By Dr. Steve Albrecht
I posted this Library 2.0 blog below in October 2020. What a difference two years has made in the intensity and frequency of workplace violence and school violence incidents. New attacks at an elementary school in Texas, a grocery store, and just recently, a factory in Maryland, show us this disturbing trend of mass shootings is continuing in the wrong direction.
After 30 years as a security consultant in these areas, I feel as you probably do: defeated, angry, pessimistic, sad for the families of the lost, furious at the perpetrators, angry at the lack of solutions, and anxious about the death toll and location of the next event.
A few ideas to consider as we view recent attacks with an eye toward better protecting our staff, patrons, and facilities. There are no guarantees of safety and nothing is shooter-proof, but these concepts might make a life or death difference if you can consider them and/or put them in place at your library:
Access control matters. A lot.
Keep staff-only entrance doors locked at all times. Yes, it’s a hassle to fish out a door key or (better yet) a key card, but we should never trade security for convenience. Keep all non-employees on the other side of our locked doors.
Tourniquets, AED machines, CPR training, and fully-stocked first aid kits matter.
For maximum effectiveness, we should stock our library first aid kits with enough tourniquets and clotting bandages for several dozen people. Mass injury events will need more than the usual one or two of everything found in most first aid kits. Get trained in AED use, basic CPR, and “stop the bleed” tourniquet use (www.BleedingControl.org).
Listening for leakage helps in threat assessment and management.
Bad people getting ready to do bad things often warn others. But the key is that they don’t warn their targets; they often tell people around their targets. This is known as “third-party leakage,” where the potential attacker threatens to do harm via someone near the target, not their actual intended target. The reasons for this are many, but we need to tell our safety and security stakeholders when we hear leaked threats.
Social media postings and messages about our libraries or our employees need to be analyzed.
Some school districts, private-sector businesses, and public-sector agencies subscribe to social media monitoring services, who can tell them immediately if their organization is named on the usual social media sites in connection to a threat. It’s not a bad idea for the library to pay for similar oversight.
Rapport-building, kindness, empathy, patience, and enhanced listening skills make a difference.
How we treat patrons and employees, especially during their most stressful moments, goes a long way toward either enhancing or decreasing their desire to come back to do harm by using revenge as their motivation. Fair, empathic, and patient treatment of patrons, even when they are none of these things back to us, and legal, empathic, and humane HR policies and practices for employees facing discipline or termination, can and has been shown to prevent violence.
It’s still the “Lone Wolf Males” who are doing these attacks.
It’s possible more than one shooter is at one site, but not very likely. There have been less than seven multiple-attacker events in the US, in the last 30 years. Violence is usually committed by young, angry, depressed, despondent, desperate, vengeful males (of all ages and races). Women have committed acts of violence at their work facilities and on college campuses, but certainly not to the extent of men. Pay attention to those males who seem to display what we could call “entitled disgruntlement.” They are angry at everybody and everything, all the time, and their pre-attack behaviors often draw our attention.
Cover and concealment matter.
Cover is steel, stone, or heavy wood bullet-stoppers. Concealment is curtains, drapes, blinds, tinting glass, masonry walls, and wooden or aluminum doors. Get behind cover first; hide behind concealment if cover is not close or safely accessible.
Don’t speak to the media unless you are trained and designated by the library to do so.
As we have seen in the Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting, there is a lot of second-guessing going on in the media. Only give comments if you are the library’s media representative. Refer all requests for comments to that person or the Director.
“Mass attacks of violence in libraries are quite rare. In the last few years, however, we have seen library directors, managers, staffers, and security guards injured or killed by armed perpetrators. As such, you need to have a plan for something that may never happen.
Active shooters and armed attackers coming into a workplace, K- 12 school, college or university, theater, or mall to kill people is devastating, horrific, chaotic, and fortunately, rarer than the media would like you to believe. There have certainly been more incidents in the last ten years, but the chances of you being injured or killed by a person with a gun are highly unlikely, especially if you don’t work in a retail environment, in a healthcare setting, or at night, all of which tend to have higher risks of violence.
