With the sustained rise of gun violence and active shooter tragedies over the past 10 years, companies spanning a multitude of industries are looking for better ways to better protect their employees and campus visitors. For many, this leads them to some type of “gun detection” technology – a critical component of the overall active shooter preparedness plan. However, many companies don’t realize they need to go one step further. Once a weapon has been detected and verified, the automated responses that need to be activated are just as important. No one knows this better than Omnilert.
Omnilert was a pioneer in establishing the emergency mass notification market, and we continue to be an innovation leader and trusted partner to over 2,500 customers who protect millions of people. In fact, it was those customers that told us how important gun detection was to them and were a big part of why we added an active shooter solution to our platform. Combining preventive measures, like gun detection, with mass notification technologies creates a seamless workflow that can be initiated automatically in the event of a crisis. This automation was the missing link that most companies were either looking for, or didn’t even know that they needed.
This blog will focus on the communications and automation aspect of active shooter detection, because that is a major piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked by companies. However, if you would like to learn more about some of the gun detection technologies available today and how they work, refer to this guide on evaluating gun detection technology.
An Automated Response to a Verified Threat
Once an active shooter has been identified by your gun detection system, there are many actions and communications that need to happen – and these alerts will have a profound impact on whether lives are saved or lost. Most organizations have an emergency response plan that needs to be quickly and accurately put into action at this stage. This highlights the importance of an automated response and a communications plan designed to work before, during and after an incident.
Proper planning and preparation ensure a concise messaging response that helps manage the adrenaline and stress that inevitably accompanies an emergency situation. The following represents the most common steps for organizations, but you may want to consider working with a third party expert to assess your overall preparedness for active shooter threats and other emergencies.
1) Establish crisis communications policies that will direct what happens when an emergency does occur. These should answer at least the following questions:
- What warrants a full mass notification?
- Who is authorized to send an alert?
- What information should be communicated?
- Do different groups receive different information?
- Which safety systems should be activated for a given emergency?
2) Inventory all of the safety software and systems in use throughout your organization including video management systems, access control, communication systems and emergency notification systems to name a few. Investigate opportunities for integration between systems.
3) Review best practices to learn from the experiences of your peers in terms of what does and does not work. Consider engaging with third party experts if your organizational knowledge is limited.
4) Assemble your security and crisis response teams and start having the members collaborate to craft response plans and the various communications and messaging that needs to go out to different audiences.
5) Develop agreed-upon scenarios where each type of emergency has a preconfigured series of actions that need to be taken. Scenarios should be comprehensive and cover the activation of other systems, notification to first responders and affected people, collaboration among the security teams and feedback from those on site and in potential harm.
- Activation – Depending on the severity of a threat and type of response needed, automatic activation of security systems may be in order. In the case of an active shooter, doors may need to be locked in the vicinity of the shooter, lighting may need to be dimmed to assist with people hiding, automated PA announcements may need to be sounded that authorities are on the way or with directions on how people should respond.
- Notification - It is critical to communicate with people via the means that they consume information. This might include personal notifications such as messages or phone calls sent to personal devices. It also may include mass notifications that are broadcast via a website, social media, public address system, digital signs, televisions and LED boards.
- Collaboration - As an incident is confirmed, quickly pulling together the crisis communications team to collaborate, assess the situation and determine the next steps becomes paramount. As a best practice, we recommend creating a reservationless telephone conference bridge, and a web conferencing meeting that is recurring or instantly engageable. The link to the web conference meeting can be included in the outbound message along with the telephone conference information. Most smart phones will allow the recipient to click on the link to initiate the web conference session. This instant unified command allows the sharing of live video feeds, maps and any relevant data supportive of making an informed decision.
- Feedback - As the incident unfolds, there will be feedback from the community providing ground-level insights that may inform additional communications or actions. There are several possible mechanisms for feedback:
- Social Media – It is important to keep the public informed with official information to prevent inaccurate social storylines from emerging.
- Inbound text message - Your community can reply to their text messages, or generate new direct messages. This information can provide thousands of eyes and ears to help inform next steps in the communications response.
- Two-way engagement - Some emergency mass notification systems include capabilities for two-way engagement with large numbers of people. Small teams can engage with large audiences by easily and iteratively dividing users into targeted groups and sending them relevant information based on their location or association.
6) Training and exercises – Make sure all those involved are trained to ensure a swift and successful response. Practice drills to test the outcomes of the emergency response plan andest your ENS systems as these are both important ways to help prepare. This blog can provide more guidance, “Best Practices for Testing Your Emergency Notification System.”
7) Establish decision points on how you will be made aware of an incident. This could be human-generated through physical or app-based panic buttons, inbound telephone, email or SMS tip. It could also come from installed AI gun detection software that recognizes a weapon and sends an alert with photos and video for verification.
Once there has been an incident reported and the situation has been validated or confirmed, the appropriate automated response scenario and crisis communications plan commences. Below is one potential response plan for an active shooter situation.
- Send verified threat intelligence to public safety answering points (PSAP) including a photo of the gun detection, video snippet and precise location based on the camera that identified the threat.
- Activate other safety systems based on your plan of record
- Publish verified alerts to video management systems to bookmark and highlight threats for additional security team actions.
- Activate access control systems and lock appropriate doors on campus, ranging from those only in the vicinity of the threat to a full campus/facility-wide lockdown.
- Initiate any changes in lighting to either illuminate existing paths or dim specific zones to aid those hiding from the shooter.
- Initiate outbound conference call and web conferencing session to connect the crisis communications team.
- Broadcast multi-modal messages (text, email, social) are to all constituents informing them of the threat and lockdown.
- Organization websites are updated with the alerts.
- Automated voice calls go out with a staff voice message.
- Desktop computers display a pop-up screen with the warning.
- Digital signs throughout facilities show full-screen alerts.
- Audible messages are broadcast through public address systems.
Digesting feedback, and learning from practical experiences to improve processes is a key portion of most response plans. When the incident is over, there will be sets of data and practical experiences that must be reviewed. This data can be used to improve the response activation and crisis communications plan. The improvements derived from post-incident analysis should be documented and incorporated into the Crisis Communications Plan to ensure you are even more prepared in the future.
It Only Takes a Moment to Save a Life
As you can see from above, there are multiple communications steps and systems to activate in response to or during an active shooter event, and the time to plan is before a shot is fired. The moment after any type of active shooter verification is often the “most important moment,” because those decisions can save lives. It is not the time to figure out a plan, it’s the time to execute one that you’ve already prepared.
With the right communications and automation in place, what used to take several minutes can now be initiated in seconds, which helps to ensure the best possible outcome. Gun detection is the first step, but it must be tightly woven with an emergency platform that shares intelligence , initiates your response plans and activates emergency systems in an instant.
At Omnilert, we are proud of our origin as an emergency notification system provider, dating back to 2004. Our mission to protect has never wavered and that is one of the reasons we have become such a trusted partner throughout higher education, K-12 schools, healthcare, manufacturing, non-profits, retail and more. Adding active shooter prevention capabilities to this already established and leading communications platform was the watershed moment the industry needed to become well prepared in the event of a crisis.
If you are interested in learning more about AI gun detection and our visual active shooter solution, check out these resources: