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Violence prevention training can be a “two-edged sword”- Part 1 of 2

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Violence prevention training, do you do it, or not? It’s a question that a lot of co-op managers are dealing with today.

Consider what the unintended consequences are if you choose to forgo violence prevention training? Your employees may lack the skillsets needed to - deescalate threatening situations, recognize potential threats (situational awareness), or effectively respond to acts of violence, including active shooter situations. This can cost your co-op dearly.

Yet, if you decide to provide training but it is poorly implemented, your employees could still not receive the training needed to improve their abilities to escape harm. And indeed now they’re possibly also traumatized by overly zealous trainers and graphic images of dead and mutilated bodies. This can open the door to a host of HR and legal issues. The reality is that either approach has the potential for doing more harm than good

So where do you start? If you decide to do Active Shooter training, you will have to decide whether to conduct the training yourself (in-house) or contract outside expertise. When conducting in-house Active Shooter training or holding a drill, many well-meaning managers, in their rush to give the staff the best training they can, have made critical mistakes that seriously undermines the success of the exercise. They charge forward with a highly dramatic exercise is that’s too strong, too fast, and overly graphic; the results, strikingly negative unintended consequences.


Be careful not to come on too strong. Be wary of adding too much detail, or indeed the wrong details, to your presentation. What is most important for your staff to learn is the general details of how an active shooter situation will go down, how to recognize that an emergency is occurring, and how to safely escape it. What they do not need are detailed points about police tactics, weapons specifications, advanced self-defense, or former shooter psychological profiles. Some of this information may be useful a select few of your employees, and should be addressed in advanced training. However, for introductory level active shooter training, keeping to the basics is paramount. The advanced stuff can be taught later to those who need or want it. Providing too much information using intense techniques will only confuse your staff, opening up chances to remember the wrong information, and prompting nervousness or anxiety instead of understanding and clarity.

Creating unnecessary fear and anxiety in staff members is one of the most common mistakes made in training or when running a drill, but its also perhaps the most avoidable. It is important to always remember that while some of your employees may have a military, police, or emergency response backgrounds, the majority of them will have no experience or training with emergencies or weapons. While Americans may own the largest number of firearms in the world, only about 40% actually own a gun. The number of Americans who actually hunt with firearms is even lower, at around 6%. This means you can’t take for granted that everybody has experience with weapons, violence, or violent imagery, even in rural areas. To put it in perspective, in an office of 200 employees, about 120 will have little or no experience with guns, and only about 12 will actively use them. That leaves only around 80 people who may be able to recognize a gunshot, or have seen blood and wounds in a person or an animal.

When conducting active shooter training, you want to be sure that you don’t overshoot the objective by making the training too intense, tactical, or militaristic. Focus instead on the basic information your staff needs to know to survive. If people aren't accustomed to gunfire or bloodshed or graphic violence, the heavy or unexpected introduction to these elements can actually prevent them from understanding your message.

It is an undeniable fact of live that a real Active Shooter or Emergency Response situation will be horrifyingly graphic and terrifying. However, if you fill you program with ultra-realistic and graphic depictions of wounds and violence, you run the risk of making the vivid imagery too drastic for comprehension, and your class will fail to remember the salient points of the training or drill. A good example of “going too far” can be seen in some of the recent videos released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in the UK, where images of bloody and detailed wounds dominate the screen. Importantly, besides the danger of diluting your message, going too far in your program also runs the risk of upsetting your staff. Many a security manager has been reprimanded or fired because they forced too much realism or intensity on an unsuspecting class. Don’t create your own HR nightmare!

Blank Firing Exercises-

If you are preparing to actually utilize a blank-firing weapon as a part of your training, take the precaution of preparing you staff for the event. It is a common mistake to believe that the purpose of using a blank-firing weapon is to recreate the sensation of an attack. It is fundamentally impossible to accurately recreate the effect of a shooting incident. Just as the only way to truly understand what it’s like to be in combat is to have been in the real thing, there is no way to duplicate the hate and terror of someone opening fire on their fellow human beings.

To use a movie example, in Clint Eastwood’s 1986 Heartbreak Ridge, Gunnery Sergeant Highway fires an AK-47 assault rifle at his platoon during an exercise run. While the tough-as-nails character of Gunny Highway indeed scares his Marines half to death, the point of the drill was that they learn to recognize the sound of an AK firing. Or as Gunny Highway states the AK is, “the preferred weapon of your enemy, and it makes a very distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it.”

Recognition is the goal of utilizing a blank fire weapon as a part of your drill. You want your staff to know what the sound of a gun going off in your office sounds like. To know how to identify the sound of a gunshot and to understand what that means is the first step in Active Shooter Safety.

The Solution-

What is the answer? You should seriously consider providing training, but make sure the training approach fits the need. You’re not training troops for combat, and there is little need to understand police tactics. Violence prevention training needs to be implemented “lower and slower”; lower intensity and slower in tempo.

Over the years of training security forces, I’ve learned that little is accomplished by going too fast, being too aggressive, or being too graphic/dramatic. At the end of a poorly implemented violence prevention training session your audience will be nauseated, confused, anxious, and peeved; and they’ll retain very little of the actual subject matter.

Violence prevention and active shooter training are deadly serious subjects, but you won’t accomplish the desired result scaring the crap out of your audience. Go with a trainer with real experience and program that foregoes the heavy-handed tactics and approaches the subject from a more humane perspective.

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