An active shooter, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. This attempt is pre-planned and in most cases, there is no specific pattern or method to the selection of victims. Past incidences that have occurred have not been limited to one geographic or socioeconomic area, which indicates that the threat is not specific and can occur in a multitude of environments.

On average, an active shooter incident lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, which means the incident will most likely be over by the time law enforcement arrives on the scene. In a study by the NYPD, 60% of active shooter situations end prior to law enforcement arriving. If you work in a commercial setting where clients or customers are present, your employees are going to be the ones people look to for direction. Clients and customers are likely to follow the lead of employees and managers during an active shooter situation, so it is important that individuals who work at your business are both mentally and physically prepared to deal with this type of situation, where every second will matter.

Most people will freeze and not take action when faced with these circumstances. It is imperative to train employees who will be able to act in order to help those who need it, including those with disabilities. The Department of Homeland Security recommends that your business prepares for an active shooter situation in three ways: create an emergency action plan, have a notification system, and train your employees.

Emergency Action Plan

Most buildings and businesses are required by regulatory agencies to have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). These plans are not only frequently required, they can serve as your first line of defense against a hostile situation. It should be general enough to encapsulate all events that may occur, however, certain aspects will help you respond to this specific situation. Your business’ emergency action plan should include a detailed evacuation procedure outlining all routes, floor plans, and safe areas. All employees should be made aware of these routes and multiple drills per year should be conducted to practice full evacuation.

The contact information and responsibilities for crisis team members who will be assisting during the emergency should also be included in your EAP. Again, this information needs to be readily accessible and widely communicated so all employees know where to find it. You should also include contact information for all local law enforcement and first responders. This ensures all necessary contact information is in one central location and can be readily accessed by all employees and management in the wake of a crisis. Your emergency action plan should be updated on a consistent basis to ensure the most recent contact information and procedures.


As stated above, most people will freeze when faced with this type of situation. Since an active shooter incident is usually over quickly, every second matters. Your employees will have to make a decision accordingly, whether it is to evacuate, hide out, or take action. Create and train a crisis team that will know what to do and where to go if faced with an active shooter. Tabletop exercises that allow your company to walk through a mock scenario can help identify what actions need to be taken under different circumstances, who will be responsible for what, and any gaps that you may have within your EAP. This training should include what to do when evacuating, hiding out, or taking action. Remember, clients, customers, and even employees will look towards managers and leadership to see how they should respond. Make sure you have a trained team who will not hesitate to take the lead during an active shooter incident.

Emergency Notification System

A way to communicate with employees or anyone who must be notified in the wake of a crisis is one of the most critical aspects of your company’s response plans. An emergency notification system that can quickly alert all necessary parties while giving clear and concise directions is invaluable when every second counts. It is also important to consider having technology that allows the recipient of the message to respond back. This can help management and first responders know who is okay or who needs assistance.

 A system that allows you to set messaging templates prior to an incident will ensure that messages are clear, concise, and relays the proper information and instructions. If faced with an active shooter incident, you may not be able to think clearly and may be in a state of panic. These pre-written templates will make sending a message simple and efficient. Your notification system should also send messages through multiple platforms, such as a text message, email, and phone call. Doing this will enhance your chances of relaying the necessary information.

Different industries and sectors face different risks. It is imperative to create an emergency action plan that is tailored to your business and people. Your plans should be updated and your people should be trained on a consistent basis to keep this type of incident fresh in their minds. You may not know when you will need to use these plans and systems, but having something in place is extremely important when it comes to protecting your greatest asset, your people.

To learn more about preparing your business for an active shooter event and how to respond to such a crisis, please click here to view a recent Preparis webinar focusing on workplace violence, featuring Department of Homeland Security expert, Bill Hildebrand.

Implementation Specialist