How to Plan for Armed Intruders

Mass shootings have people scared, and they want action. Here are four ways organizations can make their facilities more secure.

Two security cameras at the top right of a dark grey wall

If you look at news reports of mass shootings over the past 20 years, it can seem no place is safe from the possibility of an armed assailant. Tragic attacks have taken place in houses of worship, entertainment venues, places of business, movie theaters and other places where people gather.

The result is people are scared, and they feel someone should do something about it. According to Church Mutual’s new “Risk Radar Report — Safety in America,” more than half (54%) of Americans say their top safety concern while attending events is an armed intruder or physical violence. That percentage has increased from 45% in Church Mutual’s first survey in 2019. Meanwhile, only 27% of those surveyed feel their organization is prepared for an armed intruder event.

Insureds are looking for direction to help make their facilities more secure. Here are some ways they can do that:

1. Perform a security self-assessment.

Before taking action, organizations need to know just how secure their facility is. Plenty of tools are available to do just that, including Church Mutual’s security self-assessment, which provides an easy-to-follow checklist of steps facilities should take to prepare for the possibility of an armed intruder.

Some of the most important steps organizations can take include:

  • Making sure their grounds are well-lit.
  • Conducting background checks on all people who are involved with security functions or money handling.
  • Partnering with a local law enforcement agency to identify security concerns.
  • Creating a key control policy so those who leave the organization do not retain their keys. Also, anyone who knows the location of the safe and key should undergo a background check.
  • Controlling access to entrances during events.

2. Conduct an armed intruder tabletop drill. 

Planning a full-scale armed intruder drill can be time-consuming and expensive. But there is a much easier, quicker way to determine whether an organization truly is prepared for such an incident—a tabletop drill.

During the drill, the organization gathers a group of no more than 15 people in a room. None of the people should have any prior knowledge of the scenario being used. After reading the scenario, the group can discuss how they might handle the situation, and who should take charge.

Church Mutual provides an armed intruder tabletop drill worksheet your customers can use. Of course, they can change individual details as needed, but this worksheet gives them a good start on preparing this exercise.

3. Decide on an approach to security. 

Security teams come in all shapes and sizes and often depend on the size of the organization. When a customer develops a strategy for security, they should take into account the different risk levels associated.

  • Low risk – Unarmed volunteer security team: In this option, you organize volunteers or employees and ask them to watch for suspicious behavior, de-escalate non-violent incidents and alert people gathering in your facilities to danger. This involves minimal exposure to risk and liability.
  • Medium risk – Hired local law enforcement or private security contractors: These options provide highly trained security experienced in handling a weapon in high-intensity situations, while still following reasonable use of force standards. When hiring private contractors, your contract must ensure the contractor will assume liability for their actions. You must also thoroughly vet the contractor to verify training standards comply with applicable laws.
  • High risk – Armed volunteer security team: This option typically results in the greatest risk, as the organization will generally bear responsibility and liability for the actions of the team. A significant amount of planning, training and management is required.

Any organization that selects an armed security option must contact its insurer to discuss its plans and ensure the appropriate insurance coverages are in place.

4. Look for warning signs of possible violence. 

Not every armed intruder incident comes out of the blue. A potential armed intruder may tell others about their plans ahead of time or exhibit some of the classic warning signs of violence, including these categories:

  • Behavioral – Acts of insubordination, poor hygiene or appearance and possession of firearms.
  • Psychological – Having delusional thoughts, suffering from a mood disorder and having violent fantasies.
  • Social – Name calling, making threatening statements on social media and using abusive language.
  • Urgent – Displaying a weapon, stalking or cyber-stalking and destroying property. 

An organization can monitor social media sites and enable anonymous reporting on its website. That way, if a person does broadcast their intentions, the organization is more likely to find out about them.

Preparing for an armed intruder is not easy or comfortable, but it is necessary. Every organization should have a plan in place.

Eric Spacek

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Eric Spacek

Eric Spacek is assistant vice president, risk control, at Church Mutual. He has more than 15 years of insurance risk control experience.

Spacek earned a bachelor's degree in English from Eastern University in St. David's, Pennsylvania, and his juris doctor degree from American University.

He earned the Associate in Risk Management (ARM) designation and has also received the Cambridge Certificate in Risk Management for Churches and Schools. 

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