In all likelihood, you will never be involved in a scenario involving an intruder or active shooter in the workplace. But in the event you find yourself in this situation, this article provides basic background and awareness information on how to respond. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. Typically, these situations are unpredictable and there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims.


Law enforcement reacts quickly to these scenarios, so it is best to defer to the authorities to handle these situations. However, such events can happen suddenly, so you must be mentally and physically prepared to respond and react until law enforcement arrives. 


If such a situation occurs, follow these three recommendations in order:

  1. Run or evacuate
  2. Hide
  3. Fight or take action (only as a last resort)

According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) document, “Active Shooter: What Can You Do?” the best course of action is to look for an escape path or attempt to evacuate the premises.


“When evacuating, have an escape route and plan in mind; leave your belongings behind; help others escape, if possible; evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow; warn individuals not to enter an area where the active shooter may be; prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be; do not attempt to move wounded people; keep your hands visible; follow the instructions of any police officers; and call 911 when it is safe to do so,” the document states.


If calling for help, provide as much information as possible to 911 operators or law enforcement officers. Include the number, location and physical description of intruders as well as number and type of weapons and number of potential victims on-site.


If evacuating safely is not an option, find a safe place to hide. If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door. If you’re in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door. When seeking a hiding place, consider the following: first, look for a location that will be out of the intruder’s line of sight to prevent discovery. Try to find a site that offers protection if shots are fired. Do not select a site that restricts your movement options.


In an effort to keep an intruder from entering a hiding spot, lock the door, and blockade it with heavy furniture when possible. Close, cover or move away from windows. When the intruder is nearby, it is important to remain quiet and calm, and silence any mobile devices. Even the sound of a vibrating phone can give away a hiding position.


“Consider the difference between cover and concealment,” states the FEMA document. “Cover might protect a person from gunfire, while concealment will merely hide a person from the view of the shooter. If you are in an active shooter situation, you should quickly choose the best space that is available. Finding cover is preferable, but if cover is not available you should find a position of concealment.”


Finally, as a last resort—and only if in imminent danger—fight. Attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the intruder through aggression. Consider using improvised weapons, e.g., tools or office supplies such as scissors; throwing items; yelling; and making loud noises. When taking action, it is imperative to be fully committed. Any form of hesitation can put you at greater risk for becoming a victim.


Some other tips to consider: be aware of the environment and all possible dangers, and take note of the nearest exits in the facility or work site.


For more information or training on handling these intruders, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers a number of resources, programs, workshops and webinars. In fact, DHS has a website dedicated to the topic: www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness. You can also contact your local law enforcement division or college or university. Many of these authorities offer helpful resources.