How to Prepare Event Staff for an Armed Attack

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Preparing for a potential armed attack at your event is something no one wants to talk about. Of all the things that can wrong at an event, nothing is more frightening than a deadly assault—take the nightclub massacre in Orlando and other recent shootings for example. But preparing for potential threats doesn’t require turning your staff into armed security forces, says Jay Hart, SWAT commander with the Los Angeles County Police. He offers a few easy, low-cost tips for event planners that can save lives in the event of an emergency.

You don’t need to be a hero to increase event safety.

An act of violence almost always brings about litigation, so the training you give your staff must be legally defensible. “No employee is required to jump in front of a bad guy,” says Hart—unless, of course, that employee is a security officer. Instead, Hart advises focusing your training on what employees need to do to protect themselves. For example, in telling staff to “stop, look and listen,” explain that “stop” means “don’t walk into danger.”

Event staff plays a crucial role.

An attack by an active shooter usually lasts about three to five minutes. Although that’s a terribly long time for someone with bad intentions and multiple firearms, it is unfortunately much shorter than the average law enforcement response time of seven to 10 minutes. As a result, police often arrive on the scene too late. Because event staff is always there first, they need preparation.

Reach out to local police before your event.

The more local law enforcement knows about your event ahead of time, the better it can protect you and your group. Many police departments have special intelligence units that can send officers out to advise your team in advance, says Hart. If they cannot dedicate resources specifically to your private event, they may be able to deploy officers nearby, which speeds response time to any emergency.

Teach your staff when and how to speak up.

The Homeland Security slogan “See something, say something” is a helpful guide. Yet many people hesitate to sound an alarm until they’re sure they’re in a real emergency, so they call their manager first. Such delays are a costly mistake. Encourage your event staff that if they see, hear or smell something suspicious, it’s better to err on the side of caution and let law enforcement sort through the ambiguity, as they’re trained to do, says Hart. Teach your staff what to be alert for (screaming or gunshots, for example), so they don’t second-guess themselves during a crisis. “Empower your people to call 911,” Hart says.

Consider just-in-time training.

Although practice drills can be effective, they’re too easy to do wrong, says Hart, and they only work well after staff has had time to practice what they’re being trained to do. Instead, he recommends planners go over safety tips with their crew as close as possible to the start of the event. For example, let greeters know where to send people who aren’t on the guest list, and point out the nearest exits to all event staff. “They need to have an idea of what their options are (i.e., whom to call, where to direct guests, important parts of your event emergency plan) and do a mental rehearsal so they can make informed choices,” Hart says. “What we don’t want people to do is make [split decisions] in the moment.”