How to Protect Yourself from an Active Shooter

by Becky Blanton on January 3, 2013 · 0 comments

December saw more “active shooter” incidents than any other month in 2012, including 27 people, 18 of them children, killed at a Connecticut elementary school. What is an active shooter? An active shooter is defined as “… an armed person who has used deadly physical force on other persons and continues to do so while having unrestricted access to additional victims.” Most active shooters have no intention of surviving the shooting. They are suicidal and plan to take as many people possible with them to the grave.

They show up at schools, malls, workplaces, stores and gas stations. Their goal is to kill as many people possible in as much time as possible. Their assaults happen so fast that most people are frozen with fear or disbelief, and that’s what gets them killed.

I recently discovered a FEMA online training course on how to survive an active shooter. It’s free. It’s worth one CU Credit if you pass the test at the end. It takes 45 minutes to complete and is practical, valuable and as far as my experience as an officer and journalist, could give you the edge you need to survive a shooting. It’s worth the time to take, but if you can’t, here are the basic things you need to know:

The Shooters:

There is no profile for a shooter. They come in all ages, genders (although are mostly male). Their motives are endless, from anger to revenge, ideology and mental illness to frustration with life. They seek out confined, populated areas and will continue to shoot and kill until they are stopped by law enforcement, suicide or outside intervention from their victims, run out of ammo or have their weapons jam.

The Victims:

Active shooter victims are anyone in front of the shooter’s gun. They typically do not target a specific individual. Anyone within range of the shooter is a likely target regardless of age, gender or race. Children, the elderly, women and handicapped individuals of any race are all equal when it comes to becoming potential victims.


Evacuate if possible. Leave your belongings behind! This includes purses, backpacks and briefcases. If you must bring anything, bring ID. Make sure your hands are empty. The police don’t know who you are and will react to anything in your hands, even cell phones and keys. Run away. Get out of sight, out of range. If at all possible leave the building and run as far and fast away as you can. Go into another building, stop a car, but get the heck away from the shooting ASAP.

When you’re in a safe place, THEN call 911, and then turn off your ringer. A phone call can alert the shooter to your presence in a room or hiding place.

If you can’t get away, seek cover, meaning find a place bullets can’t penetrate. If you are in an office or room, lock and block the door. Turn off the lights. Hide anywhere you can fit, cabinets, in the ceiling, boxes, and trash cans, under furniture. Active shootings last an average of 10 to 20 minutes. The longer you can stay hidden and out of the line of fire, the better. Shooters are looking for easy targets and are unlikely to search rooms one-by-one unless they are looking for a specific target or person.

If you’re in a hallway, go into a room ASAP and secure the door.

As an absolute last resort, if trapped with the shooter and in his line of fire, rush the shooter and attempt to take him down. Throw items at him, hit him back, and distract him, but only as a last resort when chances are he’s going to kill you or someone else.


  • Help others escape.
  • Warn others there is a shooter.
  • Always have an escape route or path in mind when you’re in any building.
  • Do not attempt to move any wounded individuals. You may cause further harm or kill them by moving them.
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers.
  • Keep your hands visible and empty.

Hide Out:

If you can’t safely evacuate, then hide. Good places to hide are where shooters are less likely to find you. A good hiding place:

Is out of the shooter’s view. Places like INSIDE closets, janitor’s closets, cabinets and rooms with sturdy locks are good choices.

The hiding place shouldn’t trap you or restrict your options for movement, but any hiding place is better than none. Hiding behind a cabinet is more likely to get you shot if the shooter can come up to it and see you, he can shoot you.

Lock the door. If you can’t lock it, barricade it with heavy furniture. Close and cover windows and move away from windows.

Turn off your cell phone. Even a vibrating phone can give you away.

Hide behind desks and large items if they’re your only option. Remain quiet, even if you or others are crying and terrified, try to muffle or silence your panic. It can be the noise that gets you killed.

Look for cover. Cover is something that will stop a bullet. Concealment is something that hides you (like a cardboard box or trashcan, but that won’t stop bullets. Look for COVER, like heavy cabinets, dumpsters and heavy metal storage units, or equipment.


Police are focused on stopping the shooter, not helping you or victims.

Officers will push people to the ground, yell and be focused on the situation, not on you. Their first duty is to secure the scene, then to deal with victims.

Not all officers will be in uniform. Some may be in street clothes, or jeans. They may use tear gas or pepper spray to control the situation. They will most likely be armed, be wearing bulletproof vests, masks and other equipment and may appear very intimidating and frightening.

Do not ask police officers for help or directions or information. They cannot help you. Their job is to stop the shooter. They are focused on the shooter, not you. Obey their directions—even though they are yelling and sounding “mean” or aggressive. They are trained to stop the shooter to protect you. They can’t do this if they’re dealing with panicked people at the scene.

Police don’t know who you are. You may be the shooter, they don’t know. So move slowly, do not grab an officer, even if you are scared and just want to feel safe. They may perceive that as a threat and hurt you or push you away. Keep your hands empty and visible. The police are on high alert and suspicious of everyone as shooters may try to hide in the crowd.

Don’t argue with police. Do as they say, go where they say.

Avoid pointing, yelling or screaming. Speak as calmly as you can.


Every room or facility should have at least two conspicuous evacuation routes.

There should be training and practice (that includes police) for how to act during an active shooter emergency.

Employees should be trained in what gunfire sounds like and how to respond when they hear it.

Employees should know what steps to take to secure their area and to call 911 and how to react during an active shooter incident.

How to Prevent an Active Shooter Incident?

Experts say the best way to prevent an active shooter incident is to have a respectful workplace. A zero tolerance policy for bullying, verbal abuse and teasing by supervisors goes farther than any other precautions you can take.

Secondly, pay attention to workplace violence, threats, angry outbursts and bullying by workers, vendors or clients. Active shooters can be current or former employees, the spouse or friend of an employee, vendors or even an acquaintance or customer who feels they’ve been treated poorly.

Listen for talk of financial problems, depression, mood swings or outbursts of anger. Trust your gut and report such incidents to your Human Resource manager.

We can’t stop active shooters, but we can prepare for them. Here’s hoping your organization or facility or office takes this class, remember, it’s free, and prepares for the remote, but possible chance of an active shooter.

Summary (From FEMA’s course):

In the event of an active shooter situation:

  • Evacuate
    • Attempt to evacuate.
    • Have an escape route and plan
    • Leave your belongings
    • Keep your hands visible
  • Hide
    • Find a place to hide
    • Block entry and lock doors
    • Remain quiet and silence your cell phone or pager
  • Take Action
    • As a last resort, try to incapacitate the shooter
    • Act with physical aggression

Remember to always:

  • Take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit.
  •  Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers.


You can get a copy of the Active Shooter Booklet Here.

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