Could you imagine a rural active shooter situation at your business or organization?


A rural active shooter situation is not impossible. In 2006, the rural community of Bart Township, PA with a little over 3,000 residents ended in tragedy when a delivery man opened fire on several children in an Amish schoolhouse resulting in child fatalities. In 2008, in the small community of Henderson, KY, a gunman shot a killed several individuals at the Atlantis Plastics factory. In 1997, at the rural campus of Heath High School located in Western KY, a student active shooter killed and injured his fellow students.


Rural Active Shooter Situation

Photo by COD Newsroom


Active shooter situations not only occur in major and urban communities but they also occur in rural communities as well – therefore having a plan for an active shooter situation at your business in essential for your rural business continuity and crisis management operations. In this article, we will take a look at how your business can plan for a rural active shooter situation…


The Ingredients of a Rural Active Shooter Situation

Rural areas could become a hotbed for active shooter incidents. In a rural environment, the ingredients for a rural active shooter situation is increased based on the common elements found in rural communities. For starters, many in rural communities are active in firearm enthusiasm activities with hunting, target shooting and often “prepping” activities a common sight in rural environments. This isn’t meant to be a negative statement against law abiding firearm owners – it is meant to show you that firearm ownership and skill is probably more common in a rural environment than an urban one.


Another element founds in rural communities is poverty. Rural communities and their residents often, are faced with poverty, lack of employment and low wages. This can create unstable individuals especially if one may not get hired onto a business or become terminated and/or laid off from a business. Mental healthcare providers are also lacking in rural communities giving way for untreated individuals to continue to live untreated. These and other elements are ingredients for rural active shooter situation type activities and should be consider for your business.


Weapon Carry and the Rural Active Shooter Situation

One of your most challenging and complex decision making tasks is going to be the allowance or dis-allowance of concealed carry and open carry in your business and/or organizational facility. Respecting the US Constitution and Second Amendment is a great ideology and it is patriotic but you also control your business, pay for it and are responsible for the safety and security of it so therefore you have every right to decide on whether carrying a firearm can be allowed or not allowed in your business facility.


There are advantages and disadvantages with either decision. Allowing the carry of firearms into your business may deter active shooter types because the shooter will know that armed citizens are present and that he or she may be acted on if threatening the facility with a firearm. However, if employees do protect themselves with their firearm, how would you know that their training is safe and adequate enough to not result in accidental shootings of other employees? Another disadvantage is that allowing firearms into a facility will make it easier for a rural active shooter situation to occur because the shooter will be able to easily get a weapon into the facility. Think about this decision whole heartedly and be precise about what you choose to do for this complex challenge.


Lockdown Plan for a Rural Active Shooter Situation

A lockdown plan for a rural active shooter situation comes in two key components – alert and lockdown. If an active shooter enters your business and opens fire, what will you and your employees do next? The first step should be to alert the facility that an active shooter is present. This can be done by yelling (if the facility is small), announcing a coded alert on a pager system (if the facility is large) and even sounding some form of alarm. Now if the active shooter is a former employee, they might know this alert feature and that is fine as long as you strengthen the lockdown component enough where it presents a challenge for the active shooter to reach other employees.


For the lockdown component, you want to train your employees to go to the nearest room with a door lock as quickly as they can, enter it and lock the door behind them. Strengthen this component by adding strong doors and strong locking systems to the doors and not putting interior windows on locked rooms. Rooms should also carry phones so that employees can call 911 to report an active shooter at your facility. Employees should stay in the locked rooms until public safety officials instruct them to exit. So to sum this objective up, you want to ALERT employees to perform a facility LOCKDOWN due to a rural active shooter situation on site.


Last Resort for a Rural Active Shooter Situation

Let’s theoretically say that an ex-employee who is disgruntled enters your facility with an automatic rifle and begins firing it at your employees. A supervisor at your facility notices the gunman and gets on the pager system and yells “Maintenance meeting in the conference room in 5 minutes” which is the code to tell everyone that an active shooter is in the building. Most of the employees are able to get into rooms and lock the doors behind them. A few employees have even been able to notify 911 operators of the rural active shooter situation but police are several minutes away. A few employees are not able to get to a safe area and are caught in the path of the active shooter. Is it going to be too late for those employees to protect themselves?


It doesn’t have to be! Humans will fight for survival and they should if they have no other choice. As a last resort to stay alive, it is recommended to start throwing potentially dangerous projectiles at an active shooter or charging them in an attempt to disarm them or cause them to flee the area. Consider offering defensive hand-to-hand combat classes to your employees and include a list of items to be used to throw at an active shooter such as scissors, laptops, paperweights, keyboards, product, tools and other heavy items that should result in injuring and/or disarmed the active shooter. If the shooter flees however, employees should be instructed NOT to attempt to chase and detain the shooter but to get to safety instead. There should also be emphasis on making every possible effort to get to safety to avoid having to use this method as a last resort.


Train for a Rural Active Shooter Situation

Before a rural active shooter situation occurs at your business, training and exercises should be conducted to better prepare you, employees, guests and the community for a rural active shooter situation type event. Consider conducting annual rural active shooter situation training events at your facility and include the community’s stakeholders like law enforcement, fire and EMS and even citizens in your exercises. The community departments will often most likely agree to participate in your training and exercises and in many cases, rural area agencies often encourage participating in these types of exercise because they enjoy training and gaining expertise in these types of incidents. Contact your local city management and go from there.


Training should be a full-scale drill type exercise. This means that actors should play the roles of the shooter, employees, police, fire, EMS and others. You can use your employees and community agency personnel to play the roles of these actors. The training should be as realistic as possible of course without anyone actually really getting injured. This type of training will create a rural active shooter situation readiness for not only your business but for community-based agencies and participating citizens as well. These types of exercises can result in the prevention of injuries and fatalities in the tragic event that a rural active shooter situation actually occurs at your business or organizational facility.


Is your business ready for a Rural Active Shooter Situation?

Think about a rural active shooter situation actually occurring at your place of business! Do you actually think you, your employees, guests and the community as a whole would be prepared for something like that to occur? Please comment below with your thoughts, ideas, opinions and questions about a rural active shooter situation happening at your place of business.


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About the Author

Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn J. GossmanB.S., M.S., M.B.A., SEM, PDS
Shawn J. Gossman is an article and publication contributor of rural and remote-based emergency management, continuity and public health topics. Shawn holds a Master of Science concentrating in Emergency Management and a MBA in Hazardous Environment Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Shawn is dedicated to helping rural communities and organizations be a part of the Whole Community approach of National Preparedness.