Active Shooter Situations: Responding to an Active Shooter Situation
School EOPs should include courses of action that will describe how students and
staff can most effectively respond to an active shooter situation to minimize
the loss of life, and teach and train on these practices, as deemed appropriate
by the school.
Law enforcement officers may not be present when a shooting begins. The first law
enforcement officers on the scene may arrive after the shooting has ended. Making
sure the staff knows how to respond and instruct their students can help prevent
and reduce the loss of life.
No single response fits all active shooter situations; however, making sure
each individual knows his or her options for response and can react decisively will
save valuable time. Depicting scenarios and considering response options in advance
will assist individuals and groups in quickly selecting their best course of action.
Understandably, this is a sensitive topic. There is no single answer for what to
do, but a survival mindset can increase the odds of surviving. As appropriate for
your community, it may be valuable to schedule a time for an open conversation regarding
this topic. Though some parents or personnel may find the conversation uncomfortable,
they may also find it reassuring to know that, as a whole, their school is thinking
about how best to deal with this situation.
During an active shooter situation, the natural human reaction, even if you
are highly trained, is to be startled, feel fear and anxiety, and even experience
initial disbelief and denial. You can expect to hear noise from alarms, gunfire
and explosions, and people shouting and screaming. Training provides the means to
regain your composure, recall at least some of what you have learned, and commit
to action. There are three basic options: run, hide, or fight. You can run away
from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter
access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm.
As the situation develops, it is possible that students and staff will need to use
more than one option. During an active shooter situation, staff will rarely
have all of the information they need to make a fully informed decision about which
option is best. While they should follow the plan and any instructions given during
an incident, often they will have to rely on their own judgment to decide which
option will best protect lives.20
It is not uncommon for people confronted with a threat to first deny the possible
danger rather than respond. An investigation by the National Institute of Standards
and Technology (2005) 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.21 Similarly, during the Virginia Tech
shooting, individuals on campus responded to the shooting with varying degrees of
urgency.22 These studies highlight this delayed response or denial. For
example, some people report hearing firecrackers when in fact they heard gunfire.
Train staff to overcome denial and to respond immediately, including fulfilling
their responsibilities for individuals in their charge. For example, train staff
to recognize the sounds of danger, act, and forcefully communicate the danger and
necessary action (e.g., “Gun! Get out!”) to those in their charge. In addition,
those closest to the public address or other communications system, or otherwise
able to alert others, should communicate the danger and necessary action. Repetition
in training and preparedness shortens the time it takes to orient, observe, and
Upon recognizing the danger, as soon as it is safe to do so, staff or others must
alert responders by contacting 911 with as clear and accurate information as possible.
If it is safe to do so for yourself and those in your care, the first course of
action that should be taken is to run out of the building and far away until you
are in a safe location.
Students and staff should be trained to
- Leave personal belongings behind;
- Visualize possible escape routes, including physically accessible routes for students
and staff with disabilities as well as persons with access and functional needs;
- Avoid escalators and elevators;
- Take others with them, but not to stay behind because others will not go;
- Call 911 when safe to do so; and
- Let a responsible adult know where they are.
If running is not a safe option, hide in as safe a place as possible.
Students and staff should be trained to hide in a location where the walls might
be thicker and have fewer windows. In addition:
- Lock the doors;
- Barricade the doors with heavy furniture;
- Close and lock windows and close blinds or cover windows;
- Turn off lights;
- Silence all electronic devices;
- Remain silent;
- Hide along the wall closest to the exit but out of the view from the hallway (allowing
for an ambush of the shooter and for possible escape if the shooter enters the room);
- Use strategies to silently communicate with first responders if possible, for example,
in rooms with exterior windows make signs to silently signal law enforcement officers
and emergency responders to indicate the status of the room's occupants; and
- Remain in place until given an all clear by identifiable law enforcement officers.
If neither running nor hiding is a safe option, as a last resort when confronted
by the shooter, adults 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, and chairs. In a study of 41 active shooter events
that ended before law enforcement officers arrived, the potential victims stopped
the attacker themselves in 16 instances. In 13 of those cases they physically subdued
the attacker.23 While talking to staff about confronting a shooter may
be daunting and upsetting for some, they should know that they may be able to successfully
take action to save lives. To be clear, confronting an active shooter should
never be a requirement in any school employee’s job description; how each staff
member chooses to respond if directly confronted by an active shooter is
up to him or her. Further, the possibility of an active shooter situation
is not justification for the presence of firearms on campus in the hands of any
personnel other than law enforcement officers.