Planning & Response To an "Active Shooter" (DHS)

Understandably, this is a sensitive topic. There is no definitive best response during these
scenarios, but maintaining a run, hide, fight mindset can increase the odds of surviving. It may
be valuable to schedule a time for an open conversation regarding the topic at the facility.
Though some individuals may find the conversation uncomfortable, they may also find it
reassuring to know that as a whole their organization is thinking about how best to deal with this

Regardless of training or directions given, each employee, visitor, and facility occupant will react
and respond based on his or her own instincts. Some people may not be able to leave; others may
refuse to leave. Some will find comfort in a group; others will face the challenges alone. It would
be difficult or impossible for a facility to inform its occupants of every eventuality. Facilities
should help occupants understand there is no perfect response.

Unless otherwise directed by law enforcement or other emergency personnel, the decision to stay
or leave is something best determined by the individual. However, Federal facilities can help
occupants better prepare, respond, and recover by discussing active shooter considerations and
inviting employees to trust that they will make the best decision they can at the time, relying on
their individual circumstances. During an active shooter incident, those present will rarely have
all of the information they need to make a fully-informed decision about applying the run, hide,
fight options.

It is not uncommon for people confronted with a threat to first deny the possible danger rather
than respond. A 2005 investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 found that
people close to the floors impacted waited longer to start evacuating than those on unaffected
floors. Similarly, during the Virginia Tech shooting, individuals on campus responded to the
shooting with varying degrees of urgency. These incidents highlight this delayed response or

When an active shooter event occurs, facility occupants will look for authority figures to provide
guidance on what to do. They may not make a distinction between law enforcement officers and
other uniformed personnel. In the Federal environment, uniformed personnel may be Federal
agents or other security staff or law enforcement officers. These individuals may not be present
when a shooting begins. Announcements of the incident may be made via building notification
system, facility occupants, or upon hearing weapons fire. Therefore, all employees should
receive training in techniques on responding to an active shooter event using the run, hide, fight
model. Individuals should remain calm and try to remember the procedures they learned in training.

Agency training should explain/distinguish the procedural differences between
"sheltering" for a natural disaster event versus "lockdown" for an active shooter incident.
As the situation develops, occupants need to be trained to know how to use more than one option
in the run, hide, fight continuum. Individuals need to decide what action is appropriate based on
their locations. The goal in all cases is to survive and protect others, but options will depend on
how close individuals are to the shooter. Those present can run away from the shooter, seek a
secure place where they can hide and deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter in order
to survive and protect others from harm.
In many instances, an individual might first need to hide and then run to safety when able. While they should follow the plan and any instructions given by appropriate facility representatives during an incident, they will often have to rely on their own judgment. The mental rehearsal of scenarios and considering response options in advance will assist individuals and groups in quickly selecting their best course of action.

Staff should have an understanding of the response plan and how to lead or direct facility
occupants to the nearest evacuation routes (run) and identified secure areas (hide). Train staff to
overcome denial and to respond immediately. For example, train staff to recognize the sounds of
danger, act, and forcefully communicate the danger and necessary action (e.g., "Gun! Get out!").
In addition, those closest to the public address or other communications system, or who are
otherwise able to alert others, should communicate the danger and necessary action. Internal
communications with those in the immediate situation is critical. Security officials are
encouraged to use any means necessary, including information technology platforms, software,
or devices (e.g., computer messaging, mobile phone applications, etc.) to disseminate
information to the workforce in a dynamic environment. Repetition in training and preparedness
shortens the time it takes to orient, observe, and act. Upon recognizing the danger, staff or others
must alert responders as soon as it is safe to do so by contacting 911 with information that is as
clear and accurate as possible.

While personal safety is the primary consideration in any emergency, helping others to safety
increases the survivability for all potential victims. Rendering aid can be as simple as rallying
victims to "Follow me!" or aiding non-ambulatory persons and performing immediate first aid in
safer areas.

Response to an incident will involve the facility tenants (including visitors), building security
officers (if applicable), and responding law enforcement (internal and/or outside agencies). The
site security manager (SSM) or designated official is responsible for ensuring an active shooter
response and communication plan is in place. If the SSM agency has armed security or law
enforcement, they are also responsible for deploying on-site assets. The SSM should also
coordinate with responding outside agencies (both law enforcement and EMS) to maximize
effectiveness of any response and minimize confusion and delay.

Remember, during an active shooter incident the natural human reaction is to be startled, feel
fear and anxiety, and even experience initial disbelief and denial. Those present can hear noise
from alarms, gunfire, explosions, and people shouting and screaming. Training (e.g., table top
exercises and drills) provides the means to regain composure, recall at least some of what has
been learned, and commit to action. Training to remember the run, hide, fight mantra improves
the likelihood of action.

