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What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation?

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In 2018, the FBI published a study according to which there is an active shooter incident at least once a month in the United States. On a global scale, the feeling is that we come across these types of incidents a lot more frequently in the news. An active shooter situation could happen anywhere at any time – a shopping center, church, music concert of fast food shop.

While no one ever wants to find themselves in the middle of such an incident, it is all the more important that to educate people on the proper actions and practices that could help them deal with injuries and avoid fatalities.

Preparedness is paramount.

Long-gone is the time for skepticism and it-could-never-happen-to-me attitude. The sad reality is can happen to precisely you. Luckily, there are things you can do to improve your chances of survival.

What is an Active Shooter Situation?

An active shooter is a person actively killing or attempting to kill people in confined or populated areas. In most cases, as the name would suggest, active shooters use firearms and seem to attack indiscriminately, with no obvious pattern or method in selecting their victims.

Active shooter situations are dramatic and unpredictable, often evolving very quickly. Usually, police intervention is necessary to stop the shooting and deescalate the situation. According to the 2018 FBI report, active shooter incidents happen in:

  • Business premises,
  • Open space locations,
  • Educational environments,
  • Healthcare facilities,
  • Government properties,
  • Residences,
  • Places of worship, and,
  • Public transportation.

However, as an active shooter situation is typically over in 15 minutes – which is to say, before the police can arrive, individuals must be prepared mentally and physically to act properly during the event.

Major Incidents around the World

Imagine the following situation: an upset ex-employee enters your business and opens fire, killing people before turning the gun on himself.

The sad truth is that this example is not a stretch for the imagination as these types of incidents are not unique and are becoming all-too-familiar headlines in the media. In fact, workplace violence is the second leading cause of occupational fatalities, and approximately two million workers are injured every year, costing around USD 121 billion annually.

And business premises are not the only location where you need take care.

2011 Norway attacks

The 2011 Norway attacks relates to two domestic terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population, and a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp. This incident resulted with 77 people killed.

The first attack was a car bomb explosion in Oslo, within the executive government quarter. The explosion killed eight people and injured at least 209 people. The second attack occurred within two hours at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. The attacker, dressed in a police uniform with a false identification, took a ferry to the island and started shooting, killing 69 and injuring at least 110.

A 2012 report says that Norwegian police could have prevented the bombing and caught the attacker faster if prevention measures were fully implemented.

Moscow theater hostage crisis

The Moscow theater hostage crisis occurred in 2002 with the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater. On that occasion, 40 to 50 armed Chechens took 850 hostages and the incident ended with the deaths of at least 170 people. The attackers were allegedly part of the Islamist separatist movement in Chechnya and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from their country.

Active Shooter Situation
Moscow Theater Siege; source: wikipedia.org

Immediately, the terrorists placed numerous explosives, with the most powerful in the center of the auditorium.

The situation was resolved when Russian special forces pumped an undisclosed chemical gas into the building’s ventilation system and began the rescue operation. Reportedly, all of the terrorists were killed, but up to 204 hostages died during the incident.

Columbine High School Shootings

In 1999, two students entered their high school in Colorado and conducted the most infamous school shooting in U.S history.

A total of 12 students and one teacher died. The attackers even made home videos prior to the attack referencing what they were going to do and apologizing to their parents for the slaughter they were about to commit.

Ultimately, the attackers committed suicide with gunshot wounds to the head in the school library. SWAT teams reached the school 47 minutes after the shootings began and it took an additional 5 hours before law enforcement declared the school under control.

The Columbine shooting is one of the worst mass shootings in US history and one of the deadliest episodes of school violence.

2019 El Paso shooting

In August 2019, an active shooter situation occurred at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. On that occasion, a gunman shot and killed 23 people, injuring an additional 23 other individuals.

The gunman fired in a crowded Walmart with an assault-style rifle and gave himself up to police outside the store.

This attack is often described as the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history.  According to the police, the attacker even posted online a manifesto with white nationalist and anti-immigrant themes, shortly before the attack.

Active Shooter Situation
A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

2017 Las Vegas shooting

In October 2017, a 64-year-old man opened fire on a mass of people attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. The attacker fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his 32nd floor suite in a nearby hotel.

The incident resulted in the killing of 60 people and wounding 411, with the ensuing panic bringing the injury total to 867. About an hour later, they found the attacker dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Sadly, the motives behind the attack remain undetermined. This incident is the deadliest active shooter situation by a single individual in modern United States history.

Recognizing an Active Shooter Situation

As we said, active shooters are people who attempt to injure or kill people in confined and populated areas. Luckily, quite often there are warning signs – and if you recognize a threat early perhaps you can prevent an incident from ever occurring.

Statistically, most individuals who become active shooters tend to display violent behavior over time. Some of the indicators of these types of behavior include:

  • Aggression towards colleagues
  • Possession of unauthorized weapons
  • Abnormal mood swings or depression
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Lack of hygiene and paranoia
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Suicidal remarks
  • Reoccurring violations of policies, regulations, or laws
  • Financial problems

If you recognize these types of behavior or an immediate threat, you should immediately alert security.

In most active shooter situations, the majority of people – as well as security providers, will probably be unarmed. Because of this, best practices and expert advice narrow your options to three types of choices:

Run – Namely, if you get a chance to get out of the endangered area, take it. You need to be aware of your location at all times and keep in mind where are the exists.

Hide – Again, you need to know where the possible safe areas are. For example, most schools or offices don’t have safe rooms, so you will need to locate rooms where you can stay secure.

Fight – This is your final and last resort option. For instance, look for an opportunity while the attacker is reloading, throw at them anything you can get our hands on.

Finally, you should learn basic medical trauma skills and have a basic kit nearby. Usually, in an active shooter situation, there is a delay in medical response – so self-aid or buddy-aid can save lives.


Active shooter situations evolve quickly, usually before the police can arrive. This means that your goal to quickly figure out the most reasonable way to protect your life, and the lives of the people around you.

Before a situation occurs, take these steps to protect yourself:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and any possible dangers;
  • Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures, personnel, and equipment;
  • Note the nearest exits;
  • Prepare emergency numbers;
  • Have an Active Shooter Response Plan.

Statistically, active shooter situations are rare. But, they are an extreme example that serves as a reminder of the vital role of Active Shooter Response plans. These protective intelligence programs play a huge role in preemptively protecting yourselves, your coworkers and business leaders.

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