Policies and Training

The Basics of Active Shooter or Mass Attacker Awareness

We can define an “active shooter” as someone who enters the workplace or a school campus with a gun. We can also define a “mass attacker” as someone who comes to the workplace, school, or public place with lethal intent and may be armed with an edged weapon, a bomb, or who uses a vehicle to injure or kill bystanders in his or her path.

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Both are extremely dangerous, and they could be a terrorist, a current or former employee, a customer, a taxpayer, a vendor, a previous visitor, a stranger or a trespasser; or a domestic violence perpetrator. Some of these attackers create their own political, racial, or religiously driven fanaticism. Their motives are obvious at times and more subtle or even forever unknown at others. Regardless as to the “why,” they share a common trait: to kill as many people as they can for their revenge.

They often engage in “targeted violence,” where they go after specific people, including current or former bosses, who they feel may have mistreated them; current or former coworkers, who they see as bullies or unsympathetic to their issues; Human Resources (HR) managers who disciplined or fired them; elected or appointed political or city or county officials; their former spouse or partner or, even more chillingly, the new spouse or partner of their former love relationship; teachers they knew and hated; or responding police officers. We see evidence of this targeted violence when they let some people leave the shooting scene as they kill others.

The national protocol for these attackers—as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is Run, Hide, Fight. Run means run, escape, get out of the building, as far away as you can and as quickly and safely as you can, taking as many coworkers, customers, clients, students, visitors, vendors, and others with you as you can. The key here is to get far enough away from the attacker and make room for the responding police to come inside the building and engage with him or her.

The second step if the attacker is blocking your path or if you’re on a higher floor is to hide, barricade, and lock the attacker out of the safest, lockable room you can find. Gather together with coworkers to lock and block the door with furniture, cut the lights, and stay away from the front of the door (known in law enforcement training as the “fatal funnel”). The key here is to stay out of the attacker’s path. We have not seen cases where shooters have shot at or breached locked doors and killed people, so it’s the safest thing to do if you cannot get out of the building safely. This room could be a break room, restroom, storage room, or any office without windows you can lock or barricade, preferably off the main hallway path.

The third step is to fight back if the intruder gains entry. Use whatever heavy or sharp objects you can find, including big books, a fire extinguisher, a pot of hot coffee, or a chair. Attack the subject as a group and use body weight to hold him or her down until the police arrive. Even an attacker armed with a gun can be stopped by a small group of committed people. Grab the gun arm as soon as he or she crosses the doorway. Cooperating with these attackers doesn’t make it more likely you will survive. Being passive is not a safe strategy if someone wants to kill a lot of people anyway.

Cases of workplace violence involving armed perpetrators are both rare and catastrophic. Not all subjects have used guns in these attacks; edged weapons and vehicle attacks are significant concerns as well. Recent events have heightened the awareness of the need for employees to follow the national DHS protocol: Run, Hide, Fight. Since all employees are in charge of their own sense of security, they need to know what to do, what not to do (simply give up), and how to protect themselves and others during these life-changing and stressful events.