Do you have an active shooter emergency plan?

Police Officer with bullet proof vest

Do you need an active shooter emergency plan?

Unfortunately, a scenario that is becoming too familiar in today’s world is one involving active shooters. Emergency calls of shots being fired send law enforcement officers hurriedly to a scene and carry with them memories of school, business, and theater shootings we have seen in the news.

The significant increase in violence at schools and previously unthought-of business and organization locations now necessitates that every member of society and every organization plan for the unthinkable. Planning for an active shooter/violent intruder incident should now be a priority in every school and business setting. Incidents such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, movie theater and mall shootings, and other notable events are pointing out that shooting violence is something that occurs on a daily basis in the United States and around the world.

The uniqueness of these active shooter occurrences is causing law-enforcement to continually develop new techniques to protect the public. However, with the unpredictability of these events, the burden of protecting against these crimes must also now be shared by the individuals of the businesses and the organizations of the community. It is important that each organization have a plan (and training) in place to prepare its employees on how to respond to such a situation. Knowing what to do under active shooter circumstances will greatly increase your chances of survival.

It must be clear that every situation will be different and there is not a single best way to respond. The environment surrounding each of these situations will vary and greatly affect individual responses. Loss of life can be mitigated by preparing for and training for the worst. An endless possibility of scenarios is a reality so understanding key concepts and types of responses can greatly aid your organization’s preparedness. Your organization will have to determine the best methodology that will suit the needs of those you serve. One such program is the A.L.I.C.E. approach. The A.L.I.C.E. program teaches how to utilize the strategies that have been proven to work best during such incidents and how to maximize the information available to make the best decision for each situation.

An active shooter is a person who is actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. These dynamic situations evolve quickly and are usually over within ten to fifteen minutes. This demands immediate deployment of law enforcement resources to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to innocent victims.

You and your employees may or may not receive advance warning of an active shooter. A witness, personal observation or the sound of gunshots may be the only alert you receive, leaving little time to react. This is why advance preparedness is paramount. The sound of gunshots, unlike special effects in movies and television, may sound muffled and make a "pop, pop, pop" noise. It is reasonable to assume that a series of such noises are gunshots and you and your employees should begin to take necessary precautions.

The traditional response to this type of incident in the past has been to shelter in place and wait for the police to arrive. While this type of response is not completely wrong, case studies of several active shooter incidents have shown that using only this response has resulted in an increase in casualties. The "ALICE" response plan is but one of a number of programs that has been developed to assist organizations in their response should this type of incident occur. Other response protocols are also available to assist each organization in developing their own emergency procedures for such an incident. Your organization must determine which is best for your organization, your employees and the people you serve.


A.L.I.C.E., which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, is a flexible set of principles that may be adapted to any violent situation. It provides you and your employees with 5 steps that can be utilized in order to increase the chances of surviving a surprise attack by an Active Shooter. It is important to remember that the "ALICE" response does not follow a sequential set of actions you "shall, must, will" do when confronted with an Active Shooter. Your survival and that of your employees and those that you serve is paramount in this situation. Your organization must deal with known information and not worry about unknowns. Your organization may use only 1 or 2 parts of the response plan or you may have to utilize all 5. In this type of an incident, your perception is the reality. You and your employees will be deciding the appropriate action to take.


  • Your organizations should create your own Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
  • The plan should include: listing of emergency numbers, a preferred method for reporting emergencies, emergency escape procedures and route assignments, and an evacuation procedure
  • When a threat is recognized, you and your employees need to rapidly assess the threat level and immediately initiate a response. Your perception is your reality; there can be no second guessing the option you decide.
  • Training is the key to successfully implementing your plan. It is possible and in all likely that not everyone within your organization will respond in the same manner. Due to proximity of the Active Shooter threat, some may need to respond one way and others may need to take a different course of action.

1. Alert

This can be anything.

  • Gunfire
  • Witness
  • PA Announcement
  • Phone alert

2. Lockdown

This is a semi-secure starting point from which you and your employees will make survival decisions. For those that decide not to evacuate, be certain that they know to secure the room. They can:
  • Take shelter in the nearest office, room, or closet
  • Lock the door
  • Stay low to the ground. Maintain a position where a person in the hallway cannot see you through glass
  • Cover any windows in the door if possible
  • Tie down the door, if possible, using belts, purse straps, shoe laces, etc.
  • Barricade the door with anything available (desks, chairs, etc.)
  • Look for alternate escape routes (windows, other doors)
  • Call 911 and provide detailed information. The phone line should remain “open” which helps the 911 operator in hearing what is happening
  • Move out of the doorway in case gunfire comes through
  • Silence or place cell phones on vibrate
  • Once secured, they are not to open the door for anyone. Responding law enforcement personnel will have access to all of the rooms in a building
  • Police will enter the room when the situation is over.
  • Gather weapons (coffee cups, chairs, books, pens, etc.) and mentally prepare to defend themselves or others
  • They may have to take the offensive if the shooter enters their area. There are numerous weapons in the room (chairs, trashcans, computers, etc.) They should be prepared to utilize anything close at hand and prepare for a physical encounter
  • Put themself in position to surprise the active shooter should they enter the room

