November 20, 2013

Active Shooters and Your Safety

Dr. James PhillipsA special thanks to Dr. James Phillips, MD and current Fellow in the Harvard Affiliated Disaster Medicine/Emergency Management Fellowship, for his uncannily timely presentation at the 2013 HSI International Conference in San Antonio.

Dr. Phillips did a breakout session presentation on active shooter incidents, finishing up his session only about 45 minutes before the news broke about the recent shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport.

In his presentation, Dr. Phillips shared information from the Department of Homeland Security about responding to such incidents and what civilians can do to keep themselves safe during such an event. The following is from the DHS’s Active Shooter: How To Respond.

An active shooter is:

“An individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

And, as the DHS points out:

“Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.” 

How to respond when an active shooter is in your vicinity

Quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Remember that customers and clients are likely to follow the lead of employees and managers during an active shooter situation.

1. Evacuate

    • If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Be sure to:
      • Have an escape route and plan in mind
      • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
      • Leave your belongings behind
      • Help others escape, if possible
      • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
      • Keep your hands visible
      • Follow the instructions of any police officers
      • Do not attempt to move wounded people
      • Call 911 when you are safe

2. Hide out

    • If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.
      • Your hiding place should:
        • Be out of the active shooter’s view
        • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction (i.e., an office with a closed and locked door)
        • Not trap you or restrict your options for movement
    • To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place: 
      • Lock the door
      • Blockade the door with heavy furniture
    • If the active shooter is nearby:
      • Lock the door 
      • Silence your cell phone and/or pager 
      • Turn off any source of noise (i.e., radios, televisions) 
      • Hide behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks) 
      • Remain quiet
    • If evacuation and hiding out are not possible:
      • Remain calm
      • Dial 911, if possible, to alert police to the active shooter’s location
      • If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen

3. Take action against the active shooter

    • As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:
      • Acting as aggressively as possible against him/her
      • Throwing items and improvising weapons
      • Yelling
      • Committing to your actions

When law enforcement arrives:

    • Remain calm, and follow officers’ instructions
    • Put down any items in your hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
    • Immediately raise hands and spread fingers
    • Keep hands visible at all times
    • Avoid making quick movements toward officers such as holding on to them for safety
    • Avoid pointing, screaming and/or yelling
    • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises

The DHS suggests that companies incorporate an active shooter scenario into their Emergency Action Plan (EAPs), and details the roles of human resources, facilities management, and other corporate leaders in such an event.

It’s unfortunate that today’s world forces us to plan for the possibility of these types of workplace events, and we truly hope none of our readers ever need to use the strategies outlined in the DHS booklet. Nevertheless, we considered it good information for our customers to have and encourage you to consider adding this component to your EAP.


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