Fight Over Flight? Shooter Protocols May Need Revision

Bloomberg Law for HR Professionals is a complete, one-stop resource, continuously updated, providing HR professionals with fast answers to a wide range of domestic and international human resources...

By Genevieve Douglas

Jan. 21 — As active shooter scenarios in the workplace become a greater concern, federal agencies have modified their best practices to encourage employees to engage attackers if left with no other options, and employers may need to revise their policies and procedures to reflect this change, security experts told Bloomberg BNA.

The standard now is to be more active, and organizations need to make sure that their personnel are adequately prepared, Greg Crane, president of the ALICE Training Institute in Medina, Ohio, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13. “The reality is people will be under attack before law enforcement gets there. What can they do?” Crane said.

According to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

Specifically, the DHS and the FBI resources recommend employees should be trained to:

• run—know the fastest evacuation routes out of the building;
• hide—know how to protect themselves while waiting for the police, such as locking doors, using a desk as a shield and quieting cellphones or other things that could alert the attacker to where an employee is hidden; and
• fight—know how to take the active shooter down, because an employee's chance of survival is much greater if he or she tries to incapacitate the assailant.


While active shooter events are still relatively rare, less common than airplane crashes or car accidents, there is certainly much more awareness now about planning and responding to an active shooter, Matthew Doherty, senior vice president of security risk management for security firm Hillard Heintze, headquartered in Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA Jan 15.

Firearms in the Workplace?

Still, employers don't want their offices turning into the O.K. Corral.

According to Crane, the biggest consideration for employers regarding this issue is how they will address guns in the workplace. “There are a lot of assumptions that the good guy will always win the gun fight,” he said, but it's hard to train a lay person to actively pursue a shooter.

Crane cautioned that any gunfire, even from people attempting to thwart a shooter, can cause damage. Historically, he said, data show that 70 percent of close range police gunfire exchanges miss the intended target. “Those bullets have to go somewhere,” he said. “Any time a round goes out of the barrel of that weapon, we have no idea where it's going to end up.”

Crane recommended employers offer a blended training approach, with e-learning programs tailored to the specific type of employer, followed by hands-on training, such as running drills.

“The reality of active shooter events is that we can't prevent them 100 percent of the time,” he said. “These [emergency] strategies also have to include prevention and risk mitigation strategies.”

Crane also emphasized that this kind of training develops a life skill for employees. “These individuals will be able to use these skills in the moment regardless of where they happen to be: schools, businesses, shopping malls, etc.,” he said.

Essentials of a Plan

There are quite a few considerations to make when it comes to crafting a security plan for active shooter events, Doherty said, but the preventive approach is key to mitigating risk.

For example, he said, every company should have an interdisciplinary “threat assessment team,” because in most of these cases, there were clear behaviors of concern exhibited, and people noticed. Threat assessment processes need to flag behavioral warning signs, Doherty recommended, and employees need to know how and where to report them.

New protocols also include making sure first responders have floor plans of the business and a universal access card, Doherty noted. This way, the first responders know the layout of the facility in the event of an emergency, he said.

Additionally, he said, technology is now available that allows police to gain access to the closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to figure out what is happening inside the building if they are called in for a workplace emergency. “This is a developing field that a lot of police departments are adopting,” Doherty said.

Doherty also recommended HR departments look at new termination strategies that can potentially lower the likelihood of having a departing employee return with a gun.

“We firmly believe planning and response is essential,” he said, and preparing properly is the best way to stop violence in the workplace.

Legal Considerations

When it comes to the legal obligations of an employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace, Terri Solomon, shareholder in the New York office of Littler Mendelson, said Jan. 21 in a webinar hosted by the law firm. That being said, Solomon noted that employers don't have a legal obligation to conduct active shooter response training, and there is potential liability if an employee is injured or killed during or after training. She added that the cost of training can be prohibitive for some employers.

On the other hand, Solomon said, preparedness training and drills could save lives if there ever is an active shooter in the workplace. Moreover, she said, in light of recent events, training can provide peace of mind to a lot of employees who are nervous about these potential situations.

Solomon said employers should make clear that the “run, hide, fight” protocols are those of law enforcement and the federal government, not the employer, and employees themselves are responsible for determining what is appropriate action to take during an incident.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at

For More Information 
The DHS and the FBI active shooter resources are available at


Request Bloomberg Law for HR Professionals