News | Aug. 10, 2016

What to do in an active shooter event

By Russell Pitts, DLA Antiterrorism Officer

As we watch the news, there seems to be an active shooter or terrorist incident reported daily. Active shooter incidents in public places are increasingly common, with an average of one per month in the United States. Do you know how to react?

Here are a few pointers and resources to help you develop an action plan.

Experts say that in an out-of-the-ordinary event, people without a plan or situational awareness usually fail to react appropriately. In fact, people who are not mentally or emotionally prepared to survive a violent incident are often in denial once an incident occurs. The way you overcome inertia is by deciding what you’ll do before there is an event. Plan! Plan! Plan!  

Anywhere you are, whether at a mall, restaurant or tourist attraction, ensure you maintain situational awareness. Identify what’s normal for the environment you’re in and look for anything out of the ordinary. People, items or activities outside the norm often signal that trouble may be present.    

Considering the current world situation and recent violent events, active shooter incidents are a reality we all need to prepare for. One day, you may hear gunshots and see people running and screaming. What would you do? The Department of Homeland Security offers three possible actions: RUN, HIDE and FIGHT.


Running or evacuating the area should always be your first course of action, unless the situation dictates otherwise. As soon as you hear gunfire, leave the premises immediately. Leave your belongings behind so they don’t slow you down. As you exit, tell others to come with you.

Once you’re out of the danger area, prevent others (except for first responders) from approaching areas where danger is likely to be present.

When you’re running, keep your hands visible so police officers can easily see you have no weapons and are not a threat. If you’re in an open area with distance between you and the shooter, run as fast as you can in a zig-zag pattern. Shooting a moving target is hard, even for an experienced marksman.


Sometimes running is not a viable option. If you can’t escape on foot, the next best thing is to hide in a secure location.

Look for a hiding place out of the shooter’s view that can protect you if shots are fired in your direction. If you’re in a building, find a room with a lockable door. If you can’t lock the door of the room you’re in, barricade it with tables and chairs. Turn off the lights and be sure to silence your cell phone. Stay away from the door, and crouch behind items such as cabinets or desks that could offer protection from gunfire.

If possible, dial 911 and let the authorities know there is an active shooter in your building. If you can’t speak because the shooter is nearby, leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what’s happening around you.

If you can’t find a room, hide in a place that offers cover and concealment yet allows you to see the assailant. If the shooter discovers your hiding place, and there are no other means of escape, it’s time to take direct action against the shooter.


If running and hiding are not viable options or have failed to keep you safe, it’s time to take the fight to the attacker. Look around for anything you could use as a weapon, such as scissors, a three-hole punch, a fire extinguisher, a small trash can, a heavy book or even a chair. Consider using any item that could injure, incapacitate or distract the shooter long enough for you to escape.

Try your best to hit the assailant directly in the eyes or face with a fire extinguisher or other chemicals. If a pot of scalding-hot coffee is available, throw it on the attacker. The bottom line is: BE CREATIVE!

Once the shooter is disoriented or incapacitated, make your escape or rush the attacker and take him/her down. Once you decide to fight the assailant, attack relentlessly with violence and aggression. Do not stop fighting until the shooter stops moving.

If the attacker is incapacitated, ensure you take any weapons away and hide them where the attacker cannot find them later. Remember where you hide the weapons and alert first responders to those areas as they arrive.

The key to surviving a violent encounter with an attacker is teamwork. The more people you can get to help you attack the shooter, the more likely you can end the violent encounter with fewer casualties.

Be assertive and take the lead! Courage is contagious. Have a greater will to survive than the attacker(s).   

Helpful Training & Education Links:

DHS Active Shooter Preparedness

Active Shooter Training Video

FBI Active Shooter Resources