RESPONSE: (Run, Hide, Fight)
If it is safe to do so, the first course of action that should be taken is to run. When possible,
individuals should exit the building through the safest route and proceed to a designated
assembly location(s) or an alternate vetted site. However, given the dynamic nature of an active
shooter event, exiting the building and going to an evacuation site via practiced fire drill routes
may put individuals at risk or may not be possible. If doing so is not possible or puts individuals
at risk, employees may need to run out of the facility or away from the area under attack and
move as far away as possible until they are in a safe location. These options should be clearly
conveyed to employees during facility active shooter training and/or exercises.

Despite the complexity of this situation, facility occupants and visitors at risk who can evacuate
safely should do so. Recent research shows the best method to reduce loss of life in an active
shooter incident is for people to immediately evacuate or be evacuated from the area where an
active shooter may be located or attempting to enter.

Staff should be trained to:

• leave personal belongings behind;
• put their hands in the air to signal that they are unarmed to law enforcement responders;
• visualize possible escape routes, including physically accessible routes for occupants,
visitors, or staff with disabilities and others with access and functional needs;
• avoid escalators and elevators; and
• take others with them but not stay behind because others refuse to leave.
Call 911 when safe to do so:

Information to provide to law enforcement or dispatchers:
• Location of active shooter(s)
• Location of caller
• Number of shooters, if more than one
• If there is law enforcement on-site (if known)
• Physical description of shooter(s)
• Type and number of weapons used by shooter(s)
• Use or threat of explosives/IEDs
• If shooting is still occurring
• Number of potential victims at the scene

Because facility occupants may scatter, they should be given directions on who they should

contact in order to account for all personnel.

Planners should consider creating a threat annex for the run, hide, fight scenario. While
developing this annex, at a minimum, consideration should be given to the following questions:

• Have primary and alternative accessible escape routes been identified?
• Have employees rehearsed the use of escape routes?
• Will escape routes provide enough distance, cover, and concealment to provide safety?
• Has a system been developed to account for all personnel when it is safe to do so?


If running is not a safe option, staff should be trained to hide in as safe a place as possible where
the walls might be thicker and have fewer windows. Likewise, for occupants that cannot run,
hiding may be the only option.
In addition, occupants should do the following:
• Lock the doors and/or barricade them with heavy furniture, if possible.
• Close and lock windows and close blinds or cover windows.
• Turn off lights.
• Silence all electronic devices.
• Remain silent.
• Look for other avenues of escape.
• Identify ad-hoc weapons.
• When safe to do so, use strategies to silently communicate with first responders, if
possible (e.g., in rooms with exterior windows, make signs to silently signal law
enforcement and emergency responders to indicate the status of the room's occupants).
• Hide along the wall closest to the exit but out of view from the hallway (which would
allow the best option for ambushing the shooter and for possible escape if the shooter
enters or passes by the room).
• Remain in place until given an all clear by identifiable law enforcement.
Consider these additional actions:
• Identify a safe location on each floor before an incident occurs where occupants and
visitors may safely barricade themselves during an event.
• Train people in how to lock down an area and secure the unit, including providing a
checklist of instructions on the back of doors and by phones.
• Ensure emergency numbers are available at all phone locations.
Planning and Response to an Active Shooter 22
Consider the following questions if developing a threat annex for the run, hide, fight scenario:
• Have shelter-in-place locations been identified?
• Is there a method to secure the access to these locations?
• Have employees rehearsed the movement to and positioning within these locations?
• How will communications be established with these locations?


If neither running nor hiding is a safe option, when confronted by the shooter individuals in
immediate danger should consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using
aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers, chairs, etc. Research
shows there is strength in numbers, as indicated in the earlier mentioned study. The potential
victims themselves have disrupted 17 of 51 separate active shooter incidents before law
enforcement arrived.

Speaking with staff about confronting a shooter may be daunting and upsetting for some
individuals, but great comfort can come from the knowledge that their actions could save lives.
To be clear, confronting an active shooter should never be a requirement of any non-law
enforcement personnel's job; how each individual chooses to respond if directly confronted by
an active shooter is up to him or her.

Consider the following questions if developing a threat annex for the run, hide, fight scenario:
• Have discussions about when it might be appropriate to defend been addressed?
• Have discussions about available equipment to be used to assist in their defense been
• Have discussions related to the concepts of superiority of numbers, surprise, speed, and
violence of action been addressed?