Besides following your library’s Workplace Violence Prevention Policy, the best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the national protocol suggested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) known as Run-Hide-Fight. Every law enforcement agency in the US knows this approach and most of their members have been trained to use it as their response to an armed perpetrator.
In order, the Run-Hide-Fight process means that if an armed attacker enters your library, your first best choice would be Run. Leave the building as safely and as quickly as possible, taking as many patrons and staff as you can, to avoid the shooter. This means leaving your work items and only taking what you can carry, quickly and safely, with you (purse, wallet, cell phone). If you’re on the ground floor and you’re trapped in your workspace, you may have to break a window and climb out. The key is to move out quickly and get away from the danger, taking as many co-workers or patrons with you. As you leave, if you encounter any first-responders (police, firefighters, paramedics), be sure to give them your hard keys or electronic access key cards so they can move about the building safely and not get trapped in a locked hallway.
If getting out is not possible or safe, for your second preferred choice, you’ll need to find a place to Hide out. This could be a break room, restroom, supervisor’s office, storage room, file room, or even a closet. The key is to stay away from the shooter, lock or barricade the door as best as you can, stay out of the doorway (otherwise known as the “fatal funnel”), and wait for the arrival of the police. If you can safely call the police, using your cell phone, or better yet, a landline in the room, do so. Otherwise, turn off the lights, put as many heavy items as you can in front of the door, and stay quiet and as calm as you can, behind the relative safety of a locked or barricaded windowless room. We know these shooters don’t shoot through a closed door to kill people or have ever impersonated the police from the other side of the door. The police response is forthcoming, with the national average within five to ten minutes.
Your third and final (and necessary choice) is to Fight back against the attacker, using whatever objects (a pot of hot coffee or heavy books thrown at the attacker’s face, chairs, desks, or tables carried by several people) or actual or improvised weapons (knives, OC pepper spray, a fire extinguisher) to stop the attacker if he makes entry into your safe room.
Some key points: if the room you are hiding in cannot be locked or it opens from the outside, try to use a belt or electrical cord to tie up the door closing mechanism at the top (or tie two double doors together).
If you hear the fire alarm during a real active shooter situation, and you do not see flames or smell smoke, stay put. We have seen some attackers pull the fire alarm to get people into their kill zones. Scared employees or supervisors have pulled the fire alarm in their buildings in the mistaken belief that this will either expedite the police response or warn people to get out of the building. Pulling the fire alarm in a non-fire situation only creates more noise and adds to the chaos. Stay in your safe room until you’re notified by the police or other first-responders that it’s safe to evacuate.
If you choose to leave your building during a real active shooter event, you may be able to drive or run to alternative evacuation locations located near your library, like a church, store, mall, open government office, fire, police, or sheriff’s station. The key is to get away to wait in or near a safe location (you don’t necessarily have to go inside one of these buildings), so you can connect with co-workers and wait out the event in safety.
To help you reinforce the critical Run-Hide-Fight concepts, watch one or both of two useful videos connected to the subject. The first is the DHS-created “Run-Hide-Fight” video co-created with the City of Houston, Texas.
It’s short and to the point. Here’s a link to the City of Houston YouTube version:
The second video option provides an even more effective message. It was created by the California State University system and it’s an animated version of the Run-Hide-Fight approach. It may appeal to younger library employees and is perhaps more empowering and less frightening than the DHS version. Both are useful and bear watching, at least once per year for yourself and then again as part of a staff meeting conversation about how to respond to an active shooter situation. Here’s a link to the California State YouTube version:
Use recent or previous workplace, school-based, healthcare, or library-related violence incidents as a teaching tool for your employees. You don’t have to obsess over these events; use what happened as a way to stop the same thing from happening where you work.