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february 2014

Would you know what to do if an active shooter entered your office?

BY Meredith Landry

 Gun violence is rampant in the United Sates today. From Sandy Hook to Aurora, and LAX to the Navy Yard—shooting incidents have become so embedded in the country’s consciousness they only require a single name.

And it seems like nowhere is immune to this kind of violence. A study by John Nicolette, Ph.D., of 35 active shooter incidents during 2012 found that 51 percent of attacks occurred in the workplace, 17 percent in a school, 17 percent in a public place and 6 percent in a religious establishment.

Consequently, many organizations are left asking: Would we know what to do if faced with an active shooter?

Among those organizations are the country’s thousands of DMV satellite offices. According to a recent AAMVA survey, states conduct between 100,000 and 8 million transactions each year. In any state, that’s no small number of potentially dangerous interactions with the public.

While very few of these locations have any kind of active shooter response protocol in place, that might soon be changing, says Brian Ursino, AAMVA’s director of law enforcement. “In response to some of the country’s recent shootings, many of our administrators are rightly beginning to ask: ‘What are we doing to prepare should this happen to us?’”

Maine takes action

After the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007, the administrative staff at the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, based in Augusta, asked themselves that question. And then they acted.

By mid-2008, the Maine bureau’s office of investigation—the law enforcement unit of the agency—had created a clear and concise set of guidelines for how DMV employees should respond when faced with a critical incident, such as an active shooter.

“It went through quite a few iterations, but it was important that the protocol was simple not just for the command structure to follow, report and get help, but also for all staff members to follow when an incident occurs,” says Patty Morneault, deputy secretary of state, Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The Maine bureau’s response process is about as simple as it gets: A member of the command staff sends out an alert to all employees’ computers using a special software system. Based on the level of the alert—Level 1 would include lower extremes like a suspicious package, while Level 3 would cover the most extreme situations, such as an active shooter—employees know how to respond accordingly, based on their training from the office of investigation.

“A Level 1 alert would advise staff to stay away from a certain area, while a Level 3 alert would tell staff to report to their safe rooms, where they would begin to barricade the doors,” Morneault says.

Additionally, command staff members have been provided a red, three-ring binder that includes quick, easy-to-follow instructions for each alert level. “It even outlines what specifically we should say to the emergency responder when we call for help,” Morneault says.

The NetSupport Notify Software™ used by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles was implemented by a local tech company, and it ran the bureau about $8,000. But it, too, is as simple as it gets: A user opens up the icon on his or her desktop, clicks the alert level, types a brief message and hits send.

The bureau’s employees learn how to respond in case of emergency experientially. Each October, the office of investigation leads a training session by simulating a real-life emergency incident.

“A couple of detectives come into our director’s office, say there’s an incident occurring, and the director sends out an alert,” Morneault says. “It’s like a fire drill. The best way to learn what to do is by actually doing it.”

On top of the annual training—which command staff are considering increasing to twice a year to clear up any confusion between these drills and actual fire drills—new employees receive a PowerPoint presentation that outlines the protocol to follow.

Fortunately, no incidents have occurred at the Maine bureau since it has implemented its training. “But we’d be prepared for them if they did,” Morneault says.