Conflicting Active Shooter Training Concepts Cause Confusion

Uniform training and protocols will ensure everyone will know how to respond appropriately to a gunman.

Over several decades, various methods across the nation have been used to teach the public defensive and offensive reactions to an active shooter scenario at college campuses and in the workplace. Since the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, law enforcement and the general public have changed how they train and react to an active mass murder situation. Sitting idle and waiting for help or waiting to respond until a local SWAT Team can be placed is no longer a realistic or valid response solution.

Today, the public and law enforcement are expected to react quickly as a part of a standard (active shooter) response plan. Police officers are now trained to actively engage an active shooter where they find them. The public expects competent, effective, consistent and standardized training of first responders and active shooter training.

Related Article: Protection Professionals Debate Campus Active Shooter Response

The failure of an employer to address the threat of an active shooter in the workplace can be an Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) violation under the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)1). It requires employers to provide their employees a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm. OSHA violations can lead to citations, fines, lawsuits and damage to institutional reputation.

Active shooters are defined generally in two ways:

  • 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” or
  • an armed person who has used deadly force and continues to do so with unrestricted access to additional victims.”

Active shooter response is a hot training topic nationally, as just about every public and private educational institution and many organizations (public, private, for-profit and non-profit), are developing active shooter guidance, policy, videos and related training. A search of YouTube finds hundreds of home-brewed active shooter videos and methods. Some of these videos are excellent; many are mediocre and some are not credible.

Basic concepts in active shooter training focus on several general response principles:

  1. Try to escape the area (run – evacuate – get out – seek safe cover);
  2. Call 9-1-1 after you escape and/or as soon as it is safe to do so;
  3. Lockdown, secure and deny entry, or shelter-in-place in your current location; or
  4. Find a place to hide – try to hide if you cannot escape (hide or hide out);
  5. Take action against the shooter (fight – take out the shooter – take action – attack)

Compounding the problem; some schools may not be working with their local law enforcement officials when they are developing their active shooter training programs and plans. Some schools are bringing in private contractors and consultants. Whatever method is used, it is essential to reduce confusion and eliminate potential conflicts in how information is presented. Everyone should be on the same page when you are training people in geographic regions. Culture also plays a role in how people are taught within a particular geographic region. Use training and concepts that are familiar and consistent with past local practices and training cultures. 

With various methods of active shooter training being taught and depending on what campus you attend, our students, faculty and staff may be getting a mixed message. The last thing we all need in this situation is a public served with mixed messages or confusion.

Run, Hide, Fight

As an emergency manager, trainer and instructor, one essential element in training is consistency. At the university where I work, I am teaching the “Run, Hide, Fight” scenario to students, faculty, and staff:

  • Run (Get Out! – Run away to a safe location)
  • Hide (Hide Out! – find a secure area and lockdown)
  • Fight (Take out the Shooter)

Run if a safe path is available. Always try and escape or evacuate even if others insist on staying.

  • Encourage others to leave with you but don’t let the indecision of others slow down your own effort to escape.
  • Once you are out of the line of fire, try to prevent others from walking into the danger zone and call 9-1-1.

Hide: If you can’t get out safely, find a place to hide.

  • When hiding, turn out the lights, remember to lock doors and silence your ringer and vibration mode on your cell phone

Fight: As a last resort, working together or alone, act with aggression, use improvised weapons and fight to overcome the situation. Your life is at risk.

Watch the City of Houston’s Run, Hide, Fight video.


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About the Author


With more than 30 years experience, David is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) currently administering the emergency management program at Santa Clara University in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley. David managed the UCLA Office of Emergency Management for seven years and pioneered the development of the campus' award-winning "BruinAlert" system. David championed development of emergency plans, policies and procedures in the aftermath of Virginia Tech in 2007 and consults higher education institutions on emergency management issues. David is a subject matter expert in mass casualty incident management, emergency notification systems, comprehensive plan development, emergency organization, EOC design and operations, crisis communications, threat and vulnerability assessment, disaster recovery, grant administration and auditing. In 2009, David and other campus emergency managers provided consult in the development of the first incident management course developed by FEMA/EMI specifically for higher education (IS-100HE, Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) for Higher Education). Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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