape, availability of safe refuge rooms, and the expedited response of armed security or police officers capable of effectively neutralizing an attacker before he/she can cause mass casualties.

Risk Management and Adversary Applicability

Obviously, not all risk reduction measures are equally applicable to all situations. Measures that may be necessary and justified in an office environment are often quite different from those in settings such as retail stores or hospitals. Risk management strategy should focus on relevant workplace violence risks in a manner that satisfies the organization’s risk appetite while tending matters of operational needs, culture, branding, and budget.

Below is a table describing the general relevance of measures in reducing different types of workplace violence risks using the FBI’s four-category classification system:.[x] 

    • Type I – Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime.
    • Type II – Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services.
    • Type III – Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee.
    • Type IV – Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or domestic partner.
Workplace Violence Prevention Measures

ANSI/ASIS Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard as a Guide for Best Practices

For those seeking to develop or improve a workplace violence prevention program, the newly updated ASIS/ANSI Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard is a great place to start. The ASIS/ANSI standard (formerly ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011) “provides an overview of policies, processes, and protocols that organizations can adopt to help identify, assess, respond to and mitigate threatening or intimidating behavior and violence affecting the workplace.”[xi]

The measures outlined in the standard are largely universal and can be adapted to organizations of almost any size. Some of the items addressed include the role and responsibilities of stakeholders, needs assessment, elements of policy, threat assessment and management practices, critical incident planning, employee training, and more.

In early 2020, a multi-disciplinary committee of experts completed a two-year review and revision of ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011 including the addition of a new Active Assailant Annex. In an upcoming article, we’ll explore some of the key measures outlined in the standard and differences between the updated document and the previous edition.


Copyright © 2019 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS consultants offer a range of services to assist organizations in managing risks of workplace aggression and active shooter violence.  Contact us for more information.


[i] Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p. 2015. | Cited percentage of 18% is derived from analysis of 2015 workplace fatalities for NAICS categories Health care and social assistance, Professional and business services, and Professional and technical services

[ii] Workplace Violence Overview. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. US Department of Labor. N.p. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/. Accessed 25 October 2017.

[iii] Calhoun, Fredrick, and Weston, Stephen. Threat Assessment and Management Strategies: Identifying the Hunters and the Howlers. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. 2016. pp 25.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Dietz, Park D. “Mass, Serial, and Sensational Homicides.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.  62:49-91. 1986.

[vi] Meloy, J. Reid, and Hoffman, Jens. International Handbook of Threat Assessment. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2014.

[vii] Knoll, James. L. “The “Pseudocommando” Mass Murderer: Part II, The Language of Revenge.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 38:263–72, 2010

[viii] Delgadillo, Natalie. With Shootings on the Rise, Schools Turn to ‘Active Shooter’ Insurance. http://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-cost-of-active-shooters-insurance.html. June 2018.

[ix] Dore, B., Ort, L., Braverman, O., & Ochsner, K. N. (2015). Sadness shifts to anxiety over time and distance from the national tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Psychological Science, 26(4), 363–373.

[X] Workplace Violence. Issues in Response. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. N.d.

[xi] ASIS/SHRM WVP.1-2011, Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention. 2011.

Security Officer Posting and Active Shooter Attacks

Security Officers and Active Shooter Attacks
By Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

Few would debate that one of the most important factors in mitigating active shooter attacks is the speed in which response forces (police or armed security personnel) intercept and neutralize the adversary. The importance of response time is well supported in studies, such as Purdue University’s 2014 Mitigating Active Shooter Impact Study,[1] and case analysis of incidents using the basic mathematical principles of physical security design. The true performance measure of any Physical Protection System (PPS) is its Probability of Effectiveness, most simply described as the probability of a response force intercepting an adversary (Probability of Interruption) and stopping the intruder before the adversary can complete his objective (Probability of Neutralization). [2] Although there are many factors contributing to the Probability of Interruption, the success of a protective design ultimately hinges on Adversary Task Time in relation to Response Force Time.

