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. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. 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.
Nevertheless, there are things you can do to prepare for the unexpected. Preparing for such events will reduce the stress that you may feel now, and later, should another emergency arise. Explore the information below to see how you can better prepare yourself for these types of situations!
Cover photo courtesy of the DHS
Banner photo and photo within text courtesy of the FBI
Key Considerations of the Active Shooter
- There is no one demographic profile of an active shooter.
- Many active shooters display observable pre-attack behaviors, which, if recognized, can lead to the disruption of the planned attack.
- The pathway to targeted violence typically involves an unresolved real or perceived grievance and an ideation of a violent resolution that eventually moves from thought to research, planning, and preparation.
- Bystanders generally represent the greatest opportunity for the detection and recognition of an active shooter prior to his or her attack.
- Concerning active shooters, a person who makes a threat is rarely the same as the person who poses a threat.
- Successful threat management of a person of concern often involves long-term caretaking and coordination between law enforcement, mental health care, and social services.
- Exclusionary interventions (i.e. expulsion, termination) do not necessarily represent the end of threat-management efforts.
- While not every active shooter can be identified prior to attacking, many potential active shooters who appear to be on a pathway toward violence can be stopped.
Steps to Take if You See Someone or Something Suspicious
“If you see something, say something!” It can be difficult to determine when to report someone or something suspicious. People most familiar with a given environment are in the best position to determine whether or not something seems out of the ordinary.
- Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers.
- Trust your instincts ─ if something feels wrong, don’t ignore it.
- Take note and ensure that the facility you’re at has at least two evacuation routes.
- Post evacuation routes in visible locations throughout the facility (i.e. work).
- Encourage law enforcement, emergency responders, SWAT teams, K-9 teams, and bomb squads to train for an active shooter scenario at your location.
- Do not assume that someone else has already reported the suspicious activity.
- Call local authorities. When you make a report, be ready to provide your name and location, a description of what you think is suspicious, and the time you saw it. The responding officer will assess the situation, ensure the area is evacuated and call for appropriate personnel and equipment.
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.
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 and blockade with heavy furniture.
If the active shooter is nearby:
- 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 and 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.
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.
- Committing to your actions.
How to react 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.
- 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 first officers to arrive to the scene will not stop to help injured persons; their main goal is to locate and stop the active shooter. Expect rescue teams comprised of additional officers and emergency medical personnel to follow the initial officers. These rescue teams will treat and remove any injured persons. They may also call upon able-bodied individuals to assist in removing the wounded from the premises.
- Once you have reached a safe location or an assembly point, you will likely be held in that area by law enforcement until the situation is under control, and all witnesses have been identified and questioned. Do not leave until law enforcement authorities have instructed you to do so.
- Psychological effects in survivors, first responders, and others may be present and are not unusual in the aftermath of a high-casualty event. Assistance from mental health professionals may be necessary.
References, Resources and More Information:
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Active Shooter Preparedness
- Federal Bureau of Investigation – Active Shooter
It Happened Here
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a movie theater in Aurora during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others.
- The shooter often stops as soon as he/she hears or sees law enforcement.
- In 10% of the cases, the shooter stops and walks away. In 20% of the cases, the shooter moves to another location.
- 2% of the shooters bring improvised explosive devices as an additional weapon.
- The average active shooter incident lasts 12 minutes. 37% last less than 5 minutes.