The Risk is Real: Active Shooter Preparedness

Do you think an active shooter incident can’t happen at your business? Think again. Active shooter incidents in the workplace have continued to increase and are now five times more likely to happen than they were in 2000. These days, mitigating the loss of life through active shooter preparedness is essential for every business.

Would you know what to do during an active shooter situation? Ultimately, the goal of active shooter preparedness is to help build awareness of the issue and to provide helpful strategies that could potentially save your life and the lives of those around you.

Why is Active Shooter Preparedness Important?

First and foremost, active shooter training saves lives. As the number of active shooter incidents increases year over year, it is your responsibility as an employer to provide a safe environment for both employees and customers. Active shooter preparedness is worth investing time and resources.Through moderate training and preparation, you can help minimize the amount of panic during a high stress situation like this. Generating a plan for employees to follow during these types of situations is paramount in mitigating loss of life. Participating in active shooter preparedness programs increases your survival rate – it’s that simple.

What is an Active Shooter?

Although there can be various definitions of an active shooter, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security define an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. It is difficult to understand the motives behind an active shooter. In the majority of cases, the shooter does not have a pattern or method to their selection of victims. An active shooter situation usually lasts between 10 to 15 minutes.These situations tend to be unpredictable and escalate quickly.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists certain characteristics that may help describe an active shooter. Active shooters usually have an expression of rage or hated, as opposed to financial or other crimes. Active shooters usually have a detailed planned attack. Lastly, active shooters are often suicidal. 

Active Shooter Events by Location

Most active shooter incidents occur at businesses, but they can happen at any place at any time. To make sure your colleagues and loved ones stay safe, prepare ahead of time. Developing an active shooter plan and running through different scenarios can increase response times when every possible second counts.

Have You Trained Employees to Report Suspicious Activity to Management?

You never know when an active shooter is going to be present, so it’s ideal to have a system set in place to communicate the right information to the right people. It’s a good idea to implement a training program for your staff. For example, setting up some questions about suspicious behavior is a good place to start. Compile these into a questionnaire to be filled out by each employee. Your employees will be more comfortable having thought through suspicious characteristics of an active shooter ahead of time.

Make sure to follow up the program by asking questions to assess the employee’s understanding of the material. Also, make sure every employee knows who to notify if they observe suspicious behavior. In your employee training, be sure to address actions to avoid. Some of these actions might include confronting the suspicious person, attempting to take a photo or video of the person, and trying to obtain license plate information.

What Emotions Do You Encounter During an Active Shooter Event?

  1. Denial. Denial is the disbelief in the reality of things and declaration that something is not true. Denial is usually the first response in an active shooter situation. It’s important to move through the phase of denial quickly so you can react and take action to escape the situation.
  2. Deliberation. This is the long and careful decision on what to do in the situation. If you do not have a plan of action, the heavy amount of stress can dramatically impact the way you perceive information and make plans.

    A good way to think about the brain is to imagine two different operating systems: the human brain and the lizard brain.

    The lizard brain is primitive, which results in a fight, flight or freeze response. Alternatively, the human system responds calmly and rationally. You want to prepare yourself so that you can respond calmly and rationally. The best practice during this phase is to engage in combat breathing. Combat breathing is a process that is used to help calm down the body in an active shooter situation. In order to avoid having your brain go into lizard phase, make sure to remain calm and have a plan. Learn how to practice combat breathing in this Active Shooter Preparedness webinar.
  3. Decisive moment. Once a decision has been made, make sure you act quickly and decisively. If you do not act quickly and decisively, you have a higher risk of being injured or killed in an active shooter event. If you can get quickly get yourself through the first two denial and deliberation phases, you will be better prepared for the decisive moment.

What Should You Do in Your Decisive Moment?

Run + Hide + Fight = Survival

  • Run far away and as quickly as you can. Escaping the area where the active shooter is present is top priority and critical to your immediate safety. Leave your belongings behind and flee. Once you are in a safe location, call 911.
  • Hide if you are unable to run away from the situation. Try to stay out of the shooters view, remain calm, silence your phone completely, block doorways, lock doors and turn the lights off. Avoid huddling into large groups, but instead spread out within the room/area.
  • Fight if you absolutely have to. Fighting should be your last resort when in immediate danger, but you might have to engage the shooter at some point. Commit fully to your actions and be aggressive towards the shooter. Use what you have in your vicinity to distract and disarm the shooter.

Watch this situational video the FBI uses for active shooter awareness training to observe what can happen during an active shooter event from start to finish.

What Should I Include in My Active Shooter Preparedness Plan?

Businesses should contact their local authorities to find out more information regarding active shooter trainings. There needs to be an evacuation and communication strategy. If there is a public address system, make sure there is a common language being used. For example, employees may not know if “code red” means they should be worried or take immediate action. Instead, using a clear phrase like, “there’s an active shooter in the building” can be more effective.

Make sure your employees know where to go. Employees should always look for the two nearest exists anywhere they go. They should have an escape path in their minds and identify places where they could potentially hide. Lastly, include how you and your employees will alert law enforcement. Contact your local law enforcement so they know what your procedure is and can have your plan on file. Providing law enforcement with your active shooter plan allows them to better prepare their response. This could save time and ultimately, lives.

For more information, watch this webinar on Active Shooter Preparedness with insight from a police officer and risk management professional.

Violent Acts Insurance Coverage

Unpredictable violent acts are one of the most frightening exposures facing businesses today. While it’s important to build awareness and train employees, it’s just as important to have the necessary coverage should a violent act occur.

For more information on how you can protect your business, download our Crime Prevention Checklist or contact a local Society agent.


As a mutual insurance company, we operate and exist for the benefit of our policyholders. For more than 100 years, Society has been helping businesses overcome the unexpected with comprehensive coverage packages and outstanding claims handling, underwriting and risk management.

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