Active Shooter Response - Responsibility to Have a Plan

January 21, 2016

Active Shooter Infographic

Will your building occupants know what to do if an active shooter is loose in your facility hallways or on your campus? Will they all know that the event is happening, thus giving them some chance to react? Do they know what the appropriate reaction should be? Most people’s instincts are to run from danger but they must be given guidelines for doing so in an active shooter situation that won’t put them in even greater danger. What if they are trapped in an area by the shooter? What will they do then? What can they expect from responding police?

Merely depending on common sense assumptions when considering these questions is not a good response plan. Absent of a well thought out and thoroughly communicated plan, your organization is subject to occupants doing things that might make bad conditions worse. You have an ethical and legal responsibility to maintain some level of preparedness. Furthermore, you cannot depend on a very low probability of an occurrence as a defense. The human cost, if it ever does take place, demands a response plan! No facility where such a tragedy has happened ever considered itself a likely place for it to occur!

These tragic events are now happening with even more frequency. Also, the recent incidents in San Bernardino, CA and Paris, France brings into play the possibility that this could become a terrorist’s preferred method of attack, regardless of their motivation or group sponsorship. It has become increasingly evident that organizations/businesses/schools/universities need an active shooter response plan. Specifically one that is tailored for the security circumstances at their facilities. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Granted, the response plan from one organization or institution to another may have some common reaction guidelines but the specific response protocols for each will be quite different.

In a prior piece I wrote that there are typically three response choices for facility occupants to rely upon:

  • get out – exit the danger area immediately if possible
  • hide out – lock and barricade silently in place if escape is not possible due to the location of the shooter
  • take out – mass attack the shooter if you’re cornered and your hide out option becomes a sudden fight for your life

To be practical and effective a tailored active shooter response plan has to take into account several factors including, but not limited to:

  • The type of facility in question – school, office building, retail store, factory, sports complex, secured facility, etc.
  • The presence of public occupants as well as employees
  • The environment in which the facility is located – city, suburban, rural, remote, etc.
    • This may dictate the time it will take for law enforcement response
  • The type of communication/notification system available – how will everyone in your facility know that such an event is taking place?
    • Don’t just pull the fire alarm as this may generate some less than advisable responses
  • The occupants’ capabilities to evacuate and knowledge of where to go – considering age/physical abilities/facility operations/etc.
  • Emergency responder tactics and expectations

The variations of how “get out / hide out / take out” is applied and which of the response options are selected under what conditions will be influenced by these and other factors. Accounting for these factors in a specific response plan, and giving example circumstances during training will help to prepare each occupant to know what they should be doing.

Finally, the response plan must be tested and rehearsed. Include the local emergency responders in the refinement of your plan. Lessons learned from other incidents that have occurred, and from your own rehearsals, can be used to further modify and tailor your active shooter response plan; the one that might become part of your legal defense and your clear conscience. Arm people with the knowledge that will give them a chance to survive. It’s the right thing to do.
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