Active Shooter, On-The-Job Attacks Jump At Nonprofits
Active Shooter, On-The-Job Attacks Jump At Nonprofits

Jonathan Arnburg was in his suburban Chicago home playing with one of his kids on the afternoon of Nov. 19, 2018. He had knocked off work a little early that day, after spending long days the previous six months for his new job as director of public safety and emergency management at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center downtown.

The hospital completed a full-scale emergency management exercise the previous Friday. That next Monday is when it all hit the fan. “I’m sure the training saved lives,” said Arnburg. He received alerts and raced back to the hospital, where the practiced plan was already operational.

Emergency personnel from the Fort Worth Fire Department work on a wounded member of the West Freeway Church of Christ who was wounded when a gunman opened fire during a Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 service.

A man with a gun had been waiting for his ex-fiancé, a doctor, to get off duty. She was supposed to leave at 2 p.m. but getting out on time rarely happens in a hospital. He waited quietly in the lobby and then confronted her in the hospital’s parking lot. Tamara O’Neal, M.D., 38, was shot dead. The gunman fired on arriving Chicago cops. As officers pulled up, Officer Samuel Jimenez was wounded, and died later that day.

With nowhere to go outside, the shooter rushed into the hospital, which is where 25-year-old Dayna Less, a pharmacy resident, was shot and killed. Authorities found the attacker dead of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The shooter had a valid Firearm Owners Identification card even though there had been multiple threats of violence to the doctor and former employers. He also had three clips filled with bullets.

Headlines blare in cases such as Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, the Columbine High School massacre in Columbine, Colo., the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Inland Regional Center in San Berthen-ardino, Calif. In all of those cases, there was a connection to the organizations. The situation in Chicago was a case of domestic violence which evolved into an active shooter emergency.

Federal statistics show that incidents in the workplace are more likely classified as workplace violence than active shooter even when a gun is involved. According to U.S. Department of Labor (USDoL) statistics, 453 workplace homicides were reported during 2018, of which 351 were intentional shooting by another person. There were 44 deaths by stabbing during 2018 and 304 on-the-job suicides.

The violence and other injuries category increased 3 percent during 2018 due to an 11-percent increase in the number of on-the-job suicides. In all, there were 5,250 fatal workplace incidents reported across all categories, nonprofit and forprofit, during 2018. That’s a 2-percent increase compared to 2017.

The National Safety Council reported that in 2017, the last year for which its statistics are available, 70 percent of non-fatal workplace assault injuries occurred to women.

While most death and injuries occurred at for-profit businesses, nonprofits were not spared. The USDoL does not break out nonprofit-specific numbers but several of the tracked categories are dominated by tax-exempt organizations.

For example, there were 27 on-the-job deaths from various causes in the group categorized as “education, training and library occupations.” There were 71 deaths at organizations classified as “arts, design, entertainment, sports and media occupations.” There were a combined 97 reported deaths in two healthcare-related categories, “healthcare practitioners and technical occupations” and “healthcare support occupations.” There were 146 deaths in the category “Health care and Social Assistance” and 18 deaths in the category “Life, physical and social science occupations.”

The most workplace deaths occurred in Texas (488), California (422), Florida (332), New York (271) and Georgia (186).

When it comes to workplace violence in progress, the National Safety Council reports there are three options — run, hide or fight — with fight being the last of all options. According to Arnburg, that rule of thumb was part of the training at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and it probably saved lives.

The key is to “think logically,” Arnburg explained, who previously was a planning specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Mercy’s incident occurred on the main level. The third floor is a pediatric area and locked down. It would not make sense for someone on the fourth or higher floor to run down stairs in an attempt to leave the building during Mercy’s attack since that would put them in the path of the shooter on the ground level. And, in most cases such incidents end quickly with the police killing the attacker, the person committing suicide or surrendering to the overwhelming law enforcement response.

Live scene after shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn. on Dec.12, 2014.

There have been some changes to “harden” the hospital to ward off another incident, he explained. For example, there are now armed plain clothed, off-duty police officers who roam throughout the building.

Maps and blueprints of the hospital are included in CP3: The Chicago Public and Private Partnership. It is a portal that serves as a single site to submit information for the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, the Chicago Fire Department, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Police Department. Information businesses provide assists first responders in addressing an incident and emergency management executives in the development of citywide response plans.

Arnburg isn’t taking any chances. As part of a plan previous to the incident, Arnburg put together five “go bags.” They include keys, a badge to get through readers to locked down areas, a set of blueprints and maps of the facility, and a radio for communication.

Planning is key to ensuring staff and clients are safe. Drilling and exercises are important but not the first step, according to Rick Christ, co-founder of Crisis Prevention and Response, Inc., in Pulaski, Va. Along with being involved in emergency response for decades, Christ previously was in direct response marketing and fundraising for nonprofits.

The first step is a risk assessment, said Christ. “Preparedness is a transitive verb. You prepare for something and it is important to decide what those somethings are – services, threats, vulnerabilities, workforce and supplies,” he said. “You don’t plan for a snowstorm. You plan for the residual effect.”

