Do You Know What to do if Someone Opens Fire at Work?

  • ​Acts of violence can happen in any work setting; some of the deadliest, most high-profile incidents involve an "active shooter."

    An active shooter, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is a person "actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area." FBI studies show the number of active shooter incidents in the U.S. has increased, from 6.4 per year in 2000-06 to 16.4 per year from 2007-13.

    Between 2000 and 2013:

    • 160 active shooter incidents were reported in the workplace
    • More than 80% of all active shooter incidents occurred at a workplace
    • Not including the shooters, 486 people were killed and 557 were wounded
    • 45.6% of shootings occurred in commercial businesses, 24.4% in school settings and 10% on government property
    • Most females shot in the workplace were attacked by a relative or domestic partner


    Usually, victims are selected at random. Always be alert and aware of your environment.

    Who is Most at Risk?


    According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than half of workplace homicides occur in retail and service industries. Many shooting incidents are motivated by robbery; areas where money or prescription drugs change hands are at higher risk. Employees working alone, in isolated areas, late at night or where alcohol is served also are at higher risk.

    Run, Hide or Fight


    A lot can happen in the chaotic minutes before police arrive. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it is imperative to stay calm and exercise one of three options.

    If there is an accessible escape route: Leave your belongings behind and get out, assisting others if possible. Once outside, don't let unsuspecting individuals enter the building. When safe to do so, call 911 and provide the location of the shooter(s), physical description, type of weapon and other information. The first officers on the scene are there only to de-activate the shooter, not to help you or tend to the wounded. Keep your hands in view.

    If evacuation is not possible: Find a hiding place where you won't be trapped should the shooter find you. Lock and blockade the door with heavy furniture if possible, silence your cell phone and remain quiet. Hide behind large items.

    If you can't evacuate or hide: As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the shooter by throwing items and improvising weapons, yelling and acting as aggressively as possible. If possible, call 911 and leave the line open so the dispatcher can listen to events unfolding.

    Employee Training


    A "survival mindset," which involves awareness, prevention and rehearsal, is key, according to the FBI. With proper training, employees can learn to spot any changes in the workplace environment and be mentally and physically ready to do whatever it takes to survive the incident. Include local police in your training if possible.

    • Create an emergency action plan that includes an evacuation procedure, contact information for all employees, information about local hospitals, and an emergency notification system to alert law enforcement and others
    • Conduct a mock training exercise with local law enforcement to learn to recognize the sound of gunshots and how to react quickly, as well as what to do when police arrive; customers and clients are likely to follow your lead
    • Assemble crisis kits that include radio, floor plan, staff roster, first aid kits and flashlights
    • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone on premises


    Profile of a Shooter


    What makes a person walk into a place of business and begin shooting innocent people? Often they are motivated by revenge, robbery or ideology, with or without a component of mental illness.

    There is no single pattern of an active shooter, and certainly not all are employees of the businesses they attack. But you can be aware of behaviors in coworkers that might be a warning sign of future violence:

    • Stressful life situations
    • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
    • Unexplained absenteeism
    • Physical complaints
    • Sloppy or dirty appearance
    • Depression or withdrawal
    • Resistance to changes at work
    • Violation of company policies
    • Mood swings
    • Emotional responses
    • Suicidal comments
    • Paranoia
    • Financial problems
    • Empathy with violent people
    • Comments about firearms and other weapons in conjunction with violent crime


    Employee background checks can turn up a history of violence.

    You Can Learn to Protect Yourself


    You may wonder if we are living in more dangerous times than our parents and grandparents, or if our perception of violence has increased. In the end, it really doesn't matter. While human behavior is not always predictable, all employees must become stakeholders in their own safety and security.

Preventing Workplace Violence: Other Resources

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