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What To Do and What Not To Do in a Public Shooter Situation

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Public active shooter scenarios are becoming more common year after year. Would you know what to do if the unthinkable happened?

Although The Department of Homeland Security advises those in danger to "Run. Hide. Fight," our approach to active survival is a more nuanced approach. It provides clearer direction on what to do should you find yourself in harm’s way.

Which is why we are champions of these ABCS: Avoid, Barricade, Counter, Survive.

The following are some basic do’s and don’ts for active shooter scenarios. This list is meant to create awareness and promote safety, but it is not exhaustive. For more detailed action steps, consider enrolling in active survival training.


Find the exits.

If you are in a public place and you hear gunfire, your first response should be to escape. Make sure you are familiar with the exits and emergency routes in your workplace, and make it a habit to locate exits in unfamiliar or public places. If you are positive that a route will not take you into the gunman’s path, make your way quickly out of the area. If you find yourself on a higher floor during an active shooter incident, do not take the elevator. Take the stairs down or utilize a second-floor window if you feel safe to do so.


Pull the fire alarm.

The sound of the fire alarm may cause confusion as to whether what is happening is a drill, creating excess noise and panic; gunmen have even been known to pull them themselves. Alarms may make it more difficult to locate exits and draw people out of rooms into large groups in hallways, where they would be targets. Avoid congregating in large groups, which may draw attention and prompt the attacker to shoot into the crowd. Instead of pulling the fire alarm, yell “gun” or “gunman” to alert others to the situation. If hiding in a room with other people, do not huddle together. Line the walls adjacent to the door to make it more difficult for the attacker to hit multiple people if they were to get in.


Deny access.

If escape is not an option, get out of the line of sight of the gunman immediately. Duck into a room with a door you can lock or barricade and turn off the lights. The best rooms to hide in are ones near elevators, which tend to be of stronger internal construction; walls of rooms like offices tend to be made of thinner drywall. Utilize items in the room to barricade the door, such as belts, cords and tables. Do not talk longer than necessary.


Play dead.

Gunmen have been known to circle back and fire into people on the ground: wounded or otherwise. Keep trying to get yourself out if at all possible, even if you have been shot or otherwise wounded. Don’t presume that you are safe because the attacker moved out of your location.


Commit to your actions.

You may be forced to counter the shooter if you are in the same room. Throw makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, bookends, and other heavy objects. If you are strong enough and have an advantageous position you grab the gun or wrestle the gunman if they stop to reload (be aware that this may only take a few seconds). No level of response is inappropriate if it means you survive. Whatever you do, if you confront the attacker, commit to your actions and be as aggressive as possible. Most individuals are not trained to take down a shooter, so it should be emphasized that this is usually a last resort in an active shooter scenario.


Interact with law enforcement when they arrive on the scene

When police get to the scene, do not talk to them or leave your hiding place unless they tell you to. Obey their orders, and understand that they may have to move past wounded people when they arrive in order to first secure the situation. Put your hands up and spread out your fingers to show that you are not holding a weapon. Show them, don’t tell them, that you are not part of the threat.

It’s a grim reality, and can be uncomfortable to think about, but even a few minutes of forethought can produce the awareness that may be the difference between life and death.

Lockdown International is dedicated and driven to provide clients with the knowledge, training, and products like the Barricade Box to be proactive in unexpected situations.

We partner with clients to create and implement custom proactive solutions based on their risk assessment. To learn more, please visit our Instructor Course.

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