The horrific shooting at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday reminded me how important it is to know what to do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation. Lindsay Kishter and I have conducted more than 50 active shooter training and tabletop exercises and posted several blogs about our experiences.
But when you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you quickly realize what you don’t know. That happened to me in September 2010 when James Lee strapped himself with explosives in the Discovery Communication lobby across from our office in Silver Spring. Are you prepared?
Here are five steps to take if you are in an active shooter situation. Get familiar with them – you won’t have time to make a plan in the moment.
- Evacuate – Leave the area as quickly as possible if you have a safe and accessible escape route. Leave your belongings behind, help others if you can, evacuate even if others do not, keep your hands visible, and follow the instructions of police officers.
- Hide – If you cannot safely evacuate, hide where the shooter is unlikely to find you. Be out of the shooter’s view, lock and blockade doors with heavy furniture if possible, silence phones, turnoff lights and close blinds. Do not move until directed by a police officer.
- Fight – As a last resort, only if your life is in imminent danger, fight back to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter. Act aggressively, throw items, use improvised weapons such as scissors, yell, and commit to your actions.
- Respond to Law Enforcement – Remain calm and follow instructions. Drop anything in your hands and raise them above your head so they are visible. Avoid quick movements, pointing, or yelling.
- Call 911 – Call as soon as you are safe. Tell the operator: 1) the location of the shooter, 2) number of shooters, 3) physical description of the shooter, 4) the number and type of weapons seen, and 5) the number of potential victims.
Finally, be prepared. “We didn’t know what to do” is a common refrain by people who have been in active shooter situations. I recommend two things to get prepared.
- Have a Concise Emergency Action Plan – It should describe how to report an incident, evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, emergency notification system protocols, contact information for area hospitals, and a personnel staging and accounting process. Keep it short (1-2 pages).
- Train and Exercise Your Plan – Company fire drills are commonplace but active shooter drills often are not. Spend two hours once every year to get your staff trained by a professional and, if you can, conduct a tabletop exercise to walk through an actual shooter situation.