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Details of management: Facing the threat of active shooters

It seems that nearly every day we read headlines of active shooters in public places. The likelihood that you’ll be involved in what Tony Casper calls “mass casualty events” is numerically slim. Nevertheless, our responsibility as property managers dictates maximum safety for our tenants, residents, vendors, and ourselves.

Attendees at IREM’s 2019 Global Summit in San Francisco will recall Casper, co-founder and CEO of Safe Passage Consulting in Columbus, OH. With “event” numbers rising since he made his presentation there, we circled back with him for an update on the issue and–more importantly–what property managers can do to keep building occupants safe in the rare event they’re confronted with an active shooter on their property.

IREM: Tony, are active shooter incidents really on the rise or are they just being reported more sensationally?

CASPER: I want to start by saying that people should not live in a state of paranoia. The likelihood of being engaged in an event like this is unlikely, to be honest. That said, everyone should be situationally aware. From 2020 to 2021, there was an increase of 52 percent, when we went from 40 mass casualty events to 61. But consider this: in 2018, we had 30 attacks, in 2017, there were 31. So, it’s doubled. 

IREM: How do we relate these incidents to the threat to commercial and multifamily assets?

CASPER: There are layers of things we can do to protect buildings, schools, places of worship, offices, and apartments. When you talk about layers of protection that should be in place, there are certain things you should be doing. First, tenants need a level of understanding about that building’s plans. 

That starts with developing a robust emergency response plan and training to that plan. When you create that culture of safety rather than just throwing some technology up or locking a door without providing in-depth explanations of why, it’s easy to inadvertently defeat it, like propping a door open to have a smoke and leaving it propped open. 

The next layer is technology. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, there are systems available now that can identify a firearm as soon as someone gets out of their car. It can then automatically call 911, alert everyone in the building and even lock doors. 

IREM: So, what would be three protocols that a property owner or manager can start with to keep their building occupants safe? 

CASPER: This is a tough question because every site is different. But there are some basics. Number one is access control. That includes something as simple as not holding a door for someone else coming into the building, at least without them checking in with security. This might seem unfriendly, but it’s a social responsibility we have to one another.

We talked about technology, but you should also know that there are systems that automatically badge people in as they enter.

Number two would be dual levels of security for elevator access, which means I have to scan to get into an elevator and scan again for the floor I want to go to. This way, I can’t access the elevator if I'm not a tenant, and I can’t access a floor if I don’t live or work there. Could I take someone else’s access card? Yes, but there are layers of protection here too. We now have ID cards with thumb recognition to verify biometrically that it’s you. 

Third would be a well-trained security staff. There’s just no substitute for a trained, uniformed security guard, sometimes called courtesy patrol or a courtesy officer, in your lobby, someone to engage every entrant: “Good morning, Alice, did you see the game last night?’ or a simple ‘Who are you here to see?’ Engagement is a lost art since the pandemic, but it’s a great protective device. 

IREM: Should they be armed? 

CASPER: The perfect answer is to have a law enforcement official, but they aren’t always affordable, and a lot of agencies don’t have the personnel to support that. Is having an armed security guard good? Yes, but again I want to know their level of training. If trained well, they can be not just an evaluator, but a responder. But you have to do your due diligence. Don’t take just anyone. 

IREM: Wrap this up for us, Tony. What’s the message here? 

CASPER: There was a major food company back in 2010 that was found negligent in a shooting incident. They had an unarmed security guard, and he had no means of broadcasting the threat. It cost the company $46 million in civil suits. The 2017 Las Vegas shootings cost MGM $800 million. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that one death can cost a company $4.7 million when the loss of production, the resultant turnover of staff, and rebranding and marketing are all factored in. 

Those, at least, are the numbers. But there’s something greater at work here. As I said before, we all need to be situationally aware. We need to be prepared. 

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