Whether you live in a high-rise condominium in Austin, a gated community in San Antonio or an active adult community near Dallas, emergencies happen.  As seen in the media over the past few years, such emergencies may involve active shooters. Do you or your management team know what to do to protect residents in an active shooter situation?

The strongest emergency preparedness plan won’t be very effective if your staff isn’t properly trained or if the chain of command isn’t perfectly clear before something happens. Besides the tragic potential for loss of life, your property also could incur more physical damage than it would otherwise and insurance claims could be denied or even civil lawsuits filed if untrained staff didn’t take appropriate steps.

In April 2018, the FBI published a new report1 that examines all active shootings throughout 2016 and 2017.  Last year marked a 17-year high in active shootings with 30 incidents throughout the nation. It’s also the first time a death toll has risen above 90 for a single year since 2000.  The study mentions that 21 states reported an active shooter situation – six of which occurred in Texas.

According to the report, active shooters are relatively rare but the trend in violent incidents does seem to be on the rise. Therefore, 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. 

Awareness is Crucial
Make sure to guard against a false sense of security in your community association. It’s human nature to get the idea that "this only happens in the outside world," or "this never happens here."  Most of the time it doesn’t, but you should always be prepared for the safety of your community.  Keep an eye on the general tone and outlook of residents around HOA board meetings – some topics may be more controversial and may potentially generate hostility. If you suspect a situation could escalate, make sure that your board considers hiring off-duty police officers or security for the event.

Find Local Resources
“There’s typically a community outreach officer who will be happy to provide training about active shooter situations and other issues,” says Timothy Fowler, director of security operations at FirstService Residential.  Fowler recommends that boards contact local police departments and ask about free community training opportunities.

If police in your area aren’t able to offer active shooter training to your community association, check out the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website2. The website includes a downloadable active shooter preparedness fact sheet and contact information to get help in conducting a preparedness workshop. The DHS also provides links to an online training course.

Have a Plan
Like other emergency preparedness plans and training, preparation for an active shooter situation should be ongoing and consistent. Having a regular rotation of emergency trainings for residents and board members will help mitigate emergencies at any time, whether it’s how to operate a fire extinguisher or to run, hide, fight in an active shooting situation. Consistency in training helps it stick.

Develop a written manual for emergency situations in alignment with your management company. If your community already has a collection of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), make sure that your board members and any staff are familiar with the contents and review it at least annually, if not quarterly.

How to Respond
Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. agree on three survival steps in an active shooting.

  1. AVOID (RUN): Have an escape route and plan in mind. Leave your belongings. Keep your hands visible as you escape.
  2. DENY (HIDE): Hide in an area out of the shooter’s view. Block entry and lock doors if possible. Silence your cell phone or pager.
  3. DEFEND (FIGHT): As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger.  Attempt to incapacitate the shooter, with as many people as possible. Wait until the attacker is not currently shooting, like during a reload. Act with physical aggression and throw items at the shooter.

Emergencies happen, and unfortunately, that can mean an active shooter situation. A quality property management company that will ensure the right training is available and put a plan in place to communicate effectively in an emergency is an important asset for your association. 

1Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 2018.
Wednesday July 17, 2019