Run Hide Fight: Pros and Cons
In this blog post, we evaluate the most common method taught in the United States to mitigate active shooters: “Run, Hide, Fight” and what to do before, during, and after an active shooter event.
On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower with three long rifles, two pistols, and a shotgun. What happened next resulted in, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in United States history. By the time he was shot and killed by an Austin police officer—96 minutes after firing his first shot—he had shot 43 people, 13 of whom died.
Today, Whitman is widely believed to have introduced the United States to the idea of a mass shooting. In the 55 years since the University of Texas Tower shooting, thousands of active shooter events have taken place around the world and impacted public safety in innumerable ways.
No company ever wants to think about an active shooter situation occurring at their workplace. Still, with the number of active shooter incidents on the rise, companies must have an active shooter response plan in place. In this post, we discuss “Run, Hide, Fight” and what experts recommend doing before, during, and after an active shooter event.
What Is an Active Shooter Event?
The FBI defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
From the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 to the Pulse Nightclub massacre in 2016 to the Indianapolis shooting in April of 2021, active shooter events in the United States have increased in frequency and severity, so much that the FBI now publishes an annual report detailing the events of the previous year. And the data paints a grim picture. Since 2016, active shooter data reveals an upward trend: The number of active shooter incidents identified in 2020 represents a 33 percent increase from 2019 and a 100 percent increase from 2016. In 2020 alone, 164 casualties resulted from active shooter events in the United States—even during a pandemic that shuttered a large percentage of public areas.
Since at least 66 percent of active shooter events end before law enforcement even arrives, teaching employees response strategies can help save many lives. In the next section, we evaluate the most common method taught in the United States: Run, Hide, Fight.
What Is “Run, Hide, Fight”?
The three-step “Run, Hide, Fight” approach has quickly gained national recognition as one of the most prominent active shooter defense strategies.
The City of Houston, with funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released this training video which clearly presents “Run, Hide, Fight” as sequential steps that someone should follow when facing an active shooter. The video provides viewers with a vivid, comprehensive lesson in how to employ the Run, Hide, Fight process in the simulation of an active shooter scenario.
In an active shooter event, one option experts recommend is to run away from the site as quickly as possible and find safety elsewhere. The key benefit of “Run” is removing at-risk individuals from the scene entirely, reducing the total number of potential victims. If you exercise this option and remove yourself from the situation, you should call 911 as soon as you reach safety to confirm your location.
If you believe the active shooter might be in your near vicinity, a second option is to take cover and hide in a strategic location immediately. Try to pick a bulletproof hiding place that can be locked or barricaded to prevent anyone from coming in.
When necessary, a third option is to take action and fight to protect yourself with whatever you have available to you. Whether that be a desk chair, heavy object, scissors, or hot coffee, use anything at your disposal to counter, disarm, or immobilize the shooter.
How to Prepare for an Active Shooter Event
As important as the Run, Hide, Fight method is to employee safety, the most effective way to keep your people safe during an active shooter event is by implementing measures that attempt to prevent the event completely. That starts with examining the various phases of an event and the steps you can take to mitigate risk during these phases.
BEFORE an active shooter event
To prepare in the case of an active shooter, you can help train your employees with an active shooter response plan. This serves two purposes: 1) to prevent chaos and 2) to be prepared for workplace violence if it were to arise. In scary and traumatic situations, you can save lives by having a plan in place with strategies and techniques to stay safe. Regularly conducting active shooter drills at work can help ensure your employees don’t “freeze” during a real-life active shooter situation.
Due to the unpredictable nature of active shooter events, your organization should have primary and secondary escape routes in place that avoid main hallways and open spaces. Knowing these escape routes and the location of the nearest lockable rooms can help your employees more easily reach a safe location as quickly as possible.
A safe office requires the joint effort of all employees. If employees feel free to report suspicious activity to an authority figure, the less likely an active shooter will catch the office off guard. An active shooter in your workplace may be a current or former employee or an acquaintance of a current or former employee. Employees may notice characteristics of potentially violent behavior in an employee. Alert your Human Resources Department if you believe an employee or coworker exhibits potentially violent behavior.
