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Active Shooters/Mass Casualty Attackers -  Violence and Terrorism

Active Shooters/Mass Casualty Attackers - Violence and Terrorism

Unfortunately, there is another real-life situation when people and the police encounter each other and come face-to-face with danger.  This threat potentially targets all of us. It can occur at any time and anywhere — in schools, offices, places of worship, shopping malls, movie theaters and other public spaces. 

The US Department of Homeland Security defines an “active shooter” as "an individual actively engaged in shooting or attempting to shoot people in a confined and populated area.” Incidents involving active shooters evolve quickly. In most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. 

While law enforcement does an excellent job monitoring and intercepting many of these threats, they remain highly unpredictable and random. The reasons for these attacks can vary widely. These include: mental illness, emotional conflict (personal relationships, school, work), prejudice, rage and hatred (political, racial,religious), substance abuse and terrorism. Attackers can be self-inspired or encouraged by others. They comprise all ages, genders, races, nationalities and religious backgrounds. 

It is no longer a rare occurrence for an armed gunman — intent on murder, wide-scale damage, and possibly publicity and martyrdom—to suddenly strike. Almost weekly, “active shooter” events occur in America as well as around the world. Significantly, most of the deaths and injuries occur within the first 10 to 15 minutes of an attack — before law enforcement can even arrive on the scene. Tragically, these assaults are on the rise and the “next” attack is not a matter of “if” - just when, where and how many casualties. 

There is clearly much work that we must do to address this issue. As a nation, we continue to debate gun reform,the resources for better detection and treatment of mental illness and the necessary security requirements for our schools and other institutions.

In the meantime, we must still know what to do, say, and expect before and after law enforcement arrives on the scene. This is why many schools, businesses and enterprises now have—or should have—security plans in place. As with many other dangerous situations, personal safety requires advance preparation, practice, and a ready state of mind.

(Note: the Department of Homeland Security—upon which this and other respected guidance is, in part, based—offers essential advice about this threat.

Nonetheless, even with the best of plans and advice, we must acknowledge the following realities. Few buildings and public spaces are equipped to protect us against this risk. Few people can ever adequately respond. Few situations ever unfold according to the playbook. Our officials and policy-makers must come up with better solutions. Until then, we must all do the best we can to stay safe and protect each other. 


What To Do

Remember: If you find yourself in an area with an active shooter, quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life, as well the safety of others. These attacks often happen very quickly, giving little time to think. Smart, calm and decisive leadership matters during these emergencies. Time is of the essence.

You have 4 basic options: 



Once You Are in a Safe Place — Dial 911 

  • As soon as you safely can, dial 911. Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers. If you see something suspicious, say something. React quickly. Do not hesitate or worry about being wrong. Calmly state: “active shooter.”  Then follow instructions.
  • Know that real gunshots do not sound the way they do in the movies or on television. They can sound more like a firecracker or a car backfiring. Also be aware of people screaming or running.
  • Only if you are unable to call 911, or believe others have not — pull the emergency, fire, or elevator alarm. This should be your last resort, as these emergency alarms can interfere with on-the-scene police communications and response.
  • Schools and offices may also have “panic”buttons that can be pushed.
  • Give your specific location — building name, address, floor, and office/room number
  • Describe what you have seen and heard; the number of people at your specific location; any hostages; and any information about the number and types of injuries.
  • Describe helpful facts about the attackers:  the assailant(s)’ location, number of suspects, race/gender, clothing description, physical features, number and type of weapons (long gun or hand gun), identity if known, additional explosives, backpacks, etc.
  • If it is not safe to speak on the phone, tell the dispatcher. You can still leave the phone line open and allow the dispatcher to listen.



