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Active Shooter at Your Workplace: Do You Know What to Do?

By Susan Hoffman

Despite the publicity given to mass shooting events, they are actually quite rare. According to the National Council, “Mass shootings accounted for less than two-tenths of one percent of homicides in the United States between 2006 and 2016.”

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However, an active shooter is unpredictable, and sometimes there are no warning signs of future violence. He or she may decide to attack at any time and at any location: schools, concert venues, movie theaters, restaurants, shopping malls, churches such as mosques and synagogues, military facilities, or even workplaces.

A mass shooting at work is an event that we don’t like to think about. But would you know what to do if an active shooter showed up in your workplace? Do you know the location of the nearest exit to your desk or how to quickly get to a safe, lockable room?

How People Typically React to an Active Shooter or a Similar Emergency

Until you’re faced with an emergency, it’s impossible to know how you’ll react. There are three typical responses to emergency events:

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening!”
  • Deliberation: “What do I do? Where should I go?”
  • Decisive action: “I’m going to get out of here or find a hiding place.”

How you act in the first few minutes of an active shooter incident is crucial. Many of these events only last from four to eight minutes, and the shooter may commit suicide or run away from the scene before law enforcement can arrive.

Preparing for an Active Shooter Event

Preparation is key because you won’t know exactly where you’ll be if an active shooter intent on causing harm comes into your workplace. The FBI recommends that you plan ahead: know your nearest exits, identify where you could hide, and have a plan to help disabled coworkers or anyone else who needs special assistance getting out of your building.

Also, remember the basic principles of “Run, Hide, Fight.” According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you can:

  • Run: Leave your workplace quickly and quietly without any delay. Keep others from going into the building and call 911 to provide them with information about the shooter’s location and weapons.
  • Hide: If escape from your building is not possible, seek shelter in a secure room and get behind or underneath furniture. Turn off overhead lights, lock or block any doors, and close window blinds. Turn off anything that could make a noise (like the text alert on your smartphone), and get frightened, highly vocal people to calm down and be quiet.
    Communicate with law enforcement silently – use text messages on your phone, send posts to social media sites or create written signs. Do not leave the room until law enforcement officers tell you it’s safe.
  • Fight: If you have no choice but to fight an active shooter, improvise weapons such as chairs, fire extinguishers, books or scissors. Be prepared to ambush the shooter and to get weapons away from him or her.

After an Active Shooter Event

Once law enforcement officers arrive on the scene, their first priority will be to locate and stop the active shooter. Closely follow their instructions and evacuate the building in the direction you’re told to follow.

Cooperating with law enforcement is vital. Officers may wonder if the shooter is trying to slip out of the building with everyone else.

As Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, an adjunct professor in the School of Security and Global Studies notes, “Officers are trained that the active shooter may blend in with the crowd. Therefore, law enforcement will require everyone to keep their hands raised; they will maintain accountability as people are escorted out of the building and positively identified.”

Remain Ready for Emergencies

If you have an emergency plan in place, you’ll be better prepared to handle an active shooter incident. With luck, you’ll never have to face such an event, but it’s wise to know in advance what actions you should take and rehearse what you’re going to do.

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Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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