RISK INSIGHT: Preparing & Practicing for an Active Shooter Situation

Property & Casualty, Risk

Co Author: Captain Mike Bolender

Unfortunately, every organization faces the risk of an active shooter situation in their facilities. While it is an overwhelming idea to have to consider, we have always encouraged employers to be ready for this situation by using the motto: Be Prepared, Not Scared.

When your organization plans appropriately and provides employees with the information and resources that they need to act quickly in an active shooter situation, lives can be saved.

Tips to Prepare Employees to Act in the First Few Minutes

The first 0-6 seconds of an active shooter situation are critical. Employers should be upfront with employees about what they should do in the first few minutes of an armed intrusions. Below are some best practices that we have covered in the many active shooter trainings we have provided to our clients:

Create mental “action scripts”

Employees should be armed with “action scripts”, in other words, a mental rehearsal plan that includes different scenarios regarding how to respond in the event of a variety of crises. The prompt employees should utilize is, “If [blank] happens, then I will do [blank].”

Be prepared to “act not react”

Waiting to hear whether a crisis is confirmed or not could be the difference between a lifesaving decision and an unfortunate hesitation. If an employee hears a sound that they perceive to be a gunshot, they should act as if it is a gunshot until proven otherwise. It is perfectly acceptable for employees to individually initiate lockdowns or run-hide-fight protocols. If it turns out that the crisis isn’t occurring after all, that is OK.

Prioritize roadblocks

Your employee crisis action protocol should make it a priority for employees to put as many “roadblocks” as possible between themselves and the intruder. Active shooters seek out easy targets of opportunity, where there are little to no barricades that will limit their movement, and little to no supervision or confrontation that will restrict or end their actions.

Practicing “Rapid Response” Lockdown & Barricading

The first time an employee considers how to lockdown their occupied space should not be during an active shooter situation. Train your employees to consider the following:

Make your barricade response “gross motor skill based”

If your plan relies on fine motor skills (i.e. placing a key in the door keyhole and turning, precise movements with your fingers such as tying rope or computer cable to the doorknob), your employees may find themselves moving too slow to be effective. Use pre-tied items, carabiners, or pre-lock doors to simplify the plan for employees and set them up for success.

Identify objects that will be used to barricade the location, and plan how to barricade

Pre-planning lockdown for each occupied space, including identifying the exact objects that will be utilized is key. However, lockdown plans should also identify in what order barricade objects should be used. Always use objects of substantial size and weight when barricading. Don’t just pile chairs in front of the door, they will not stop an intruder and will limit or obstruct your ability to respond and get out of the room if the door is breached. If barricaded properly, a door breach should be a rare occurrence.

Avoid the fatal funnel


Once barricaded, employees should not stand directly in front of the door in case the shooter fires through the door.

Make it appear as if no one is in the room

Instruct employees to turn off lights, silence their cell phones, keep quiet, and avoid casting shadows under the door.

Identify a secondary exit, or assume the “Defend Your Room” position

As a part of their lockdown plan, employees should be able to identify a secondary exit (door, window, breach a wall) so that they can get out if needed. If they cannot get out, they should position themselves against the wall, 2-3 feet from the knob side of the door. Having a pre-planned improvised weapon is a good consideration for a lockdown plan as well.

Encouraging Day-to-Day Awareness

Employees who are aware are the best prepared in the event of an active shooter situation. Encouraging employees to develop a thorough understanding of their surroundings, how to evaluate and/or barricade their area, and how and when to fight an intruder using the best practices below will result in a better prepared team:

Assessing surroundings when entering a building

Aware employees try to find at least two exit routes when entering a building. They take the time to enter and leave the building using different routes to build familiarity that will be helpful to them in the time of a crisis.

Encourage employees to always “say something”

Employees should feel comfortable reporting suspicious activities, people, or vehicles to law enforcement. It is law enforcement’s job to determine if there is a threat present.

The safest organizations expand on this concept and follow a “see something, say something” campaign. This includes things that employees may see or hear in person or on social media that cause concern. If employees hear or see signs of imminent danger (gunshots, yelling, screaming, or reports of an intruder), they should not go to verify what is happening – they should enact their pre-planned
action script”.

Maintain a brightly colored crisis plan in the same location in every area/room of your organization

The best defense is a good offense. We’ve broken down what this crisis plan should look like in our article, “Risk Insight: Active Shooter Room Controls.” As an M3 client, you have access to a crisis plan template that can be filled out for your organization – just log in to MyM3 to download it.

Identify potential weapons in each room

Many everyday objects can be used as weapons or to distract/disable an armed intruder or shooter. Aware employees identify these options in the spaces that they work in.

Create a personal “Ripple of Safety”

During a lockdown or evacuation, employees should know how to make themselves safe as quickly as possible, notify others to that they can get safe and begin their own “ripple of safety”, activate your organization’s emergency notification system, and call 911.

Key Takeaways

Employees need to be prepared, not scared in the event of an active shooter situation. Organizations who have taken the time to provide training, best practices, resources, and more to their employees will be able to act decisively if an active shooter breaches their facilities. Reach out to Ted Hayes or your M3 account executive for more information about active shooter preparation and training for your organization.

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