active shooter 2


Imagine this situation. You’re working in your office on an average day. There’s nothing out of the ordinary and suddenly you hear “pop, pop, pop”. This is followed by screaming, people running by your office and more “pops”.  It’s no longer an average day. You’re in the middle of an active shooter situation! What is your first instinct? Is it to investigate? Is it to run? Is it to hide? Do you freeze thinking “This can’t be happening!”? Every moment you hesitate endangers your life and the life of your employees.

Since the year 2000, half of all active shooter situations have occurred in the workplace. Your leadership can help prevent your employees from becoming victims. Knowing what to do before, during, and after the crisis can reduce the possibility of a situation occurring, reduce the loss of life if it does, and help in dealing with the aftermath of the event.

A caveat before I continue. This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything you should do to prevent an active shooter event from occurring, of what you must do during the event, and what you should do after. That would require a book. My intent is to raise your awareness that you and your employees do not have to be victims.


There is no sure and certain way to identify someone who will become a mass murderer. If there were, these events would be rare if they occurred at all. There are warning signs, though, that can help identify a person who may use violence against other employees. Being alert to these signs and involving human resources can possibly prevent a situation from escalating out of control.

Look for these warning signs in an employee:

            • Increasingly erratic, unsafe, or aggressive behaviors
            • Hostile feelings of injustice or perceived wrongdoing
            • Venting/ranting on social media; photos with firearms
            • Drug and alcohol abuse
            • Marginalization or distancing from friends and colleagues
            • Changes in performance at work
            • Sudden and dramatic changes in home life or in personality
            • Financial difficulties
            • Pending civil or criminal litigation
            • Observable grievances with threats and plans of retribution

Make certain you have created a climate where your employees feel free to express their concern over a colleague’s behavior to supervisors or to human resources without fear of retribution. Yes, it can feel awkward and it’s natural for someone to think they’re overreacting. “What if I’m wrong? How embarrassing!” What if they’re right? How tragic!

You must begin foster the attitude in your company that each and every employee, regardless of position, is responsible for the safety of other employees. This may be a cultural change for the business and cultural change starts at the top. As a leader, ask yourself these questions:

          • Is there a violence-free workplace policy?
          • Do I, as a leader, embrace both the spirit and the letter of that policy?
          • Do I encourage and make it safe for employees to say something if they see something?
          • Do I, as a leader, promote the idea that the safety of each is the concern of all?

Training for an active shooter event is an important way of reducing injuries and death should an active shooter situation occur. There is an abundance of material available to businesses for active shooter training.

Your primary source for training should be your local law enforcement. They will be more than happy to come to your place of business and conduct training. They have a vested interest in doing this. The police do not like entering a building where they do not know the layout. If they are familiar with your building(s), they can more effectively deploy their forces and use any existing resources, like a security camera system, should an active shooter situation arise.

All departments, from executive to custodial, need to talk about an active shooter situation in their staff meetings at least annually. Take the lead in conducting an active shooter drill at least once a year. You need a pre-determined signal or code word that can be sent out immediately to all employees to let them know that an active shooter situation is happening, and they need to know exactly what to do and where to go. They may not have a second chance in a real event.


There are only three things you and your employees should do during an active shooter event: Run, Hide, or Fight. There are no other options when a real active shooter event occurs. Don’t think of this as a linear checklist. There may be situations in which the first thing you or your employees should do is fight. It might be more appropriate to hide. The situation will dictate what you and your employees need to do.


The moment shooting starts, a pre-arranged alert needs to be sent out to let employees know they need to get out of the building if they can. Your employee need to do the following when leaving the building:

          • Have an escape route and plan in mind
          • Leave your belongings behind
          • Keep your hands visible at all times


If you and your employees can’t get out:

          • Hide in an area out of the shooter’s view
          • Block entry to your hiding place and lock the doors
          • Silence your cell phone and/or pager
          • If a group of employees is hiding in a conference room, then spread out. This makes it harder for the shooter to kill as many people as possible.


If the you or an employee encounters the shooter, or the shooter attempts to break into a hiding place:

          • Attempt to incapacitate the shooter any way possible
          • Act with physical aggression and throw items at the shooter
          • Be prepared to use lethal force if necessary to stop the shooter


You and your employees have just experienced the most traumatic event they possibly ever will. They may have seen their colleagues shot. They may have been shot themselves. They have just experienced incredible violence and they will be in shock. These are the steps you need to take immediately after the event and for the long term.

Immediately After

As long as they are on-site, your local law enforcement is in charge. Do as they instruct and work with them. Make them your source for all information regarding injuries and casualties. Do not rely on the media for this information. Immediately implement your business continuity plan which should include a crisis communications plan. Set up your incident command center. Taking positives steps such as these will help reduce any feelings of helplessness you or your leadership team may have.

In the short term

You and your employees will experience a range of emotions from disbelief, shock, numbness, anger, disillusionment, and others. These are normal feelings and shouldn’t be suppressed. Meet with your employees as soon as is practical. Activate any contracts you have with firms that provide trauma or grief counseling and let your employees know how to access these services.

In the long term

Grieving a loss takes a long time and varies by individual. Accept the fact that some people may never get over the event. Honor the memory of those who were lost in the shooting. You may want to set a one day a year, perhaps on the anniversary of the event, to pause and remember. Keep in mind that life will go on but not as it did before the shooting. A new normal has been established.


Here are some resources available to you to help confront the issue of active shooter situations. It is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start. If you have questions, or you would like help creating a crisis management plan for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Workplace violence

State of California Model Workplace Violence and Bullying Prevention Program

Federal Bureau of Investigation: Workplace Violence: Issues in Response


During an active shooter event

Department of Homeland Security: Active Shooter Preparedness

Federal Bureau of Investigation: Active Shooter Resources

HR Policy Association: Active Shooter Preparedness Programs


After an active shooter event

Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting

Active Shooter Recovery Guide

What now? The aftermath of a shooting

Aftermath of an active shooter



David Discenza, CBCP, president of Discenza Business Continuity Solutions, has been involved in business continuity planning since 2009. He was the business continuity manager for the Risk & Information Management (RIM) group within American Express and currently works with companies in Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Connecticut, and nationwide to help them formulate plans they can implement when an unexpected business interruption occurs. David is certified as a Business Continuity Planner by the Disaster Recovery Institute International.