Active Shooter Defense:

What to Do in the Event of Workplace Violence, School Shootings, and Other Indiscriminate Mass Shooting Events

By Brian M. Morris
Risk Mitigation Specialist

Photo by Prot Tachapanit

The world we live in is a dangerous place. The possibility of violence happening in the workplace is a real and present danger. In 1999, twelve students and one teacher were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and an additional 24 students were injured. In 2012, twenty-six people were shot and killed and twenty-four additional students were injured at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The likelihood of one of these incidents happening again in the future is likely. Regardless of what the shooter’s motivation is, be it a mental condition, a disgruntled employee, or a terrorist, it is imperative that you know the proper signs to look for, precautions to take, and what your actions should be in the event of an active shooter scenario taking place.

Look for the signs

Start by using your situational awareness to identify pre-attack signs that something is wrong, such as:

  • Signs of aggression or threats directed at coworkers or supervisors
  • Existence of unapproved weapons
  • Severe mood swings
  • Depression/withdrawn behavior
  • Talks of suicide
  • Paranoia
  • Strange behavior such as flashbacks
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Repeated violation of policies in the work place
  • Talk of personal problems such as marriage or finances

It is not always possible to predict an active shooter incident and not everyone who exhibits these signs is a potential active shooter. These are just situations to be sensitive of and to notice when someone displays one or multiple signs. In any case, you should report this behavior to your supervisors or to the local authorities, depending on the severity of the situation. Doing nothing is rarely the right answer.

How to respond

If you find yourself in an active shooter situation, you have several options regarding how to respond. Your first choice should always be to help others to evacuate the area. If there is an opportunity to evacuate, make sure you:

  • Have a plan: Make sure you have an escape route in mind before you move
  • Leave your belongings, they will just slow you down
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Prevent other people from going near the area where the active shooter incident is happening
  • Call 911 immediately
  • Go out in the direction first responders are coming in
  • Do exactly what the police officers tell you to do and keep your hands visible. Evacuating the area may not always be an option. If you find yourself unable to evacuate, consider finding a place to hide. The location you choose should:
  • Be out of the view of the people or person doing the shooting
  • Provide good cover (be able to deflect bullets fired in your direction), such as a concrete wall
  • Have an escape route if possible/try not to box yourself in
  • Have doors that lock from the inside
  • Have heavy objects like furniture to block the door. Remember to put your cell phone on silent and hide behind the largest items you can find in your location. Stay calm, cool, and collected, and call 911 as soon as you get the chance.

Taking action

In a worst-case scenario, you may find yourself having to take physical action against the shooter. This is a very difficult situation, particularly if not trained and conditioned in the art of hand-to-hand combat. Still, it may be your last resort in a desperate situation and when innocent people are dying. If this is the case, remember to:

  • Have a plan
  • Commit to your actions 100 percent
  • Be as aggressive as possible
  • Improvise weapons if you can find any…throw large objects if they are available
  • Get others to help you incapacitate the shooter if possible… several grown men can often combine their strength to tackle down a lone shooter. Taking action against an armed aggressor is extremely risky but it may be your only chance (or the only chance for those you are responsible for) of survival.

What to do when the police arrive

One of the most dangerous times during an active shooter scenario is when first responders arrive. It is extremely confusing for them to differentiate between the victims and the perpetrators when these incidents take place. The best thing you can do when you make contact with the police is to:

  • Stay calm and follow the instructions of the police
  • Put down anything you may have in your hands
  • Raise hands high in the sky so they can be seen by the police and keep them there
  • Don’t make any quick or jerking movements
  • Avoid screaming and yelling. Maintain your situational awareness so that you will be able to provide the police with:
  • Location of the shooter(s)
  • Number of shooters
  • Description of the shooter(s)
  • Type of weapon used by the shooter(s)
  • Estimated number of casualties

Being prepared for an active shooter scenario requires not only personal situational awareness but also teamwork, leadership, and practice through response drills as well as continuing education on the topic. In a work environment, actions to take should come naturally through rehearsal and duties and responsibilities should already be assigned long before one of these instances occurs. Additionally, remember, if you see something, say something. All too many active shooter events could have been mitigated or stopped all together had people that observed signs that something was happening out of place and reported those events to the proper authorities.