I recently returned to my gym for the first time since a gunman opened fire at the shopping center in which my club is located. He killed two people in the parking lot before continuing inside the mall and shooting more people. My gym is on the east side of the mall, and he shot his victims on the west side. Still, I had some qualms about returning, especially since on that sunny Sunday afternoon, I was in the north parking lot of the mall walking into the Target store. I heard the gunman's last six gunshots before he headed inside the mall. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. I just knew that I heard gunshots. I paused and looked around. I didn't see anyone with a gun. I thought the gunshots were coming from north of the mall, so I reasoned that heading inside the Target store would be safer than going back to my car. But when I reached the Target doors, I realized I was wrong. I was almost knocked over by a throng of terrified people running out the doors, screaming that a man was shooting a gun inside the mall.
I made it home safely that afternoon, and a few days later, I decided it was time to venture back into my early morning workout routine at the gym. I skipped the spin class because it's in a small room at the back of the club. I thought, unreasonably, that with the loud music in the room I wouldn't be able to hear a gunman come into the gym. Instead, I walked on the treadmill, glancing at the front door on occasion, wondering where the emergency exit at the back of the gym led. I also wondered if the staff at the gym knew what to do if someone came into the facility with a gun. I wondered what they had done on that day, so I spoke with a manager at the club about it. He said they had not been aware of the incident until mall security arrived and told them to shut down the club.
I bring this up not because I think that gunmen are going to suddenly invade gyms across the country. Your members will more likely pull their Achilles tendon or drop a free weight on their toes than be shot at your club. However, with the tragic mass shooting at Virginia Tech and the experience in my neighborhood, I think it's only reasonable that fitness facility owners have a plan in place for emergencies of all kinds. I hope that you already have a plan for how to handle tornadoes, earthquakes, fires and heart attacks. If you don't, I urge you to create a plan and practice it with your staff.
To that list of emergencies, I suggest that you add handling unexpected disturbances from a would-be gunman, a purse snatcher or a robber. Believe it or not, I know of a gym where the front desk was held up many years ago. Fortunately for the club owner, many of his members were law enforcement officers, and a few of them deterred the robber by pulling their service revolvers from their gym bags. However, not every club can count on members to aid them — nor should they. Instead, club staff should be the “heroes” and provide direction and support to members during emergencies. They can only do that if they have a plan and know how to carry it out. Preparation is key to professionalism, good service and making your members feel safe.
I realize that the probability of some disturbed individual creating chaos in your club is low. But then again, the probability of a beautiful Sunday afternoon trip to the mall getting disrupted by a gunman was low, too. It happens. We need to be prepared.