Simply having a full scale drill isn’t the second step, either. There is tabletop planning of who and what would be needed. Strategies are important, said Christ. There are five stages of strategies: prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. Mitigation is the unsung hero of the process, he explained, since it is part of lessening the impact of events.

Drills allow an organization to test capabilities and to start building response “muscle memory,” he said, helping to identify flaws that can be fixed. Unfortunately, according to statistics gathered by Christ, roughly 65 percent of organizations had fewer than two hours of training during a 12-month period and slightly less than 10 percent had no training at all. According to data from Campus Security magazine, 98 percent of facilities train their security personnel but only 64 percent train the patient care staff and fewer than 30 percent train the housekeeping and food services staff.

Training helps to spot holes in the system, most often of the human variety. “You have to understand how people really behave in a disaster and be able to handle that,” he said.

Preventing workplace violence starts with organizational culture. “If you don’t have a boss who said this stuff won’t happen to my people, then there is no amount of preparedness that will fix that,” he said. That goes to respect in the workplace all the way to the worst-case scenario.

Federal help and funding

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program provides funding for physical security enhancements and other security-related activities, such as planning, training, and the hiring of contracted security personnel, at nonprofit facilities that are at high risk of terrorist attack because of their ideology, beliefs, or mission, explained Bridget Bean, assistant administrator, Grant Programs Directorate at FEMA.

State Administrative Agencies (SAAs) are the only entities eligible to apply to FEMA on behalf of eligible nonprofits. Eligible sub-applicants are nonprofits that are described under Section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the code.

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation is performed on a member of the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, a community adjacent to Fort Worth after a shooter opened fire inside the church.

The number of first-time nonprofit applicants more than doubled between FY 2018 and 2019, from 270 first-time applicants to 643, according to federal statistics. The number of applications approved also jumped from 526 awards to 718 to first-time applicants.

Overall, 2,037 applications were submitted in Fiscal 2019, up from 963 the previous year. Available funds have likewise increased, from $10 million in Fiscal 2013 to $60 million in both fiscal years 2018 and 2019. There is a push in Congress to significantly increase that number due to a rash of attacks at faith-based institutions.

One possible reason for the increase in applications, said Bean, is the evolving programs now eligible for the grant money. Initially it was for target hardening, basically making an attack more physically challenging. “We recently started allowing contract security guards,” she said, which “allowed these funds for planning, training and exercises.”

Bean explained that nonprofits were encouraged in FY 2019 to apply for additional costs, including contracted security personnel as well as security-related training for employed or volunteer security staff to attend security-related training within the United States. Also newly eligible employed or volunteer security staff to attend security-related training within the United States with the intent of training other staff or members/congregants upon completing the training (i.e., “train-the-trainer” type courses) and employed or volunteer security staff or members/congregants to receive on-site security training.

One element of the application process is a risk assessment, which many state and local law enforcement agencies provide for free, Bean said. Even if a nonprofit is not awarded a grant such assessments are valuable for understanding risk and vulnerabilities, she added.

Ways nonprofit managers can do that include:

• Describe any incidents that have occurred at the facility;

• Describe any threats (e.g., verbal threats, vandalism) made against the organization;

• Monitor current events with specific attention to incidents impacting organizations that have been targeted due to a similar mission, belief, or ideology;

• Contact organizations and agencies that can provide information on the current threat environment, such as local law enforcement offices, local emergency management offices, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field offices or Regional Protective Security Advisors. To reach a Protective Security Advisor, email [email protected]

Christ told the story of a time he was visiting a Disney theme park and stopped to chat with bored firefighters. They were there in case of an incident and were rarely called.

“Disney corporate decided ‘you will not have fires.’ They decided not to and took the steps necessary,” said Christ. “You can decide ‘we don’t want this.’ It’s a better move.”


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) has numerous downloads for training in the case of emergencies. Pertaining to an active shooter, there are three phases for safety in the situation: Before, During and After.

Before events, be informed and alert to surroundings. Sign up for local emergency alerts and register work and personal data with a work-sponsored alert system. Sign up with local authorities for training and there’s the phrase that’s often repeated: if you see something, say something. Make a plan so everyone knows what to do. Know where at least two escape paths are available and plan for people with disabilities to have an exit path.

The during element has three options: run and escape; hide if escape is not possible, and fight as an absolute last resort, according to the USDHS guidelines.

Getting away from the shooter is the top priority. Leave everything behind, except your phone and call 911 when you’re safe. Hide when you can’t get out. Stay very quiet and out of view. Don’t hide in groups. Communicate with police through text and social media to tag your location. Try to not speak on the phone as the noise might give up your position to the attacker.

If you must fight, commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible. Grab makeshift weapons, such as a fire extinguisher. Realize you might have to administer lethal injury to the shooter. Throw items to distract the shooter, if possible.

When it is all over, keep your hands visible and empty for authorities to know you are a victim and not a conspirator. It will be chaos. Take care of yourself before helping others. Also, beware when helping the injured because that person might have been part of the plan and still dangerous.

Finally, consider getting professional help to cope with the long-term effects of such a trauma. You can get more information at www.ready.gov