In general, how you respond to an active shooter will be dictated by the specific circumstances of the encounter, bearing in mind there could be more than one shooter involved in the same situation. If you find yourself involved in an active shooter situation, try to remain calm and focused. Use these guidelines to help you plan a strategy for survival.
What to do if you hear gunshots
If you hear what sounds like gunshots or popping, immediately assume they are gunshots and don’t investigate. You need to quickly decide one of three courses of action:
- Can you stay where you are and secure yourself from the shooter? If so, take action to secure yourself, and, if it is safe, immediately call 911.
- Can you escape the building or get to an area where you are secure from the shooter (or at least some place where the shooter can’t see you)? Get to a secure area if possible, and immediately call 911.
- Are you unable to escape from the shooter? If you are unable to escape, you need to assess the situation to see if you can shield yourself, or if you need to prepare to take aggressive action to protect yourself.
Deciding on the best course of action
The information below will aid in deciding on which course of action might be your best option:
- If an active shooter is outside your building, proceed to a room that can be locked if possible, close and lock all the windows and doors, and turn off all the lights; if possible, get everyone down on the floor and ensure that no one is visible from outside the room. One person in the room should call 911; you may hear multiple rings but stay on the line until it is answered. Tell the dispatcher of what is taking place, and inform him/her of your location; remain in place until the police, or a campus administrator known to you, gives the “all clear.” Unfamiliar voices may be the shooter attempting to lure victims from their safe space; do not respond to any voice commands until you can verify with certainty that they are being issued by a police officer.
- If an active shooter is in the same building you are, determine if the room you are in can be locked and if so, follow the same procedure described in the previous paragraph. If your room can’t be locked, determine if there is a nearby location that can be reached safely and secured, or if you can safely exit the building. If you decide to move from your current location, be sure to follow the instructions outlined below. If the room cannot be locked, barricade the door with heavy furniture such as desks, tables, and bookcases if possible. If you determine that escape is possible, run and attempt to alert others as you exit the area/building. As you exit, warn others from entering the area/building of danger.
- If an active shooter enters your office or classroom, try to remain calm. Dial 911, if possible, and alert police to the shooter’s location; if you can’t speak, leave the line open so the dispatcher can listen to what’s taking place. At times the location of a 911 call can be determined without speaking. If there is absolutely no opportunity for escape or hiding, attempt to shield yourself with any available object (i.e., desk, book bags, computers, etc.) It might be possible to negotiate with the shooter. If you and others decide to make an attempt to overpower the shooter, realize this will involve significant risk and cannot be accomplished half-heartedly. If the decision is made to confront and attempt to overpower the shooter, experts recommend spreading out and not standing in a group. It may be possible to disorient the shooter by yelling and throwing items. Remember, this will involve significant risk and may involve final attempts to preserve innocent lives. If the shooter leaves the area, proceed immediately to a safer place and do not touch anything that was in the vicinity of the shooter.
Plan you escape route
No matter what the circumstances, if you decide to flee during an active shooting situation, make sure you have an escape route and plan in mind.
- Do not attempt to carry anything while fleeing; move quickly, keep your hands visible, and follow the instructions of any police officer you may encounter and remain calm.
- The police officer’s verbal commands will be loud and extremely insistent; do not be offended.
- Do not ask questions, but provide important information (such as the location of the shooter) if you are certain of such information.
- Do not attempt to remove injured people; instead, leave wounded victims where they are and notify authorities of their location as soon as possible.
- Do not try to drive off campus until advised it is safe to do so by police or campus administrators; law enforcement authorities will want to speak with you to obtain information.