  • Always know an area’s exits and escape routes — no matter where you go. This includes stairwells, elevators, fire escapes, windows and adjoining rooftops.
  • If you are in the building where the active shooter is present  and can safely do so — leave the building without delay. Run as fast as you can.
  • If you are running from the line of fire, become a difficult target. Stay as low as possible, run behind objects and barriers, “zig and zag” where you can. 
  • Move away from the threat, away from the noise and commotion. If you see people fleeing from a particular area, this is a clear indication that the threat is in that area and may be coming toward you. 
  • Leave behind all possessions and items that might slow you down. Your safety is the only thing that matters. There will be time later to retrieve anything that is left behind.
  • If possible, help others escape.
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. 
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people. 
  • Follow all directions of the police and security personnel. Do not stop or question them.
  • Be aware of any emergency announcements over loudspeaker systems or on your phone.
  • If you are safe in a location away from the threat, stay put until you receive instructions from the police. 


When You Cannot Safely Exit — Concealment Prevents Detection. Cover Provides Protection.

  • Stay calm. Try not to panic. Your job is to stay safe until the police arrive. 
  • Get yourself out of sight and remain as quiet as possible. Finding protection from the attacker and gunfire is essential. Your first priority is to find a secure area that will lock and stop gunfire. 
  • Ideally, find a protected area with a steel door that locks, concrete walls that protect from gunfire and where you also cannot be easily seen. Also think of ways to further barricade the door and stop bullets: vending-machines, copy machines, cabinets, etc.
  • If you cannot find an area with a locking steel door and concrete walls, find an office, classroom, residence or room that at least locks from the inside. This will be your next best option. Also, move any equipment or furniture to barricade the door (desks, tables, file cabinets, vending machines, bookshelves, copiers, etc.).
  • If you are in a room that does not lock, still barricade the door with any heavy objects to make entry as difficult as possible.
  • If reasonably safe, as many people as possible should apply their weight behind any barricades.  
  • Avoid hiding in restrooms, as they typically cannot be secured. If you are stuck in a restroom, go to the stall furthest from the door and position yourself on a toilet, so your feet cannot be seen. Keep the stall door slightly ajar so it doesn’t appear to be locked, yet you are still hidden. 
  • If for some reason you are caught in an open area, such as a hallway or lounge, find the best possible place to hide.
  • No matter where you hide, turn off everything that might indicate your presence — lights, music, televisions, computer monitors, etc. 
  • Cover windows and draw blinds that might let attackers see inside. 
  •  If you have any reason to believe that the assailant might be targeting your religion, remove all religious jewelry and clothing. Hide it or throw it away where it will not be found. 
  •  Unless absolutely necessary do not move. Stay in place. 
  • As soon as you can safely do so, call 911. Tell them your location. Follow all instructions.
  • Keep your cell phone on — but silenced, with the ringer on mute. Check for future police notices. 
  • Attackers may try to trick you into leaving your hiding place - “No one will be hurt if you follow our instructions,” “You will not be harmed if you come out,” “We will kill others unless you surrender,” "Don't be afraid to open the door." Ignore these instructions.
  • An assailant may try to impersonate a police officer. Listen only to instructions that you can confirm are from the police.
  • If you are already injured or trapped in a space where the attacker cannot be subdued, consider “playing dead”...Assume a face-down position, with your head facing away from the direction of the attacker. 
  • Although difficult, stay calm and try to control your breathing. Start with three deep breaths, then breath through your nose. Focus on an image or thought that can help relax you.
  • In the event of fire or tear gas, stay close to the ground and cover your mouth and eyes with a cloth or clothing. If in a room or closed space, cover any gaps in the spaces below doors and between windows that might allow smoke or gas to penetrate.