Recognizing the importance of rapid intervention, many organizations in recent years have opted for contracting or assigning armed security or police on-site to serve a dual role as deterrent and response force in the event of an active shooter incident.

Although having an on-site response capability offers great potential to mitigate the consequences of an armed attack, the manner in which security or police are employed is critical if they are expected to perform their function reliably when needed. As a consultant working with many clients the past decade that have adopted the use of armed security or police personnel for this purpose, one of the most common problems I observe consistently is the assignment of officers without proper consideration for tactical reaction time. Where this concern emerges most frequently is in situations where a facility has a small sized armed security force and has assigned critical officers to stationary posts near entrances without additional control measures.

The vulnerability of posting critical response officers near entrances is illustrated by a number of attacks over the past few decades where armed officers were shot by surprise or unable to react effectively quickly enough to stop the attacker from entry. As a few examples:

    • In the early morning of 01 January 2017, gunman Abdulkadir Masharipov killed 39 people and wounded 70 others at the Reina Nightclub in Istanbul. Although public details about the event are limited as of date, reports claim the attack was initiated when Masharipov shot a former police officer, Fatih Cakmak, and bystander outside the entrance. News reports indicate two other security officers, Hatice Karcilar and Burak Yildiz, also were killed during the attack but little information is available currently about whether the two officers were armed or what their response was during the incident.[3][4]
    • During the June 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a contracted off-duty police officer, Adam Gruler, was posted inside the club when Omar Mateen entered and opened fire on patrons. Gruler engaged Mateen but was reportedly outgunned and driven to retreat which allowed Mateen to bypass Gruler’s position and enter deeper into the club.[5] Altogether, 49 patrons were killed and 53 wounded before police made entry and neutralized the killer.
    • During the May 2003 Al-Qaida attack at the Dorrat Al-Jedawal residential compound in Riyadh, a Royal Saudi Air Force guard and unarmed security officer were killed by surprise when they approached the terrorists’ vehicle as it pulled into the north-side entry gate. [6] With the only armed officer at the entry control point killed, the remaining unarmed security force was forced to flee for their survival.

In each of the above cases, security personnel did not have ample opportunity to recognize an attack was underway and react effectively before being killed or overwhelmed due to tactical disadvantage.

Security officers assigned to protecting facilities against armed assaults require a theoretical minimum of two seconds to perceive and initiate a tactical response effectively. According to studies of human reaction time, it requires approximately .20 to .30 seconds for a person to recognize a situation visually and mentally process a reaction.[7] It then requires approximately 1.7 seconds to draw a weapon from holster, aim, and fire.[8] It is also important to consider the level of awareness of the officer assigned to a security post. The two-second theoretical response time as described assumes optimal conditions and is based on research where test subjects were in a heightened state of arousal and anticipating a provocative stimulus. To describe this by using Jeff Cooper’s color codes of awareness, officers participating in research tests and firearms drills usually are in Condition Orange (specific alert). [9] In the real world when an officer is assigned at a post for extended periods without any threat to arouse awareness, the officer is most likely in Condition Yellow (relaxed alert) or possibly even Condition White (unaware). If we add to this situation additional distractions common at entry control points such access control activities and discussion with building entrants, reaction time to an armed threat could be notably longer than two seconds. An officer seated in a chair would be at even greater disadvantage.

Several options exist to approach this problem in security planning.

The most ideal option is to augment officers assigned at entry points with additional armed officers located inside more tactically advantageous locations to serve as the reliable response force if an attack occurs. In the June 2009 attack at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, James von Brunn shot Special Police Officer Stephen Johns as Johns was opening the door for him.[10] Other armed officers posted nearby were able to respond and neutralize von Brunn before he was able to pass the lobby.

