What would you do if an active shooter opened fire in your office? On Tuesday, this worst-case scenario unfortunately became a reality for employees at YouTube after a female active shooter wounded three people at the tech company’s headquarters in the San Francisco Bay area before killing herself.
Gun violence incidents are becoming increasingly common in American workplaces. There have been seven workplace shootings in the U.S. in the last 28 months alone. This is a scenario no one enjoys thinking about, but when you start hearing gunshots, you may only have seconds to react properly. Taking the time to go over what you would do in an active shooter situation could make the difference when every second counts.
Your first priority in an active shooter situation is to get away from the shooter’s life-threatening range. Protecting your life means quickly deciding the best way to escape the shooter’s path. Usually, your best option means running.
As soon as you realize you’re in an active shooter situation, you need to drop what you are doing and escape. Don’t worry about taking your personal belongings — you need to go, go, go. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your escape route. Break windows and walls if needed. Alert colleagues about where the shooter may be and follow your company’s escape plan.
Don’t know your company’s escape plan? Planning for a worst-case situation starts there. Although not every employer is required to have an emergency action plan, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends having a preferred protocol for employers to communicate and employees to practice and know.
If you don’t have time to run, you need to find a place to hunker down. Fold your body into a ball or lie down on the ground to make yourself into a small target. Lock and secure the door. “Solid doors with locks, rooms without windows, and heavy furniture like large filing cabinets and desks make good hiding places,” FEMA advises.
You want to be behind something that can slow down an aggressive shooter from entering. Hiding also means not alerting the shooter to your location. Stay quiet. Remember to turn buzzing and pinging technology devices to silent.
Confronting an active shooter directly should be your desperate, last resort if running and hiding are no longer working, or you are trapped in the same room as the shooter. If you are not hiding alone, join forces with your colleagues, swarm the attacker, and commit to aggressively attacking them.
The odds of unarmed employees successfully facing down a shooter are not good, but still winnable. A 10-year FBI study of active shooter events found that 13% of the incidents were stopped “after unarmed citizens safely and successfully restrained the shooter.” To take down the shooter, use whatever you can find to throw their way. Your makeshift weapon could be as heavy as a fire extinguisher or as light as a pen. The goal is not to stop a bullet, but to create chaos. It forces the shooter to stop and think, so you have more time to get away from gunfire.
“If you can move him from offense to defense, you have changed the outcome of the event,” Greg Crane, an ex-SWAT officer that trains employees to fight off shooters, recommends. “He’s thinking about what you are doing to him, not what he’s doing to you. Mentally, he’s going through a whole different process.”
4. Remain calm when law enforcement arrives
When you see law enforcement, understand that their top priority is to contain the active shooter over helping you specifically. They may pass injured victims along their way. To avoid being mistaken for the shooter, DHS advises office workers to keep their hands visible at all times, and to avoid pointing, screaming, or yelling.