While still very rare, active shooter events have risen dramatically in the United States in recent years. The Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. From 2000 to 2006, such incidents averaged 6.4 annually, but from 2007 to 2013, active shooter incidents jumped to an average of 16.4 a year.

Although not required by a specific federal law, construction companies should consider developing policies and procedures to protect their workers, subcontractors and jobsite visitors (including suppliers) during these rare, but highly dangerous occurrences. Having a plan to handle active shooters will prepare workers to act quickly in a fast-moving situation, which will likely last no more than 10 to 15 minutes and be over before police arrive. Studies show that trained employees act, whereas untrained employees are more likely to experience panic or disbelief that puts them in harm’s way.

Following are four key strategies for protecting construction workers from active shooters.

Teach Workers How to Respond

The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s current model for responding to active shooters is to run, hide and fight, in that order. Instructing workers to follow this model is the best way to maximize their safety, especially against an individual intent on causing mass casualties. Because each construction jobsite is different and construction work is more transient than some other industries, the training should be conducted at a location that is as reflective as possible of typical jobsites. During the training, all workers should be encouraged to assess the location and consider how they will respond in the event of an active shooter, with consideration given to the fact that some workers may be asked to travel to locations alone or work at several locations throughout a workday or workweek.

In the event of an active shooter scenario, workers should first attempt to run as far from the situation as they can until they get to a safe location or a secure hiding place away from the shooter. If in a heavily populated area, workers should run and hide in a building close to the jobsite and notify individuals inside the building of the active shooter and the need to lock down that building. In a remote or expansive location, workers may be able to run and hide in onsite project trailers or in a field with tall grass or trees for cover.

Keep in mind, hiding spots will vary depending on the type of job and how far along the structure is in the construction process. Thus, unlike with fixed locations, where to run and how to hide will evolve throughout the life of the project and should be periodically revised by supervisors and workers.

Once at the safe location or secure hiding place, workers should immediately call for help, if safe to do so. When contacting emergency personnel, workers should offer as much information as possible about the location of the active shooter, the number of shooters and the physical description of the shooter, if known.

If an active shooter confronts a worker and his or her life or the lives of others is immediately threatened, the worker should fight. 

Conducting drills on more than one jobsite throughout the year may be an effective way to evaluate a run, hide, fight plan. Primary contractors also should coordinate their drills with subcontractors on the jobsite to ensure that all workers know how to respond. Be sure to let workers know that a drill, not an actual active shooter situation, is occuring. Misunderstandings can take an emotional and physical toll on workers, negating the benefits of the training and leading to possible lawsuits.

Construction companies also should ask for a copy of subcontractors’ emergency response or active shooter plans before they start work and have a discussion about the training their employees have received in responding to an emergency event and whether the plan adequately reflects the particulars of the construction site.

Create a Threat Response Team
Construction companies should create a Threat Response Team comprised of a group of management and non-management employees that are responsible for providing information to local law enforcement about the jobsite during an event, tending to the wounded before emergency services arrive, completing a head count of workers that evacuated the jobsite and notifying law enforcement of missing or unreported individuals. In preparing for a shooter event, the Threat Response Team should pull together a list of workers’ emergency contact information and a first-aid kit.

Additionally, ensure the Threat Response Team is aware of and investigates all workplace violence complaints or concerns. By having a centralized team of individuals involved in complaint and investigation procedures, patterns of behavior may be discovered before an active shooter event occurs, giving construction companies the possibility of thwarting an attack before it happens.

Conduct a Security Analysis
Construction companies should conduct a security assessment at each location that covers whether the public has easy access to the site and whether certain physical changes or engineering and administrative controls could be implemented to reduce worker vulnerability to an active shooter or workplace violence event. In securing the facility and reducing the chance that unauthorized individuals will come onto the jobsite, primary construction companies should consider:
  • putting up a fence around the jobsite with designated worker entrances that are monitored;
  • putting up security cameras at entrances and key work locations to help identify individuals who should not be on location;
  • putting up “no trespassing” signs to reduce the possibility of uninvited individuals stepping onsite;
  • requiring subcontractors and their workers and visitors to sign in at the main trailer before entering the worksite; and
  • communicating with subcontractors if troubling behavior or potential signs are identified.
When it comes to terminated or laid off workers, consider developing protocols and procedures for increasing security for those who have exhibited potential warning signs, including ensuring that the worker no longer has a reason to come back to return equipment or uniforms and instructing managers on what steps should be taken if the former worker is discovered trespassing, such as calling law enforcement.

Coordinate With Local Law Enforcement
Many local law enforcement offices have trained special units to respond to an active shooter event. Construction companies should meet with these units to discuss the effectiveness of the company’s response protocols and seek feedback on how best to respond to an active shooter event. Early coordination with local law enforcement, before an event, can create a timelier and more effective response to a shooting event and a better working relationship with those who will respond.

The more that law enforcement officials understand ahead of time, the more quickly they can respond, and the more lives they can save.


Linda Otaigbe and Nickole Winnett are attorneys in the Washington D.C., region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. For more information, email linda.otaigbe@jacksonlewis.com or nickole.winnett@jacksonlewis.com.