Many organizations do not have the budget for more than one armed officer. In this situation, ensuring a reliable response by a lone officer requires posting him in a location that will provide two seconds or more of reaction time. If a single armed officer was posted previously in a vulnerable location near an entrance, it may be more prudent to reposition that officer in the building interior and away from entrance doors. This suggestion is often resisted when first proposed to clients that believe the armed officer is a useful deterrent when posted visibly near an entrance. It is true that perceived vulnerability is a common factor contributing to terrorist target selection, but the deterrence value of armed officers at entry control points likely is overestimated considering the frequency of attacks against facilities visibly protected by armed personnel. Although attacks have occurred where adversaries altered their plan once in execution due to newly perceived resistance at entry points (e.g., 2015 attack at the Krudttønden Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, 2015 Stade de France, etc.), we are not aware of many events where adversaries abandoned their attack intentions specifically because of the presence of armed officers at entrances.

Deterrence resulting from presence of easily observed security elements is often effective in preventing criminal actions. But when dealing with active shooters (terrorists and non-ideological perpetrators), we should assume that attack preparation will involve a more sophisticated assessment of our vulnerabilities. When securing a facility against a committed and often highly-capable adversary, deterrence as a system design goal should be regarded as the byproduct of an effective performance-based protective system.

In addition to choosing post locations that provide effective response time, armed personnel responsible for defense at entry control points should be provided with pre-positioned cover in the event of a force engagement. Cover is simply defined as an object that will shield an individual from firearm projectiles. What defines cover is determined by the adversary’s weapon system and the ballistic resistance of the object’s material and construction. In building lobbies, for example, cover for stationary security posts can be facilitated discreetly by the use of planters, bullet-resistant trash receptacles, half-walls, or security desks constructed of bullet-resistant materials. Some examples of materials appropriate for use as cover against military small arms include:

      • UL 752 rated glazing and wall construction panels[11]
      • EN 1063 rated glazing and wall construction panels[12]
      • ASTM F 1233-98 rated glazing[13]
      • NIJ 0108.01 rated materials[14]
      • Reinforced Concrete, 4″ or more[15]
      • Brick Masonry, 8″ or more[16]
      • Mild Steel Plate, 14mm[17]
      • Armor Steel Plate, 11mm[18]

To further mitigate risks at building entry control points, open entrances and public lobbies ideally should be protected by an inner layer of intrusion-resistant barriers to delay adversaries regardless of the presence of armed officers. Even a large group of security personnel in proximity of an entrance doesn’t guarantee reliable interception. Speed and surprise provide the attacker with a huge advantage in these events. This point was demonstrated in the 2014 attack at Parliament Hill in Ottowa. After wounding an unarmed officer at the Centre Block building entrance doors, gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was shot by another officer located nearby and was able to run successfully through the Rotunda and Hall of Honour corridor past two rooms occupied by members of Parliament before being contained and neutralized.[19] Had the entrance design at the Centre Block building employed a secure layer of full-height intrusion resistant barriers (e.g., walls, lexan turnstiles, etc.), it is not likely Zehaf-Bibeau would have made it past the lobby.


Copyright © 2017 by Craig S. Gundry, PSP, cATO, CHS-III

CIS consultants offer a range of services to assist organizations in managing risks of active shooter violence.  Contact us for more information.


1] Anklam, Charles , Adam Kirby, Filipo Sharevski, and J. Eric Dietz. “Mitigating active shooter impact: Analysis for policy options based on agent/computer-based modeling.” Journal of Emergency Management 13.3 (2015): 201-16. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

[2] Garcia, Mary Lynn. Vulnerability Assessment of Physical Protection Systems. N.p.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006. Print.

[3] O’Brien, Zoie. “First images of Turkey nightclub attack victims as police officer and student identified.” Express.co.uk. Express.co.uk, 02 Jan. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/749239/Reina-club-terror-ISIS-victims-police-officer-student-banker-daughter-Turkey-Istanbul>.

