In one of our first Norris Inc. Blog posts, back in January, we covered the importance of having a prepared, readily-implemented workplace emergency response protocol in place for handling an emergency or critical security threat. We have since supplemented the information and would like to once again share some of the steps that schools, businesses, and organizations can take to help create safer, more prepared environments should the unthinkable happen.

Identify Emergency Situations: While, statistically, fires are the most common type of workplace emergency, the concern for active shooter situations now always top of mind, especially in schools. Employees should know how to recognize which type of emergency situation is occurring, for example knowing the sound of gunshots and how to react by either evacuating the area, hiding out, or, as a last resort, acting against the perpetrator.

Assign Emergency Response Leadership Roles: People lose their ability to think clearly under stress, establishing a chain of command can help to reduce chaos and get everyone to safety more quickly in an emergency situation. Identify willing and able employees to take on emergency response leadership roles and assign them responsibilities such as head count, announcing evacuation instructions, assisting anyone having difficulty evacuating, and notifying first responders.

Designate Evacuation Areas: Identify one or more safe locations to be used as designated evacuation areas for employees to assemble once they have exited the building. Distinguishing specific locations will help ensure that employees, as well as any visitors or outside vendors in the building, can be more easily accounted for after evacuation.

Create Evacuation Routes: Using building floor plans, create clearly labeled evacuation routes leading employees to the designated evacuation area(s). These should be reviewed with employees and posted in high-traffic areas such as conference rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and in close proximity to life safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and alarms. Additionally, place removable floor plans and up-to-date staff rosters near entrances for first responders to utilize.

Notify First Responders: Once at the designated evacuation area(s), the emergency response leaders should ensure that first responders have been notified and provided with critical information such as the nature of the emergency, any areas that may have been blocked when evacuating, and any employees that may be unaccounted for or injured.

Educate & Practice: In addition to providing all new hires with information regarding the emergency response protocol, current employees should review and practice the plan in full a minimum of once a year. Consider requesting that local first responders be present during training exercises, so that they may assist and also be familiar with your evacuation routes and plans.

Inspect & Maintain: While not specifically part of the plan of action during an emergency, even the best emergency response plan will be of limited effectiveness if fire extinguishers, access control and alarm systems, or other notification appliances are not working properly. It is extremely important to have all security and life safety equipment routinely inspected, maintained and replaced should a defect be found. It is equally important to ensure that the security measures in place are being utilized correctly, for example if there is an access control system, routinely check and make clear to personnel that doors are not to be propped or held open for anyone, at any time. Every person must use their own credentials to gain access to the building.

As William H. Webster, the current Chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, so accurately put it, “Security is always seen as too much, until the day it’s not enough…” We cannot always prevent these type of situations from occurring, so the second best scenario is having an emergency response protocol in place to help mitigate the harm inflicted.

Additional information regarding planning for an active shooter event from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can be found here.


Photo: Anton Foltin/