3. Inform

Any means necessary can and should be used to pass on real time information.
  • Information should be given in plain language
  • Can be derived from 911 calls, video surveillance, etc.
  • Who, what, where, when and how information
  • Can be used by people in the area or who may come into it to make common sense decisions
  • Can be given by “Flash Alerts”, PA Announcements or Police Radio speakers

4. Counter

This is the use of simple, proactive techniques should your employees be confronted by the Active Shooter. Assure that everyone understands that:
  • Anything can be a weapon
  • They should throws things at the shooters head to disrupt their aim
  • Use pepper spray or bear spray to temporarily hinder the attacker
  • They should:
    • Create as much noise as possible
    • Attack in a group (swarm)
    • Grab the shooters limbs and head and take them to the ground and hold them there
    • Fight dirty-bite, kick, scratch, gouge eyes, etc. There is no unfair fighting when survival is the goal
    • Run around the room and create chaos
  • If they have control of the shooter call 911 and tell the police where they are and listen to their commands when officers arrive on scene.
  • Provide their location and stay on the line
  • Secure the suspect (body weight, belts, etc.)
  • Move any weapons away from the suspect. Do Not Hold Any Weapons!
  • Do not run from the room. Help is on the way.

5. Evacuate

Vacate the danger zone as quickly as possible.
  • Decide if each person can safely evacuate, If possible, do it
  • People should:
    • Run away from the building as quickly as possible
    • Run in a zigzag pattern as fast as possible
    • Continuing running until they are far away from the area
    • Stop when they feel they are in a safe zone and contact 911
    • Bring something to throw with them in case they would encounter the Active Shooter
    • Consider if the fall from a window will be fatal
    • Break out windows and attempt to quickly clear glass from the frame
      • Consider using belts, clothing or other items as an improvised rope to shorten the distance they would fall
      • Hang by their hands from the window ledge to shorten their drop
      • Attempt to drop into shrubs, mulch or grass to lessen the chance of injury
      • Do not attempt to drive from the area

What to expect from responding officers and secondary issues:

Police officers responding to an active shooter are trained to proceed immediately to the area in which the shots were last heard. Their purpose is to stop the shooting as quickly as possible.

The first responding officers will normally be in teams of four. They may be dressed in regular patrol uniforms, or they may be wearing external bullet proof vests, Kevlar helmets and other tactical equipment. The officers may be armed with rifles, shotguns, or handguns and might be using pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation. Regardless of how they appear, everyone should remain calm and do as the officer tells them. People should not be afraid of them. Everyone should put down any bags or packages they may be carrying and keep their hands visible at all times. If anyone knows where the offender is, they should tell the officers.

Everyone should understand that if they come into possession of a weapon, they should NOT carry or brandish it! Police may think they are the Active Shooter.

The first officers to arrive will not stop to aid injured people. Your employees should be prepared to provide first aid. Think outside the box. Tampons and feminine napkins can be used to stop blood loss. Shoes laces and belts can be used to secure tourniquets. Weighted shoes can be tied around a person’s head to immobilize it. It may be several hours until an injured person can be safely moved. The actions taken immediately to treat the injured may save their life. Rescue teams composed of other officers and emergency medical personnel will follow behind the first officers when it is safe to treat and remove injured people.

If anyone is in lockdown for a long period of time, give consideration to issues such as bathroom use, keeping people calm, etc.

Discuss beforehand with people in your organization or classes where to meet up should anyone have to evacuate and make it a place easily accessible and far away from the scene.

Keep in mind that even once people have escaped to a safer location, the entire area is still a crime scene. Police personnel will usually not let anyone leave until the situation is fully under control and all witnesses have been identified and questioned. Everyone needs to understand that until they are released, they are to remain at whatever assembly point authorities designate.

What can your organization do?

Each organization should prepare in advance for a potential active shooter situation. The procedures outlined here are but one of a number of strategies that can be used to address these concerns. It is important that your organization have a plan (and appropriate training) in place to prepare your organization on how to respond to such a situation. The uniqueness of active shooter occurrences and the unpredictability of these events will cause every situation to be different and no single way will be the best way to respond. The environment surrounding each situation will vary and greatly affect individual responses making an endless possibility of scenarios a reality. Your organization will have to determine the best methodology that will suit the needs of those that you serve. A number of resources are available to assist in this including those listed on Knowing what to do under active shooter circumstances will greatly increase your chances of survival.
Police Officer with bullet proof vest
This "document” is intended for general information purposes and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability. This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional or technical advice. Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser or trained professional. Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete. Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on this content.  
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