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In the US, active shooters are becoming increasingly frequent. While the actual likelihood of an active shooter incident occurring at my workplace is rare, I would like to be prepared regardless of whether or not my employer has made preparations.

What steps can I take today to improve my chances, and the chances for my colleagues, if an active shooter incident were to happen at work in the future?

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    I know some readers might feel uncomfortable about my question and answer. But it is an important question to my mind, and it gave me an opportunity to share my Special Forces experience. You must practice safety drills if you care about the welfare of your co-workers. – user106815 Jul 14 at 4:13
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    Run, hide, fight has been the guidance in the US and is shown to improve survivability. – Jay Jul 14 at 15:06
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    @Patriot I really am surprised to see this getting so many downvotes. Thanks for asking it. Improving awareness about what to do in emergency situations is always worth doing. – Jay Jul 14 at 19:56
  • Could you include some details about location and the type of company you work in? The answer might drastically differ by country and type of workplace. – Smock Jul 15 at 12:33
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    Just so you know, every reader of this outside the US is thinking "I can't believe you tolerate a situation where this question even has to be asked." – DJClayworth Jul 17 at 13:49
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Having seen a lot of combat, this is what you should know:

  1. You need to know what to do before it happens and rehearse those actions by actually doing them, not just going over them in your mind, because when the bad thing strikes you are not going to be thinking much--you are going to be reacting, and your preparation will kick in and help you.

  2. If you hear a big explosion anywhere near you that is bigger than a gunshot, hit the floor, preferably take cover, and make yourself small.

  3. So, you are unarmed and there is an "active shooter". Not yet in sight? Run away. Can't run away? Hide. Can't run away or hide? Prepare to fight.

  4. You are standing there outdoors at your job and you hear these strange zinging sounds, like metallic bees--near, sometimes far--take cover. You are being shot at from a very long distance or from a silenced weapon, or both.

  5. Bad things have happened, the active shooter is there, and you cannot get away. Play dead. According to the news, it can work.

  6. Bad things have happened, you know for sure that the active shooter is no longer active, and you want to get away. Let the police know you are not a bad guy by not having a weapon in your hands and preferably by fleeing smartly with your hands up until you are clearly far away from the scene. In the chaos, no one knows who is who, what is going on, how many bad guys there are, etc.

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    I guess if worried people are searching "what should I do if there is an active shooter at work" in advance of there being an actual problem, they could do worse than read this answer. So I upvoted, despite not being 100% sure of where this is going on the site. – Neil Slater Jul 14 at 6:19
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    @NeilSlater companies do active-shooter training/drills and there are courses and articles, all based on the idea that you have to learn this stuff in advance. I've taken training of this sort at a previous workplace; it's a real thing. – Monica Cellio Jul 14 at 18:10
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    @Hilmar This website asks you if you want to answer your own question, and there are badges for doing so. I rarely answer a question of my own, but there is a time to do it. – user106815 Jul 15 at 12:44
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    Elevators stuck between two floors (except these modern transparent ones) can provide great shelters against shooters (not against bomb-attacks unfortunatelly) Would getting into the elevator, press a random floor and stop it from the inside be a possibility? – David Jul 15 at 14:35
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    @David thanks but I'm not inherently interested in supporting or disproving CPR, I was just trying to suggest that people who have answer material should write answers, versus commenting. – dwizum Jul 15 at 14:43
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First of all, no--they're not becoming increasingly common. They're becoming increasingly reported on. Big difference. America is as safe as ever.

Second...if you're truly worried about it, plan in advance. Think where you'd go for cover. A closed room, one you can lock, away from doors and windows. Think about what you could get behind. My kid's school had a shooting when she was in gym class. The teacher told them to "RUN!" and they ran out the door to a nearby field with cover.

As a 2nd step to point 2....if hiding is not an option make up your mind now to fight. Think about what you could use for a weapon. A club of some kind? Is there anything heavy you could pick up and swing? Something sharp? Plan how to hide around a corner or under a desk until you had a chance and then use it.

Another option is to carry a concealed weapon. I have a permit and I carry. I pray I never have to use it, but I rarely leave home without a Glock 19 on my hip. I train, and I know how to shoot. If you're not comfortable doing that, then don't.

