Controlling your risk by Bob Carruth

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management.  For archives of this column click here

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Feb 26

Be Prepared for the Active Shooter at public meetings

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 1:52 PM by Chris Baucom

It is not too hard to find instances where an active shooter has caused mayhem, especially in public facilities and meetings. A few examples in recent years include:

  • February 7, 2008, Kirkwood, Mo. – Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, who had a long running feud with the Kirkwood City Council over a variety of issues, kills a police officer, then enters the city council meeting and uses the officer’s weapon to kill five people including the mayor and two city council members.
  • December 14, 2010, Panama City, FL – Clay A. Duke, upset with his wife’s recent job loss, walks into the Bay County District School Board Meeting and begins to methodically fire on school board members. It ended when Mr. Duke took his own life after being shot several times by local police.

We have also witnessed the horror of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, and the Aurora, Colo., theater. There are other examples of shootings, or a shooter trying to make some sort of statement through the public attention often received in these situations, including the recent example of a shooter near Dothan, Ala., who murdered a school bus driver, then kidnapped a 5-year-old boy and barricaded themselves in an underground storm shelter.

Notwithstanding the current debate concerning gun control and violence, elected boards by their nature can become targets for those wanting to make a statement, or those who feel they have been wronged by a member of the public or the governing body. During my 12 years as a commissioner, I rarely felt endangered while at a meeting; however, looking back, there were certainly opportunities available if someone wanted to get their 15 minutes of fame by taking some sort of armed action against our board. 

Having an active shooter in a board meeting is not something a lot of people like to think about, but it is a situation that should certainly be discussed and for which a plan should be in place. There are several steps that you can take to help reduce the potential for such an incident, and if one does occur, those steps could prevent it from becoming tragic. 

It is extremely important to have a reaction plan, and drill on that plan at least annually. Evaluate your meeting chambers, to include where you would exit, how you would deal with blocked exits, and what would be available in the meeting chambers to protect yourself. Don’t forget that you should also have a plan for where you go to escape an active shooter situation that also provides the necessary security for you until the emergency is over. 

Prior to each meeting, review your agenda to see which items are most likely to be controversial, as these by themselves could attract those bent on causing mayhem. If you are chair or moderator of the meeting, you should make sure you maintain order during the meeting to avoid escalation of a situation. In addition to reviewing and rehearsing the agenda ahead of time, you should also closely monitor the meeting itself. All meetings should have some sort of security present, whether formal or informal. This can range from having staff to act as designated “observers” during the meeting to having a uniformed law enforcement officer present. 

Watch for newcomers or suspicious individuals who may suddenly appear at meetings. But, a word of caution – use discretion, as you do not want it to appear threatening for those who legitimately want to participate in the public process. After all, we all were a first-time attendee at some point. If necessary, station the staff strategically throughout the room to observe and interact with public attendees. This will help identify potential threats early. 

In spite of our best efforts to prevent an incident, an active shooter event could still occur. If you have a good plan in place, and have rehearsed it, then it will help you to react in a more controlled way. When an event does escalate, you and others in the meeting should take the following actions, in order: first, try to escape the room to a place of safety. If that is not possible, try to get behind something that will guard and protect you from gunfire. If you can do neither of those, and it appears deaths are imminent, then you should try to disarm or neutralize the shooter. 

As an elected official or senior staff member, sitting helpless behind a bench while a weapon is being pointed at you is not on the list of what you look forward to when attending a board meeting. Hopefully, by having a good plan that is well practiced, preparing well ahead of time for a meeting, and knowing what to do if an event does occur, you will help reduce the likelihood of being involved in a deadly situation.

If you are a member of our risk management pools and would like assistance in assessing your facility, developing a plan, or training for your staff, please feel free to contact a member of our Risk Control Team. We can either directly assist you, or recommend other resources to assist you as you seek to reduce the risk to your board.