We’ve been spending a lot of time over the last several years helping our clients understand the risks of an active shooter incident and how to prevent such an event – or mitigate its impacts.  These conversations increase in volume and intensity with each time an active shooter or terrorist incident in the United States – or Europe – takes more lives.

So many of the organizations we support are now taking a closer look at this imperative – Fortune 500 corporations, law firms, malls and office buildings, sports complexes, healthcare facilities and critical data centers as well as federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. It’s a top priority for many boards and management teams, HR leaders, risk management planners and Chief Security Officers, not to mention mayors and city managers. They want to protect their people – and their reputations – but aren’t always clear about how to do so.

Developing an Active Shooter Plan is critical, but it’s only the first step. Also vital is training – for (1) employees and what to do if a violent incident erupts in the workplace as well as for (2) first responders to the scene.

Active Shooter Training in a Mall Environment

We recently facilitated active shooter training sponsored by a local police department in Illinois in coordination with a mall management corporation. This represented advanced training for some officers and new training for others. What triggered the initiative? Several factors: a dozen new officers had joined the department since the last training, there were new security guards at the mall, and the police department was interested in refreshing perishable skills.

How did the mall get involved? This particular facility maintains regular contact with the local police department and engages in several cooperative programs to enhance security and reduce crime. When approached about joint training, they were an eager partner.

This was agreed to a few months in advance and took significant time to schedule, develop, and create training material and scenarios. Department personnel conducted much of the work. Since this was a tactical exercise, Hillard Heintze incorporated best practices from other agencies and departments, served as independent observers throughout the exercise, and provided expert feedback during the after-action analysis.

The exercise covered rapid entry, quick location of the shooter and neutralizing him (surrender or shot). It focused on tactics, peer-to-peer planning communications and speed.

Convened over a weekend, the exercise started at 5:00 a.m. and concluded 15 minutes before the mall opened at 10:00. Two scenarios were run – about 12 times each with various changes based on the officers’ responses. One involved a stationary active shooter, the other a mobile one. Scenario conclusions included surrender, shot and suicide.

Three Unexpected Takeaways

The results were interesting. What was most surprising about this?

  1. The officers’ basic tactical training worked well after they settled down and realized that while speed is important, taking a moment to plan and discuss basic tactics do not slow you down, they make you more efficient and effective.
  2. In a multiple-floor mall it is much more difficult to locate the direction of a gunshot than any of the new officers realized.
  3.  Practice is important, location is less relevant. All officers believed they could apply the skills they learned in a mall to a big-box store, auditorium or corporate setting.  General familiarity is important.

Benefits to the Police Department – and to the Mall’s Security Personnel

The department’s officers are substantially more prepared for this type of event. They are more confident in their abilities and will react quicker and more effectively. They also have a new appreciation for the value of incorporating information from guards, cameras and civilians into their approach. What was the benefit to the mall? Guards realized they are critical to minimizing injuries and loss of life by being vigilant, sounding the alarm quickly and providing accurate information.


What is an active shooter? Learn the key facts about active shooters in this short 90-second video.
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