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    They are, in fact, becoming increasingly common. See the link for more detailed data, but a gross trend is obvious comparing 2000-2004 (26 active shooter events in the USA) to 2013-2017 (107). fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/… – Jay Jul 16 at 15:14
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    A lot of that is based on the definition of "mass shooting". A lot of politics is being played around the term. In 1997 a person was shot at a company I worked for. It did not make national news because the issue was 1 person had a grudge against 1 person. It wasn't part of a trend of any kind. The issue I have is that the reporting of the figures is being played with a bit to make it appear a certain way. – Keith Jul 16 at 15:18
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    Did people forget "going postal" that seem to happen frequently in the late 80s and mid 90s? Just another sensalization. Seems to be more political than about safety. – Dan Jul 16 at 16:41
  • @Dan there were 8 in the 1980s and another 8 in the t990s – Tina_Sea Jul 16 at 16:59
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I'm surprised nobody mentioned prevention. Prevention is better than the cure. In nearly every workplace related violence, it stems from a disgruntled worker. Your co-worker will be the most likely person to carry out the attack(s). In every case it stems from a history of dispute and problems. It wasn't just "sudden" or "unexpected." There are always reports afterwards about "I knew it was..." In many cases, it involved targeted individuals with long history of problems.

So be nice to your co-workers, if you see disgruntled behaviors, do report it immediately. If you hear anything, do report it. If you notice anything unusual, be sure to report it.

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    How would one go about reporting stuff like "looking disgruntled"? – lucasgcb Jul 19 at 14:40
  • @lucasgcb I agree with the implied point here. The reason people don't report these things is because there is nothing to report other than vague feelings and hunches. There's not hard-enough evidence that a "disgruntled person" will do anything until they actually do. – Southpaw Hare Aug 5 at 15:25
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  1. Learn your surroundings: A lot of workplaces have more than one way to get from one place to another. Take a path the shooter(s) is/are less likely to use and try to stay out of line of sight.
  2. Try to keep calm. This will be harder than you think, but if you manage you might come up with something specific to your workplace (evacuation routes, lockdown doors, security staff on site...). If not, stick to the run/hide/fight order.
  3. Talk to your colleagues if possible (out of hearing range of the shooter etc...). This should have 2 effects: To calm you and your colleagues and to gather information to relay to the police (like the number of attackers, number of people in the building, approximate location in building, type of weapons...). Do not look for the shooters to findiInformation, simply gather what you and others might have seen.
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Understand your exits. From your desk, the coffee machine, copier, bathroom, etc. Know the shortest path, or the path with most cover.

If you sit in view of an exit or elevator, keep an eye on it. Pay attention to who comes in and out.

Think about what is between you and the exits/entrance. If a bad actor enters your room or floor, what will he/she see first? What is between you? If a bad actor is present, keep thing between you, and increase the distance as much as possible. Stay down, stay dynamic. Don't get under a desk and freeze. Be prepared to move if needed.

If you can get a license/permit to carry a gun and are comfortable with it, get one and train with your firearm regularly. Shooting is a skill you will lose if you don't keep it sharp. If your office will not permit you to carry, then get a trusty pocket knife. This is not for offensive strikes. This is to be used in defense when trying to exit and flee.

Regardless as to what kind of weapon you have/make, do not take the fight to the bad actor. These are to ensure your exit. This isn't the Wild West; avoid a shoot out at all cost.

When the police show up, DO NOT have a weapon in your hand. Drop it. Move away from it slowly and with your hands up. If you are still in danger, drop it and leave it. You can try to obtain it later once the dust settles.

At the end of the day, it's not about having a weapon, it's about being vigilant. Be aware of who is around you and what they are doing. Know who belongs on your floor/in your office/around your building. If you see something, say something. Always be aware of your surroundings and who is paying attention to you.

  • Interesting that your point about Do not take the fight to the bad actor goes against the whole good guy with a gun meme. But it is an approach that I agree with. I'd also put mace and/or bear spray (longer range!) on the list of things before I got to a knife. – Peter M Jul 16 at 17:34
  • @PeterM I am not against the idea of "Good Guy with gun". I feel the approach should largely be based on the circumstances of the engagement. If it makes more sense to head to an exit and only engage if the bad actor gets in between me and the exit, then I will take that stance. However, if there was a chance that the bad actor did not know I was around, and I had a guarantied shot on them with no chance of hitting someone else, I may take that shot. Its all based on the circumstance. There is no magic bullet answer here. – jesse Jul 16 at 18:21
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    Keep in mind the laws differ in each state. So if you "go after" the bad guy, the law might not protect you either criminally or by civil. All states have a right t defense clause, but some states require that you take every preventative measure as possible beforehand. – Dan Jul 16 at 19:43

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