More than 1.4 million Americans have been killed by gunfire since 1968. Many of those shootings were accidental; some were suicides; some were at the hands of law enforcement officers in the line of duty. But many were not. Mass shootings, meaning that at least three people were killed by gunfire, have become an almost daily occurrence in the United States, with instances increasing each year since 2000, and many instances becoming more deadly.
According to the New York Times, “There were, on average, 16.4 such shootings a year from 2007 to 2013, compared with an average of 6.4 shootings annually from 2000 to 2006. In the past 13 years [from 2000 to 2013], 486 people have been killed in such shootings, with 366 of the deaths in the past seven years. In all, the study looked at 160 shootings since 2000. (Shootings tied to domestic violence and gangs were not included.)”
The numbers have increased each year since, with the two most deadly modern mass shootings in the U.S. happening in 2016 and 2017. Canada has also seen an increase in gun violence. Although the numbers are significantly lower than in the U.S., Canada has more gun homicides than any European Union country except France, Germany and Italy.
Thankfully, incidents of violence in community associations are rare, but unfortunately, they do occur. In 2012, two board members in Louisville, Kentucky, were shot during a board meeting, allegedly over a dispute about a fence and driveway. In an era when people are stressed to the limit and are dealing with matters as important as people’s homes, it’s critical to be aware of the potential for an active shooter situation and to be prepared for how to respond if the unthinkable happens.
“It’s better to know what to do and not need to do it than to not know what to do in an emergency,” says Timothy Fowler, director of security operations at FirstService Residential. Fowler recommends that community boards contact local police departments and ask about free community training opportunities.
“In Florida, there’s typically a community outreach officer who will be happy to provide training about active shooter situations and other issues,” Fowler explains. “The training is no cost to the community, and the police have the most current information. They are the specialists who will be responding if an incident occurs, and they understand that training people to know how to recognize and react properly during an active shooter situation will ultimately save lives.”
If police in your area aren’t able to offer active shooter training to your community association, check out the Department of Homeland Security website. The website includes a downloadable active shooter preparedness fact sheet and contact information to get help in conducting a preparedness workshop. DHS also provides links to an online training course.
Rodney Riepenhoff, west region corporate engineer for FirstService Residential, says that every community needs to have emergency procedures in place, including a communication plan. “The most basic things for active shooter training are the same as in an emergency. Be aware of your surroundings, know where the exits are. As in any emergency scenario, your job is to stay alive, to get yourself and your loved ones home safely.”
About 10 years ago, Riepenhoff was personally involved in an active shooter situation. Thankfully, no one was injured. “I was a chief engineer in a high-rise in Las Vegas. It was an older building, and most of the homeowners were in their 70s and 80s. We had a homeowner who had been taking a new medication, and that medication affected his judgement and state of mind. He came down the elevator into the lobby, waving a rifle around,” Riepenhoff recalls.
“The gentleman never threatened anyone specifically, but he was not really coherent. At that time, we didn’t have any type of active shooter training or policy in place. We’d never thought of it. It just so happened that I was entering the lobby from the back hallway. I was facing the front desk as he was walking toward it,” Riepenhoff says. “I was able to subdue him from behind and get the weapon away from him.
“He had no intention of shooting anyone; the gun wasn’t even loaded. But when you’re afraid and don’t know what to do, you can be paralyzed by shock. The young woman who stood paralyzed at the front desk as a man with a gun approached her would have, if trained, dropped behind the desk and started calling on the radio, calling 911. Out of training comes reaction. You have to be aware of your surroundings. It can happen anywhere.”
Riepenhoff emphasizes the importance of communication in an active shooter situation. “The first thing people need to do is get away, then call 911, then try to reach management. If possible, we can use a mass texting tool such as FirstService Residential Connect™ Resident Alert to reach residents and tell them to shelter in place or stay away from the community, then let everyone know when the situation is resolved.”
Like other emergency preparedness plans and training, preparation for an active shooter situation should be ongoing and consistent. “Don’t wait on world events to trigger a training,” Fowler says. “Having a regular rotation of emergency trainings for residents will help mitigate emergencies at any time, whether that’s how to operate a fire extinguisher or to run, hide, fight in an active shooting situation. Consistency in training helps it stick. These are very personal trainings. You see yourself in the situation as you go through it, which helps you retain the information.”
Fowler also cautions against a false sense of security in your community association. “I’ve spoken to too many people who have the idea that ‘this only happens in the outside world,’ or ‘this never happens here.’ We hope it doesn’t, but you should always be prepared for the safety of your community.”
A quality property management company that can help you plan and conduct safety trainings and has the tools to communicate effectively in an emergency is an important asset for your association. Emergencies happen, and unfortunately, that can mean an active shooter situation. Conducting active shooter training will help your community remain safe if the worst happens.