Nature Centers and Active Shooter Protocols

by Amber Parker
Executive Director, Ijams Nature Center
Vice President of Professional Services, ANCA Board of Directors


Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Directions, the ANCA newsletter. Members can access the full issue via the member portal.

Many of us would never have thought we would see the words “nature centers” in the same sentence as “active shooter,” but today we must consider such phrases together. 

As public spaces with strong ties to their communities, nature centers are considered soft targets. We are often a distance from law enforcement and offer events that attract large crowds of people.  As leaders of such organizations, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we include protocols for active shooter incidents in that same protocol manual we keep for severe weather events, fire, lost children, and all the other possibilities we never want to think may happen.

Do you have an active shooter protocol already in place? If so, you have done a very brave thing by facing a troubling issue. If not, it’s a great time to start. Most nature centers can contact their local law enforcement agency to ask for assistance in beginning the process. Your sheriff’s office or police department will likely be willing to visit your site to evaluate it and give you great advice regarding how to respond if an incident happens. Your fellow nature center directors are also wonderful resources for advice, sample protocols, and a sympathetic ear as you make hard decisions regarding security. 

Please take the time necessary to develop protocols with your staff and board, including time to run scenarios with staff and volunteers. It’s not enjoyable, but you will feel better in the long run, knowing that you have planned for the security of all who are in your charge. 

Additional editor’s note: use the Member Portal to access sample protocols for active shooter situations. If you have comments or questions on this issue, see the discussion "Active Shooter Response Plan" in the ANCA Google Group.