The Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” These incidents usually involve firearms and randomly selected targets or victims. Active shooter events are usually over within 10-15 minutes (sometimes before law enforcement arrives), so it’s important to know how to respond if the unthinkable happens.

Be prepared with an action plan

Your action plan includes emergency contact information and spells out the steps your employees need to take should an active shooter situation occur.

Make sure to do the following when putting your plan together:

  • Gather emergency responder, hospital, management, and building contact names and phone numbers.
  • Discuss how to alert employees about an incident.  Will you use a code word over the public address system, an all-call phone alert, texts, etc.?
  • Procure supplies such as exit floor plans, first aid kits, staff rosters, flashlights, communication devices, etc.

Once you have your response procedures in place:

  • Create a written emergency action plan.
  • Train employees on the plan and how to react when gunshots are heard.
  • Conduct an emergency drill around an active shooter scenario. Enact your emergency action plan and meet at the designated meeting spot if possible so you can identify which individuals may still be in the building.
  • Evaluate your drill success and adjust your plan and training as needed.

Knowing what to do can save lives

When in an active shooter situation, the Department of Homeland Security says to quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Customers and clients who are in the business with you are likely to follow your lead or that of other managers or your employees. Homeland Security says you have three options: to evacuate the building, hide from the shooter, or take action against the shooter. This response is known as Run, Hide, Fight.


Often, the best choice is to evacuate the active shooter area. For evacuations:

  • Always know two exits and escape routes in every building you visit.
  • Guide others to the escape route and prevent them from entering the shooting zone.
  • Exit whether others follow you or not.
  • Don’t attempt to move wounded people.
  • Keep your hands visible at all times and follow police instructions.


If you can’t escape an active shooter scenario, find a place to hide out.

  • Ideally stay in, or find an office with a door that you can lock and/or barricade.
  • Stay out of sight of windows.
  • Silence your cell phone, turn off radios, TVs, etc., and stay quiet.


If you can’t evacuate or hide, call 911 and talk to the dispatcher or leave the phone line open so they can listen and record events. If possible, describe the location of the shooting, the shooter, and the weapons. Remain calm, listen, and think about your next moves.

Only as a last resort, and if your life is in “imminent danger,” should you take action against the shooter. If you must take action, “aggressively and overwhelmingly” attack the shooter with improvised weapons. Throw things and yell at the shooter. Law enforcement recommends that you “commit to your actions,” so don’t hesitate or stop in mid-action.

When law enforcement arrives at an active shooter scene, their first priority will be to stop the shooter. They will go past wounded victims and may push people to the ground in order to stop the violence. Listen to officer commands. Keep your hands visible, raised, with fingers spread wide. Don’t shout, grab, point, or make distracting noises during officer response.

If you see something, say something

Active shooters may be current or former workers, family or friends of coworkers, or complete strangers. While it is difficult to foresee a person’s actions, sometimes there are behaviors that can signal caution. Be observant of characteristics that a person may be planning a shooting incident. Report any of the following observations or behaviors that make you feel uneasy to your supervisor, management, and/or Human Resources:

  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, and absenteeism.
  • Decreased hygiene and appearance.
  • Depression and/or social withdrawal.
  • Disregard for work quality or company policy.
  • Mood swings and overly emotional responses.
  • Paranoid, suicidal, or doomsday behavior or discussions.
  • Increased discussion of violent incidents and weapons/firearms.

Active shooter situations can be random, with rapid and unpredictable events unfolding. Thinking about and practicing the proper response now can boost your chance of survival through the event and in the aftermath.

For more information, response planning guides, and training resources, go to the Department of Homeland Security website on Active Shooter Preparedness.