What You Need to Know about Active Shooter Drills at Work

By October 10, 2019 November 13th, 2019 Safety and Security
active shooter drills at work

It seems almost every month we hear of a new tragedy on the news. When we think of active shooter events, we typically think of schools, crowded bars, and outdoor concerts. The data, though, tells a slightly different story. In 2018, more than half of all active shooter events—60%—occurred in the workplace. Although no company wants to consider the potential for an active shooter incident at their workplace, taking the appropriate steps to prepare can save many lives.

As a quick aside, in discussing this topic, there are many different definitions and sources available. For this article, we are using FBI data to discuss active shooter incidents. The FBI defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”

In addition to creating an active shooter response plan, many experts recommend introducing some form of active shooter drill at work. However, every business is unique and has their own set of needs, which must be considered when designing an active shooter drill.

This post will examine the various types of active shooter drills, including the pros and cons of each. Finding the right type of exercise for your business is crucial for protecting your employees. Whether you have remote employees in the vicinity of an active shooter event, or your workplace is under direct danger, instituting an active shooter drill will prepare your employees.

The Debate Surrounding Active Shooter Drills

Before we begin to examine various active shooter drill methods, we need to examine the large controversy surrounding these drills. There are many arguments against the institution of active shooter drills within the workplace. Even though active shooter events are becoming more common, they are still relatively rare. Your business is much more likely to be impacted by regional hazards, such as a fire, hurricane, or severe weather event. Therefore, the undue psychological stress that can result from these types of drills is often not worth it for most employees. By conducting such a drill, past trauma can resurface for employees or they can become paranoid and fearful of coming to work.

Despite the potential for unnecessary trauma, certain businesses deem active shooter drills as an important step in preparing for active shooter events. At least 60% of active shooter events end before the police even arrive. So training your employees on how to act in a crisis situation can save lives. Ultimately, your business must evaluate its own needs and values to decide the utility of an active shooter drill at your workplace.

How to Conduct an Active Shooter Drill

1. Develop a Detailed Active Shooter Response Plan

Prior to conducting active shooter drills, your company needs to design a thorough active shooter response plan. While creating this plan, consider potential threats, evacuation routes, and communication methods.

We previously discussed how to create an active shooter response plan for your business, and here are the key points:

Your company will want to:

    • Conduct a security assessment to pinpoint key weaknesses within your workplace
    • Train employees to notice and report potential threats
    • Create a communication plan (a multi-channel, two-way mass communication system such as AlertMedia makes this easy)
    • Identify strategic evacuation routes and shelter locations within the workplace
    • Rehearse active shooter drills
    • Make sure to follow-up after an incident and report using a modern employee notification system so you can determine the safety of all employees

Related: Download the Active Shooter Readiness Checklist

2. Decide What Type of Drill to Run


Ever since the threat of nuclear warfare during the Cold War Era, students and adults alike have become familiarized with the lockdown drill. This classic drill has long been used as the go-to training method against external threats.

    • Secure all exits and windows for an additional barrier to prevent access. Block doors, close blinds, and turn off exterior lights to remain inconspicuous.
    • Using a mass notification system, notify all your employees of the situation and make sure they are all accounted for.
    • Continue regular business activity inside the building, but do not allow anyone to enter the facility.
    • Call the police to gather more information about the scenario. Notify authorities of your lockdown status and ask for updates and an all-clear once the situation has ended.
Pros and Cons of Lockdown Active Shooter Drills

Although this method is still common in most elementary and secondary schools, it is often not effective in the workplace. Critics of the lockdown method argue that this form of drill leaves employees as helpless sitting-ducks. Since grown adults have a higher capacity to react in the face of danger than young children, this method is normally not the most effective in a business setting.

Despite these downfalls of the lockdown method, staying put and hiding can be the answer in an active shooter situation, especially if the active shooter is off-site but close to the business. If an event unfolds outside your workplace, it is often best to remain in your secure building than to exit into the unknown. By locking up doors, drawing shutters, and turning off lights, you will be safest inside your facility.

The Tactical Shooter Drill

With active shooter events on the rise, new companies specialize in active shooter drills. These drills simulate a real-life scenario with an actor playing the role of a shooter in order to offer realistic tactical training.

    • Contact a professional company that offers tactical shooter training services. These companies normally teach the “run, hide, fight” response by putting employees in a lifelike drill.
    • Decide whether a surprise drill or a pre-announced drill best fits the needs of your company. Normally, pre-announced drills are always recommended to prevent unnecessary psychological trauma.
    • Conduct the drill. A designated person either from an external company or within your own business will act as an active shooter. The extent of the role-playing is left to the business. Typically, the actor will shoot blanks or walk around with a fake gun.
    • Following the drill, meet with your employees to discuss weaknesses, strategies, and techniques to improve efficiency.
Pros and Cons of the Tactical Shooter Drill

The tactical shooter drill offers the most realistic type of training for your employees. This drill is as close as it gets to the real scenario. By being placed in a controlled high-pressure situation, employees are able to learn how to react in high-stress situations, which could end up saving their lives if something were to occur.

Although tactical drills can prove effective in certain scenarios, active shooter drills can also show potential shooters from the company exactly what you would do in an emergency scenario. They can use this information to their advantage by blocking major exits or targeting security guards prior to an attack. Since 1 in 5 shootings at work are carried out by employees, this is a large concern. Critics also argue that such active shooter drills can create a dangerous sense of security and the assumption that all active shooter scenarios are the same. Instead, in an active shooter situation, employees should rely on their own intuition and situational awareness to make the best call in the moment.

3. Debrief with Employees

Following an active shooter drill, it is crucial to sit down with all your employees and reflect upon the training. By debriefing on the drill, your company can identify potential weaknesses in the response plan and strategies to improve. Efficiency is key within these types of drills.

Additionally, this time can be used to gauge and address any trauma your employees may have faced during the drill. By providing employees with the proper resources for your workplace to cope with such factors (tailored to your workplace culture, environment, and individual needs), they will appreciate that your company is fulfilling their duty of care. Adjustments can also be made to future drills to minimize the impact upon employees’ mental states.

Alternative to an Active Shooter Drill

Oftentimes, the simplest way is the most effective way. Many companies have provided comprehensive training through informational videos and pamphlets.

    • Assess threats within your workplace and identify best practices for your business in an active shooter scenario. Use content found in your active shooter response plan.
    • Using your research, create informational pamphlets and videos to educate and empower your employees on how to respond in a crisis situation.
    • Distribute content to employees and periodically review and quiz their knowledge of the information.
Pros and Cons of Using Informational Videos and Pamphlets

This easy form of active shooter drill training ensures that your employees receive all the information necessary without undergoing any undue stress or trauma, which can often be a side effect of more realistic drills. Additionally, since an actual drill is not being conducted, you can educate your employees about how to react to a much wider range of active shooter situations.

Although this option is the safest for your employees’ mental health, workers miss out on the physical training offered by other drills. While reading informational documents are helpful, employees oftentimes freeze in real-life scenarios if they have not previously practiced what to do.

In Conclusion

Given that every method has its own set of benefits and detriments, most companies find that a combination of strategies ensures that employees are fully prepared for an active shooter scenario. For example, employees need to know how to quickly adapt if a lockdown situation evolves into an evacuation situation. By reading informational pamphlets on how to adapt to the scenario and previously rehearsing lockdown and tactical drills, your employees will be prepared to respond. After considering the needs of your business, we urge you to find which strategies work best and implement them into your active shooter response plan.

Looking for help communicating in the event of an active shooter or other violent situation? Download our free communication templates below.