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Active Shooter Protocols: Best Practices for Response Training

active_shooter-1For business leaders, staying informed of industry best practices for workplace security is paramount for maintaining an atmosphere of vigilance, as well as a safe and secure environment for employees. While it is true that your chances of being harmed in an automobile-related incident are far higher than while at work or in a public place by a deranged shooter, being prepared is still the best option.

This was originally posted on the AtHoc Blog by Business Development Manger of AtHoc, John Linstrom.

In a world where these tragedies do happen, having a plan and procedure for how your organization will respond in a threat scenario is an important contributor to employee morale and productivity on a daily basis. With that in mind, here is a simple plan for training your workforce to respond to an active shooter threat.

Alerts and Warnings

Constructing the alert messages to go out to everyone on site at the moment of need should be viewed as an essential part of the preparedness effort. These messages must attract immediate attention and move people to comply with the directive being transmitted. The specific verbiage relating to the source of the alert and the action words that describe the immediate options available should be clearly communicated.

The mode and medium of communications should be chosen carefully to include text messages, email, voice announcements, desktop alerts and other push notification apps. It must be decided if it would be advantageous to activate strobe lights, fire alarm enunciators and speakerphones, or consider whether silent alerts would be a better option to allow people to be quiet and less noticeable when hiding from perpetrators.

It might make sense in one building to make loud noises to distract a potential attacker while in another building keep all messages silent after the initial alert. This has to be evaluated and worked out for each discrete environment.

The planning and development of a series of alerts, warning messages and status updates should be done by architects who possess training and experience in designing and communicating critical messages. The choice of words and subtle nuances must be carefully crafted to elicit the desired response from both employees and visitors, including those who may not have adequate training.

Police officers with riflesPractice Drills

Most organizations have a fire evacuation plan as well as a “shelter-in-place” plan for tornadoes and earthquakes. These are foundational exercises. Ensuring compliance and mastery in these basic drills will promote active cooperation in threat situations as well as provide the organization diagnostic information to refine protocol development.

Beginning with a solid foundation of an empowered and educated workforce will facilitate team members that can take individual responsibility to rapidly and confidently leave the building through primary and secondary exits, and fully account for everyone. This is the first and most important goal! People should be coached and rewarded for rapid compliance with alerting and warnings. They should master both evacuation and shelter-in-place before embarking on a run-hide-fight strategy.


Introducing the run-hide-fight strategy should start with an internally produced video or case study of lessons learned from previous or possible events. This concept is self-explanatory, but should be translated into an employee’s particular working environment. During training, be sure to include every conference room, auditorium, lecture hall and lunchroom. Employees should be taught to:

Fear in the Office

  • Look for two ways out of every space to run and evacuate if the warning is sounded.
  • Look for methods to barricade a door to prevent access.
  • Look for places to hide where they will be less of an obvious target.

The last resort, when leaving or hiding is not possible, is to fight. Consider taking sudden, violent action to incapacitate the shooter using simple, available objects such as hot coffee pots, letter openers, paperweights, fire extinguishers and equipment. Throwing objects to distract, becoming aggressive and executing actions to hurt or injure the shooter may be the option of last resort.

These actions should be simulated in training so that actions learned in training may be replicated if a threat materializes. Reinforcing muscle memory is done by actually walking through the processes of run-hide-fight and providing training in context.

Run = Evacuation – What is your procedure?
Hide = Shelter in place, utilizing concealment and cover.
Fight = Sudden, violent action toward the shooter

Training people to walk past injured colleagues is a difficult subject, but the skill is imperative to rapidly and efficiently evacuate the greatest number of exposed personnel away from a threat. Other concepts, like not distracting or interfering with arriving law enforcement, obeying all directives and commands, and keeping hands exposed and empty must be modeled and practiced to be replicated during a high-stress situation.

Effectively managing critical events like weather and safety emergencies, interruptions to business operations and IT outages requires a unique set of communication capabilities. Learn how AtHoc’s platform delivers important, secure messages in times of crisis to protect the people and organizations you care about by participating in our new webcast Introduction to AtHoc: The Secure Messaging Division of BlackBerry. Also, visit BlackBerry Webcast Central for archived webcasts on other topics important to you and your business.

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