As a Final Option, Confront the Shooter

  • Few of us ever want to fight or confront danger. Sometimes, however, we have no choice.  
  • Unfortunately, when an active shooter targets you, there is no single recommended procedure for staying safe. There are no precise rules. 
  • Sometimes, it could make sense to try to respond to the situation with conversation — for example, when an armed assailant has not attacked anyone, indicates a deisre to speak and not hurt anyone or where it would be clearly riskier for you (and others) to try to use force or run away. 
  • In such moments, your only goal is to buy time until the police arrive. You do not have to cause the assailant to surrender or disarm. Remember, you don’t have to be in law enforcement or a psychologist.  By not panicking, many average citizens have used common sense to de-escalate these situations. 
  • Use calm language and tone. Ask how you can help. Communicate that you want to listen. Use empathy and explain that you and others have felt the same way. Promise anything that might give the shooter pause and something to think about. Give hope. Discuss other options and ways to make things right. 
  • Unfortunately, your chance of survival usually will be greater if you try to incapacitate the assailant — for example, when the shooter is approaching, has already hurt others and there is no chance of hiding or running away.  
  • Your goal is to quickly overpower the individual with as much sudden and violent force as possible. Commit fully and quickly to this course of action.
  • If you are with other people, you should quickly work as a collective group to overcome the shooter. There is physical and psychological strength in numbers. The greater the number of people who do not hesitate, the higher the likelihood of success. This was one of the lessons of the thwarted French train attack in 2015.
  • There will never be a perfect time to attack the assailant. Some moments, however, are better than others. Create one by causing distractions from different directions. Look for when the assailant is not paying attention, is out of bullets  or the weapon has jammed. 
  • Use all potential items at your disposal as weapons and to distract the assailant—fire extinguishers, sharp instruments, heavy objects, garbage cans, sports equipment, work tools, aerosol sprays, hot liquid, writing instruments, chemicals, water, fire, etc.
  • You must fully immobilize the assailant. Note the weapons that he is holding. Assume there are multiple concealed weapons on his person or within reach. 
  • There is no “fair” in this fight. Use all parts of your body: tackle, punch, kick, throw, bite, poke, choke, scream. 
  • Attack the most vulnerable parts of the assailant’s body — groin, head, eyes, neck, nose, etc.
  • Everyone should pile on as quickly as possible.
  • Do not hesitate to use the assailant’s weapons against him.
  • Never assume the attacker has given up or is unconscious.  Do everything necessary to keep the assailant restrained until the police arrive and take charge.
  • Remember, the assailant will continue to attack unless fully disabled and restrained.   
  • Do not worry about the assailant’s rights or his survival. Fully commit to your actions.

Good To Know

When the Police Arrive

  • Law enforcement’s purpose is to stop the active shooter as soon as possible. Officers will proceed directly to the area in which the last shots were heard. 
  • The police need to secure the area and engage the assailant(s) immediately—either through negotiations or force.
  • The police usually arrive in teams of four (4). Officers may wear regular patrol uniforms or external bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, and other tactical equipment
  • Officers will be armed with rifles, shotguns, handguns. Their weapons are likely to be drawn and ready to fire. 
  • Officers may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation.
  • The first officers to arrive to the scene will not stop to help injured persons. Expect rescue teams comprised of additional officers and emergency medical personnel to follow the initial officers. These rescue teams will treat and remove any injured persons. They may also call upon able-bodied individuals to assist in removing the wounded from the premises. 
  • Officers may shout commands, and may push individuals to the ground for their safety.
  • Remain calm, and quickly follow all instructions. 
  • Put down all items (i.e., bags, clothing, knapsacks, laptops, etc.). 
  • Unless instructed otherwise, move quickly in the direction from where the police are coming.  
  • Keep your hands empty, open and above your head. Keep your fingers spread. 
  • Do not attempt to run towards or grab onto officers.
  • Do not interrupt the police with questions. 
  • Offer any helpful information about the assailant—including, location, description, weaponry, hostages.  

Leaving the Scene of the Attack — Reassembly Location

Follow the instructions from emergency personnel when evacuating.

  • You will be directed to a re-assembly location.
  • Once you have reached a safe location or an assembly point, you will likely be held in that area by law enforcement until the situation is under control and all witnesses have been identified and questioned. 
  • Advise the police immediately, if you need medical attention. 
  • Police officers will want to make sure that you are ok and ensure that you were not involved in the attack. 
  • The police will ask you for identification and want to question you as soon as you are able.
  • You may be a witness with valuable information, especially if the assailant is still at-large and other lives may still be at risk. 
  • Do not leave until law enforcement authorities have instructed you to do so. 


The content conveyed in this app does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. It also is not intended to communicate all relevant information. Other sources on this subject may prove to be helpful, including local police departments, district attorneys, public defenders’, the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Design and technology contributed by Genome.