In the States

Preparing for the Unthinkable: Active Assailants in Your Building


The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of mass shootings in both public and business settings. As a result, property and security professionals must now prepare for any type of active assailant incident.

The term "active shooter" is the most common descriptor used by the mass media and by federal government agencies. But, security professionals tend to prefer the term "active assailant" instead. The reasoning is that harm can be caused by a gun or any other handheld device, including explosives worn on the body.

A recent FBI study revealed that the average number of active shooter incidents per year (the study did not cover incidents where other weapons were used, nor does it include campus shootings) that occurred between 2000 and 2008 was 7.4. From 2008-2017, the average number of cases nearly tripled to a staggering 20.3. These statistics are not reflective of every incident involving the discharge of a gun in that time frame (such as gang- or drug-related incidents) and focused on those that involved one or more individuals who killed or attempted to kill people in a populated area (see "Property Managers Rally in the Face of Real Crises.")

This alarming rate of increase underscores the importance of addressing the potential for this growing threat in the commercial real estate industry. As building owners and property managers tackle this issue, three major concerns should be considered: how to craft the plan and what to include; what security’s role will be; and how to prepare tenants and building staff.

Following are suggestions for property managers to take into consideration when drawing up a plan that is tailored to their building type, surroundings and staffing abilities. They are based on suggestions from BOMA members and the BOMA International advocacy team’s government collaborations.


In crafting a plan:

  • Gather Input. Meet with human resources representatives in your building, members of your property management team, law enforcement and emergency responders to fully understand everyone’s needs and expectations during an active assailant incident. It is especially important to invite law enforcement in these conversations, including an on-site visit so they can familiarize themselves with your building’s layout and in-place security measures. With everyone’s input, you will be able to create an appropriate emergency action plan that ensures the safety of occupants and allows emergency responders to act quickly.
  • Identify Points of Contact. To cut down on confusion in the middle of an incident, make it clear who should be alerted about the incident as soon as it begins—and who should make that contact. This will help tenants and the building team communicate the problem and its location clearly and quickly.
  • Identify Points of Entry. A key component of your preparedness plan, this will help everyone involved—property management, security and law enforcement—identify areas that need to be assessed or locked down.
  • Review Your Plan. After you have devised your emergency plan, be sure to review it with your building’s team and tenants on a frequent basis.


For building security, consider the following:

  • Engage Early. Provide a strategy for tenants to alert security personnel about a person of concern. A person of concern cannot be profiled since there is no one demographic profile of a potential active shooter. But, there are indicators or "contextually inappropriate" behaviors that might be a cause for concern. Such a strategy should allow your building’s security team to put more thought into possible strategies that ensure the best outcome and greatest safety.
  • Communicate. Communicate with building security and be clear about what your expectations are to ensure everyone’s safety. It also is important to communicate to tenants what role security will play in these types of situations.
  • Address Threats. Develop an effective communication vehicle for tenants to use to report threats anonymously. Make sure everyone understands the process for responding to a reported threat, including additional measures that may be taken if the threat is deemed credible.
  • Exercise Caution. Even if a threat or incident does not happen in your building, it does not mean your building will not be affected. For instance, an incident that occurs in your area may pose a threat to the safety of those inside your building. Within your preparedness plan, address a course of action if there is the possibility of a threat nearby.

Among building occupants and personnel:

  • Distribute Information. The Department of Homeland Security has developed "Run, Hide, Fight" one-pagers and pamphlets to provide people with an easy reminder of what to do in the event of an active assailant. In addition to providing this information to your tenants, suggest that they supplement this information with more extensive training through law enforcement or other organizations.
  • Conduct Active Assailant Exercises with Your Team. Bringing your building’s team together to participate in an active assailant exercise will make them better equipped to understand their roles during an incident. The more exercises and programs you participate in, the more information you may want to incorporate in your personalized preparedness plan.
  • Plan Shelter-in-Place Drills. Everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire, because every building has routine fire drills. Shelter-in-place drills give tenants the opportunity to fully understand what shelter-in-place means, should such an alert ever be issued by authorities. These drills are important for tenants to know what a shelter-in-place looks like and for law enforcement to better understand your building’s floor plan. After each shelter-in-place drill, provide a forum where tenants can share impressions and feedback.

With the critical issue of active shooters, developing a plan and educating your building’s occupants are imperative to achieving the safest outcome possible.

For more information on BOMA’s preparedness resources, contact BOMA International’s Government Affairs and PAC Manager Meg Novak.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of BOMA Magazine.