active shooter in the workplace

How can you plan for an active shooter in the workplace? Most businesses have policies in place outlining responses to different types of crises. Every business follows fire codes and many have a response plan in place for critical incidents such as a bomb threat.

The same concept of writing policies, creating a plan, training staff, and then practicing these procedures does not apply as it should regarding a violent intruder or disgruntled employee. Building a thorough plan is critical to combatting a tragedy in the workplace, such as an active shooter incident.

Planning for an Active Shooter in the Workplace: Execute these 5 Critical Concepts to Create a Bulletproof Plan

1st Critical Concept: Have Non-Emergency Lockdown Procedures in Place –
[Incident Close to Company Property]

 A non-emergency lockdown is implemented when there is a known threat off-site, but close to the facility.

An example of a non-emergency lockdown would be when police establish a perimeter close to the facility and search for a suspect.

  • The facility will secure all exterior doors and fencing with the intention to keep the problem out.
  • Business will be as usual on the inside, but nobody will be able to enter the facility.
  • The employer’s job is to ensure the facility is secured from the outside and that layers of resistance are in place to block a potential intruder from entering the interior of the site.
  • A designated person should call the police to gain information as to the nature of the incident and how it may affect their business.
  • The designated caller should tell the operator that the facility is on a non-emergency lockdown (also known as “lockout” or “standard lockdown”) and to request notification for when the area is clear.
  • Once the incident has been cleared or deemed safe by law enforcement, operations will go back to normal.
  • Employees should be kept abreast with updates.

“Being in a non-emergency lockdown for a potential threat off-site, puts the workplace at an advantage in the event the facility moves to an emergency lockdown.”

2nd Critical Concept: Have Emergency Lockdown Procedures in Place –
[Incident within Company Property]

An emergency lockdown is described as an unwanted intruder on site or within the workplace.

Keep in mind that this threat is mobile!

  • Employees must report the incident to law enforcement as quickly as possible.
  • Communicate an emergency lockdown through an intercom system or other means to reach employees.
  • Activating an emergency lockdown could discourage the threat from executing their plan.
  • Equally important is carrying out a plan while waiting for police to arrive.
  • Once the threat is restricted access to others this may cause the threat to leave or be located by law enforcement.
  • Your plan should be implemented in every emergency lockdown situation – whether it is known that the intruder is harmful or not.
  • If no weapon is visible, it cannot be ruled out that a weapon is not concealed, or that this person can do harm.
  • A disgruntled customer, client, or former employee should be taken seriously because the intention is unknown.

“Instead of implementing layers of resistance on the outside, the mindset needs to switch to creating resistance on the inside.”


3rd Critical Concept: Implement this Crucial Expansion to the Run. Hide. Fight. Model – [During an Active Threat]

In this critical part of planning for an active shooter in the workplace, Steve S. Smith and his team of law enforcement professionals share their expansion of the Run. Hide. Fight. model, developed by the Department of Homeland Security, that can be very crucial for your employees’ protection.


During an emergency lockdown, expand upon the Run. Hide. Fight. model. Run. Hide. Fight. appears self-explanatory and simple, but I recommend further, in-depth explanation and training.

RUN – Where You Should Run and When You Should Go – [Evade and Evacuate]

  • If the decision to “Run” is made, the response should be to evade or evacuate.
  • The action shall not be to blindly “Run” from the threat. Rather move only when there is knowledge that the threat’s location is not close to you.
  • Evade while maintaining cover or concealment if possible. Then, evacuate to safety.
  • If there are no auditory sounds of a threat, it is possible that evading to a secure area, rather than evacuate, is your best choice.
  • Work with the known.
  • Employees should be cognizant of any avenue of escape.
  • Staff should spend time taking internal “field trips” of their work space to locate all fire exits and additional doors within offices that lead elsewhere.
  • People are creatures of habit and under stress resort back to training or previous experiences Therefore, simply learning the layout of the facility can assist employees to recognize other avenues of escape.