[4] Michael, Tom, and Jon Lockett. “Families weep for dead as identities of Istanbul nightclub attack victims emerge.” The Sun. The Sun, 02 Jan. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2514430/families-dead-identities-istanbul-nightclub-attack-victims/>.

[5] Harris, David. “Cops give harrowing account of rescues during nightclub shooting.” OrlandoSentinel.com. N.p., 14 June 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/os-orlando-shooting-inside-club-20160613-story.html>.

[6] Braden, Wallace. “Attack at Jedawal: Critical Lessons for AT Professionals.” 2005. S2 Online Academy. Web. 2005. | AUTHOR’S NOTE: Surprise assault against entry control point guards was a common and successful modus operandi in AQAP attacks inside Saudi Arabia throughout the early-mid 2000’s. Some other noteworthy examples include attacks at the Vinnell Corporation compound (May 2003), Al-Muhaya compound (November 2003), and the Al-Abqaiq oil processing facility (February 2006).

[7] Welchman, Andrew E., James Stanley, Malte R. Schomers, R. Chris Miall, and Heinrich H. Bülthoff. “The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. The Royal Society, 03 Feb. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.

[8] “Edged Weapon Defense: Is or was the 21-foot rule valid? (Part 1).” PoliceOne. N.p., 23 May 2005. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.policeone.com/edged-weapons/articles/102828-Edged-Weapon-Defense-Is-or-was-the-21-foot-rule-valid-Part-1>. | AUTHOR’S NOTE: The 1.7 second time cited by PoliceOne for drawing and aimed fire is also very consistent with the experience of the S2 Institute’s firearms training team during timed tactical handgun drills.

[9] “Cooper’s colors: A simple system for situational awareness.” PoliceOne. N.p., 09 Aug. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <https://www.policeone.com/police-trainers/articles/2188253-Coopers-colors-A-simple-system-for-situational-awareness/>

[10] Ruane, Michael E. , Paul Duggan, and Clarence Williams. “At a Monument of Sorrow, A Burst of Deadly Violence.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 11 June 2009. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/10/AR2009061001768.html?hpid=topnews>.

[11] For protection against military small arms, optimal specifications would be UL 752 Level 7 (five impacts, 5.56x45mm) or Level 8 (five impacts, 7.62x51mm)

[12] For protection against military small arms, optimal specifications would be EN 1063 BR5 (three impacts, 5.56x45mm), BR6 (three impacts, 7.62x51mm soft core ammunition), and BR7 (three impacts, 7.62x51mm hard core ammunition). Although EN 1063 does not specifically encompass 7.62x39mm (AK47) ammunition, most manufacturers of EN 1063 rated materials claim the EN 1063 BR5 level is effective for protection against 7.62x39mm soft core ammunition.

[13] ASTM F 1233 establishes test procedures for the evaluation of the resistance of security glazing materials and systems against several types of threats: ballistic impact, blunt tool impacts, sharp tool impacts, thermal stress, and chemical deterioration. For purposes as ballistic cover against military small arms, ideal material specifications under ASTM F 1233 would specify Class/Level R3 equating to successful ballistic testing against .308 Winchester (7.62mm, M80 Ball).

[14] The NIJ 0108.01 standard is applicable to all ballistic resistant materials (armor) intended to provide protection against gunfire. Optimal specifications for protection against military small arms would be Level III (7.62mm FMJ) and Level IV (7.62mm AP).

[15] Unified Facilities Criteria. Design to Resist Direct Fire Weapons Effects. UFC 4-023-07. U.S. Department of Defense. 7 July 2008. pp. 5-8. | AUTHOR’s NOTE: Construction specifications as described in the article text are for a ‘MEDIUM’ threat level (7.62mm NATO) as defined in UFC 4-023-07.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] O’Malley, Kady, and Hannah Thibedeau. “Ottawa shooter’s movements tracked in security video as questions remain.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ottawa-shooting-gunman-s-movements-caught-on-video-but-security-questions-remain-1.2810673>.