How to Respond to an Active Shooter

Morgan O'Rourke


November 1, 2017

When a gunman opened fire on a Las Vegas crowd on Oct. 1, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others, it was the latest and most deadly in a tragically long list of mass shootings in the United States. According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, the Las Vegas massacre was the 273rd mass shooting in the United States this year, amounting to just about one per day.

While the criteria used is admittedly broad—the organization tallies reports of any incidents where four or more people are shot, regardless of circumstances—even the most conservative estimates of the scope of gun violence are sobering. After all, no matter how a shooting incident is categorized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, there are more than 33,000 gun-related deaths and nearly 12,000 gun homicides every year in the United States.

In light of this all-too-common threat, understanding how to respond to an active shooter situation can mean the difference between life and death. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has provided the following guidance, centered around three primary options, for what to do in an active shooter scenario:

1. RUN

If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Be sure to:

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
  • Keep your hands visible
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people
  • Call 911 when you are safe


If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you. Your hiding place should:

  • Be out of the active shooter’s view
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction
  • Not trap you or restrict your options for movement

To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place:

  • Lock the door
  • Blockade the door with heavy furniture

If the active shooter is nearby:

  • Lock the door
  • Silence your cell phone
  • Turn off any source of noise such as radios or televisions
  • Hide behind large items like cabinets and desks
  • Remain quiet

If evacuation or hiding are not possible:

  • Remain calm
  • If possible, dial 911 to alert police to the shooter’s location
  • If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen


As a last resort—and only when your life is in imminent danger— attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:

  • Acting as aggressively as possible against him/her
  • Throwing items and improvising weapons
  • Yelling
  • Committing to the actions you take

When law enforcement arrives:

  • Remain calm, and follow officers’ instructions
  • Put down any items in your hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
  • Immediately raise hands and spread fingers
  • Keep hands visible at all times
  • Avoid making quick movements toward officers or holding on to them for safety
  • Avoid pointing, screaming and yelling
  • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises.

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)