RISK INSIGHT: Facing an Armed Intruder or Active Shooter

Property & Casualty, Risk

Co-author: Captain Mike Bolender

Organizations can prepare for active shooter situations, but unfortunately these crises are a reality in today’s society. In addition to educating employees on how to act in an armed intruder situation, employers must prepare them to face an active shooter in the event that barricading, lockdowns, and other strategies do not suffice.

While these situations can be terrifying to consider for many employees, we help our clients operate under the motto: Be Prepared, Not Scared. Following the best practices below can become a life-saving measure for employees if they experience this all too common scenario.


When possible, employees should get out of the area quickly and safely create distance between themselves and the shooter. Always run away from the sound of gunfire.

Take cover

If an employee is in a hallway or open space with the shooter, they should create more distance by placing large, heavy items to create “cover”. Look for items that will stop bullets such as steel, concrete, heavy planters filled with dirt, etc.

At times, concealment may be the only option for an employee. It is beneficial, as it protects employees from the shooter’s view, but it will not stop bullets. Concealment objects include drywall, bushes, hollow core doors, most furniture, etc. However, employees should know that concealment is not the safest option.

When running from a shooter, create distance and 90 degree angles

Employees should know to move into opposing hallways, rooms, alcoves, doorways, etc. away from the shooter.

Scatter from others and run as far away as you can, then call 911

Once employees have evacuated from the immediate area, they should run as far away as they can, then contact 911. They should be prepared to provide exact details to the 911 operator, including the city and the exact location. A potential script could be, “I’m at ABC Company, 123 Main Street, Wausau, Wisconsin, and there is an active shooter in the building.” If possible, employees should give a description of the shooter’s appearance, weapon types, location, direction of travel in building, location of known injured, etc.


If an employee hears gunshots, and can’t get out of the building, they should know to lockdown and barricade themselves in their space.

Immediately lock and barricade the door

Employees should use large, heavy, movable objects to barricade the door. Tables, desks, filing cabinets, chairs, and other objects can be used to block entry into the room. These objects should also be used to block the door window so the shooter cannot easily see into the room.

Turn off lights, silence cell phones, spread out, and keep quiet

During trainings, employees learn to eliminate noise and illumination from their lockdown space in order to avoid tipping off the shooter and highlighting their location. Spreading out creates less easy targets for the shooter.

Avoid the fatal funnel


Past history indicates shooters do not spend a great deal of time trying to breach a door unless they have a specific target in mind. Shooters typically understand that they are “on the clock” and law enforcement will be responding soon.

If unsuccessful in their efforts to enter a room within 4-6 seconds, they’ll likely fire a few rounds through the door, hoping to strike someone inside, before moving on to “easier targets of opportunity”.

Look for a second exit

Once lockdown and barricading is complete, employee should look for another way to get out of their location if necessary, breaking windows and evacuating if able.

Distance – Distraction – Fight

The best response plans are those that allow employees to switch and move between response alternatives as the context of the incident evolves and changes.

Playing dead or freezing is not a good solution when running or hiding is not an option. Action will provide a chance, and may save your employee’s life, so they should learn to “move with purpose”. The context of the situation will dictate your purpose.

If there is distance between the employee and the shooter, create more

If the employee is in another area of the building when an initial attack occurs, their response alternatives will differ from those individuals who are near the shooter. If the shooting starts down the hall from their location, their options are to lockdown/barricade (if possible) or create distance (if they have no lockable space or there is a clear path to an exit).

Active shooter situations are dynamic and evolve quickly. The shooting down the hall could very quickly migrate to a new space, which dramatically changes which life-saving alternatives might work best.

The closer the employee is to the shooter, the less response alternatives they will have. If they are near the shooter, and their exit is blocked, and there are no secondary exits, they probably have two choices – do nothing, or go on the offensive and give themselves a chance to live.

If employees are in close vicinity to the shooter, they should utilize a distraction

Employees can plan to throw objects at the shooter’s face and eyes – when they flinch, it’s time to act. Employees can initiative their action plan which could be to create more distance, get to a lockable space, leave the area through a secondary exit, or, if no other option exits, engage or attack the shooter.

If there is no potential to create safety, employees should be prepared to fight

Train employees to find anything to use as a weapon. Many everyday items in a work environment can become a weapon – a stapler, a fire extinguisher, a laptop computer, etc. A forearm or elbow can also do the trick.

In this instance, employees should attack the “trauma susceptible targets”. This includes eyes, all sides of the neck, clavicle, solar plexus, groin, ankles, and knees. Identify the target and “drive through” with the weapon.

Team Tactics

Using team tactics can be very effective in an active shooter situation. If running or hiding are out of the question, partnering with another employee to distract and/or disarm the intruder is an option. One person should attempt to control the weapon or the arm holding the weapon, and get it pointed in a safe direction while a second person – using a planned or improvised weapon or their forearm/elbow – attacks “trauma susceptible targets”. Repeatedly “drive through” the target until the shooter is completely disabled.

However, don’t assume disarming the shooter ends the danger of the situation.

When the weapon is disengaged, move it as far away from the shooter as possible

Employees should know that they should NOT have the weapon in their hands as they exit the building or when law enforcement enter the building. Remember, law enforcement does not know who the shooter is. Having a weapon in your hands could lead to deadly consequences.

When law enforcement enters the area, listen and strictly follow their commands

Instruct employees to always maintain their hands above their heads unless they are containing the gunman. Always allow law enforcement to take command of the situation.

Key Takeaways

Employees need to be able to act within the context of their experience during an active shooter situation. Organizations who have run through various scenarios with their employees, and provided best practices and training, will instill confidence in their teams that may enable them to take lifesaving action. 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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