Public entities and violent events: 4 steps to emergency preparedness planning

Public entities and violent events: 4 steps to emergency preparedness planning

The possibility of a violent event affecting your organization feels unthinkable. Yet leaders across a range of public entities – schools, institutions of higher education, town municipalities, and other government bodies – are faced with doing exactly that: thinking about how to address and manage this risk.

So, how can public entities mitigate their exposure and protect employees and communities? Learn more about the threat landscape and how to get started with prevention and planning.

Understanding the threat landscape

While only the most extreme headlines grab public attention, the numbers indicate that the prevalence of violent events is on the rise. Recent research from the FBI demonstrates a steady increase in both incidents and casualties over the past two decades, rising from one active shooter incident in the year 2000 to 27 incidents in 2018, for a total of 277 incidents during that time frame. And, when broken down by location, government and education locations together account for 83, or almost a third, of incidents.

As a result of the increased risk, decision makers for public entities are being tasked with enhancing their emergency preparedness planning processes through incorporating leading technology and strategies, updating emergency preparedness plans, and instituting realistic training to rehearse crisis management. Here are four general steps your public entity can take to get started along with some helpful resources:

  1. Build a team with management support

    Create your threat assessment team by bringing together leaders from a variety of disciplines in your organization. This will ensure diverse input from multiple perspectives while also creating a sense of buy-in and responsibility from all. Ideally, your committee should include stakeholders from the following areas:

    Once assembled, the first order of business for the team should be understanding and analyzing your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities and then identifying an appropriate course of action which should include developing or refining an emergency plan.

    • Management;
    • Risk Management;
    • Security;
    • Operations;
    • Human Resources;
    • Facility and Property Management;
    • Safety Committee; and
    • Employee representatives.
  2. Map out the planning process and execute key tasks

    Violent events are rarely spur-of-the-moment incidents. According to the FBI, “This is one advantage that threat assessment teams have – preparing to engage in violence almost always requires time and action, which in turn allows for opportunities for bystander observation and reporting.”

    A 2016 congressional report found, unfortunately, that only 32 out of 51 state educational agencies required school districts to have an emergency plan on file. But school districts and other public entities do not need to wait for mandates to create such a plan. With violent events on the rise, being proactive is the best stance to protect your organization’s employees, students, or customers. With the multi-disciplinary team, move through the following tasks to create a plan that is custom fit for your organization’s needs:

    • Assess security risks to organization locations. Have the team conduct vulnerability and security site assessments for each location. An excellent resource to use as a starting point is the self-assessment tool found in NFPA 1600®, the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management.
    • Prioritize assessed risks and develop risk-mitigation approaches. In this step, your team will identify and develop responses to emergency scenarios. Make sure you tap into expertise from industry leaders, technology experts, and law enforcement.
    • Harden facilities and sites. Now it’s time to make physical changes to your facilities, using strategies developed in your analysis above. Although each location and organization will have different needs and constraints, common strategies include controlling site access with fencing or security guards; adding video surveillance; and implementing employee ID or badge protocols.
    • Conduct threat assessments. Your team should understand how the threat-assessment process works. An important takeaway is that threat assessment is never “one-and-done,” but instead should be an ongoing, everyday activity for your organization. Threat assessment involves three functions:
      • Identify the threat: Students, parents, customers, and employees need to know when, how, and where to report concerns.
      • Assess the threat: Gather and evaluate information from multiple sources to better understand if a person is planning a violent event.
      • Manage the threat: Ideally, this stage moves someone who was on a path of despair back to hope.

    As an additional plan development resource, the Department of Homeland Security recently created a special website specifically for school safety with a wealth of information and best practices. Although it’s intended for schools, the content is relevant and applicable for most public entities.

  3. Communicate and train

    Even the best plan will be ineffective if it has not been shared across the organization. Incorporating the plan into your existing safety program and scheduling periodic training and drills are critical aspects of your risk management strategy. Every employee including new hires, temporary employees, and volunteers should know how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and what to do in an emergency. Here are two things to remember: 

    • Conduct training and drills. Training that depicts real-life scenarios and gets participants to consider their response options will assist them in quickly selecting their best course of action during a crisis. Remember to include local law enforcement in your drills for the most effective and integrated training.
    • Serve as a communication conduit between employees and management. Your team should be an open channel for information flow – both up and down in the organization; everyone’s safety and security depend on it!
  4. Audit and update regularly 

    The planning process does not end once a plan is established and put into place. Once you have created a plan, continue to put forth the necessary attention and effort so it doesn’t become stagnant and outdated. Beyond implementing new safety measures and conducting training, organizations also need to evaluate themselves on a regular basis. Best practices include:

    • Scheduling time to monitor site conditions and practices;
    • Serving as a reporting system to rectify security shortfalls or problems; and
    • Reviewing security incidents and determining best corrective actions and lessons learned.
    • Review and update plans as needed and on a reoccurring and frequent basis; annually is recommended.

Mitigating risk through partnership

Workplace violence is a growing concern for organizations nationwide. Your insurance carrier can provide additional guidance on how to help manage these events as well as information about insurance coverage in the event of a violent incident. Learn more about Liberty Mutual’s violent event response coverage for schools.

This website is general in nature, and is provided as a courtesy to you. Information is accurate to the best of Liberty Mutual’s knowledge, but companies and individuals should not rely on it to prevent and mitigate all risks as an explanation of coverage or benefits under an insurance policy. Consult your professional advisor regarding your particular facts and circumstance. By citing external authorities or linking to other websites, Liberty Mutual is not endorsing them.