HIDE – How You Should Hide and Where You Should Go – [Isolate and Secure]

  • Unfortunately, evacuation may not feasible for all employees and they may need to isolate and secure themselves from the threat.
  • In choosing to “Hide,” there should be a clear understanding of the location to hide and the material that is chosen to hide behind.
  • When selecting a location to isolate, it would be most beneficial to access areas less known or regularly travelled.
  • Adjoining rooms that bring one deeper into the facility and further away from the threat is a good option for isolation.
  • Once the location has been chosen, secure the area by creating layers of resistance.
  • A first potential layer is locking the door.
  • Simply securing the door allows staff time to react to the situation.
  • It should be noted that a locked door is sometimes all that is needed to win an active killer incident. The threat is aware of limited time to locate victims and it would be a “waste of time” to attempt to force their way into a room that may have nobody inside.
  • If the threat decides to force their way through the locked door, build a barricade (the second layer of resistance).
  • The barricade could be built from desks, tables, chairs, or cabinets.
  • If you cannot secure in an enclosed area, than shielding oneself behind the proper material for “cover” is imperative.
  • Cover is something that can stop bullets from penetrating through it.
  • An example of cover is concrete block or a potentially a filing cabinet filled with papers.
  • If cover cannot be located, then concealment would be the next option.
  • Concealment only affords the benefit of stealth and it should be noted that bullets will penetrate through said material.
  • Examples of concealment are dry wall, most doors, desks, tables, and closets.
  • If concealment is the only option available, then locate a closet or material that conceals all the way around the body.

“Hiding under a table is not a good choice of concealment because most tables have visual openings that allow the threat to see one from different angles!”

FIGHT – When You Should Fight and How You Should Do It – [Defend]

  • Finally, the option is to “Fight” may come first, last, or not at all.
  • The need to defend oneself is dependent upon the location and nature of the threat.
  • If there is no other option that to fight, you must commit 100% to winning that battle.
  • If possible, procure a weapon.
  • A weapon of choice could be a sharp object, like scissors, or a blunt object, like a heavy trophy or bat.
  • Once armed, position oneself in a low, aggressive stance.
  • Aim for the head, rather than attempting to disarm the attacker.


4th Critical Concept: Staff Training – [Independent Decision Making in Case of a Threat]

  • Once staff have been trained, trust them to make independent choices.
  • We recognize that some work spaces may not have a door to close. Utilizing other layers of resistance just mentioned will need to come first.
  • Empower all employees with the independence to initiate a lockdown or to call the police.
  • We have experienced in many schools, for instance, that teachers are taught to call the front office or the principal first. We highly encourage trusting the judgment of the teacher or staff member.


5th Critical Concept: Frequent Training – [Practice, Practice, Practice]

  1. All facilities that have the ability to practice for such situations, should do so on a frequent basis.
  2. We recognize that some workplaces present certain challenges that prevent them from practicing an emergency lockdown.
  3. All facilities should at minimum practice in the form of table-top exercises or actual drills in portions of the facility at a time.
(Original article: Preparing for the Lone Wolf Attack: The Building Blocks of Planning for an Active Shooter in the Workplace published in the Preferred News newsletter sponsored by Public Risk Underwriters of Florida)


I hope that after reading this article, the audience understands that an active shooter incident or violent attack could happen at any business, school, mall, restaurant, movie theater, church, hospital, or public place.
The parents and families of the 20 children and 6 staff at Sandy Hook, the families of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, the parents of the teenagers of Columbine High School, and the families of the Post Office massacre in Edmond, Oklahoma may have never thought their loved ones would be slain while they attended school or work.

As the list of these tragedies continues to grow, it is the duty of every business owner, city manager and principal to formalize plans now and prepare for an active shooter attack.

Interested to learn more about how you can deal with an active shooter in the workplace incident?

Learn more about our active shooter training for businesses or book your Workplace Violence active shooter training course now! Also check out what other clients say about our training.

About Steven S. Smith

Steven S. Smith, the President and Founder of Guardian Defense, offers active shooter training programs to staff within schools, colleges, churches, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and hospitals; in order to build confidence and save time in the event of an intruder, active shooter or killer, or other terror attack. Mr. Smith is a current certified law enforcement officer and has a range of experience on school and public safety, and investigation work. He is currently a team leader and instructor on the SWAT Team, for which he joined in 2009. Mr. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice, in 2005 from Nova Southeastern University.