Along with active shooter training, companies should ensure that at least a portion of their employees is first aid certified. When the unspeakable occurs, employees can help save lives if they have proper first aid training and knowledge. Many companies offer first aid training services to other businesses, and it can be as simple as bringing in instructors one afternoon to teach and certify some of your employees. By providing your employees with this training, you empower them to help in disaster scenarios.
DURING an active shooter event
During an active shooter event is where “Run, Hide, Fight” training should kick in. If a shooter is in the vicinity and you believe escape is possible, you should run to the nearest escape route and get as far away from the scene as possible. Call 9-1-1 only after you are safe.
When escape is not possible, you should find a place to hide. Oftentimes, you will not have a solid shelter location and will need to get out of plain sight. Silence your cell phones and stay completely silent until you receive the all-clear from authorities.
While this option is extremely dangerous, if you are left with no choice or must protect yourself and others, you should attempt to delay the shooter for as long as possible while waiting for the police to arrive and end the situation. It should be noted that most experts recommend fighting as a last resort.
Once the shooting has stopped, there could be a long time to wait before rescue arrives. When first responders do arrive, it’s critical to cooperate with them and help in any way possible. Administering first aid to your injured coworkers can save their lives. Everyone in the office must know where the first aid kit is located. You should use pressure dressings, tourniquets, and chest seals on those that need them.
AFTER an active shooter event
The recovery process should begin immediately after an active shooter event has concluded, and the shooter is either apprehended by law enforcement, deceased, or no longer in the area.
Much like during fire evacuations, your active shooter response plan should include a predetermined rendezvous point for employees to gather after the event has concluded. This area should be a considerable distance away from your worksite, and employees should only report there AFTER they have been informed it is safe. Your organization should use an emergency communication system to keep your people updated as an event unfolds.
Chances are, law enforcement and first responders will have questions for everyone affected by the active shooter event. It’s important to answer their questions as thoroughly as possible to ensure their investigation goes smoothly.
Following an active shooter event, employees will feel grief, confusion, and loss. As a company, you are responsible for taking care of all your employees, specifically those most deeply impacted by the event. Recovering after a disaster takes time and patience. Be sure to provide employees with resources, time, and the support they need. Whether that be financial support for medical bills or trauma counseling, show your employees that you are there for them.
The Pros and Cons of “Run, Hide, Fight”
The controversy surrounding “Run, Hide, Fight”
While the “Run, Hide, Fight” method seems to be a viable strategy for approaching active shooter scenarios, many critics assert that the method fails to address some unknown variables. Let’s look at both the pros and cons of the “Run, Hide, Fight” method and potential alternatives.
Pros: What advocates say
The Department of Homeland Security argues that the process is a simple way to train your employees and provide them with a strategy in case of an active shooter scenario. The three basic steps create a framework that people can easily use in stressful situations.
By keeping the process to three simple steps, supporters assert that people can easily remember how to act, even if their mental faculties are impaired due to stress and shock. Additionally, the process applies to a wide variety of situations and can be easily adapted to match the scenario at hand.
Cons: What critics say
However, there are many complaints about this training method. One of the main concerns of critics is the process’ failure to address the “freeze” that typically paralyzes people and inhibits their brains during shocking situations. Many psychologists and behavioral scientists argue that most people cannot decide whether the best course of action is running, hiding, or fighting in active shooter scenarios. There will be a delay in our actions that can render this method obsolete.
Many experts also complain that the process is based on linear, sequential thinking. A person is not even supposed to consider fighting until they have deemed running and hiding impossible, which is not necessarily the best strategy in a dynamic active shooter scenario where conditions change every second. The process has also been interpreted to cover options (rather than sequential steps). Thus it can be adapted to encourage us to think outside of a linear fashion to ensure we do not ignore potentially superior strategies.
The “Run, Hide, Fight” strategy is also critiqued for encouraging individuals to act as heroes and become martyrs. By including the fight option, the method teaches people to be brave and commit to fighting the shooter. On the flip side, the process can also encourage a victim mindset depending on the individual. Since run and hide are two of the three options, the model fosters a nonaggressive mindset that could leave people unprepared to fight.
What Should Your Organization Do?
One of the largest downsides to the “Run, Hide, Fight” model is the individualistic focus of the process. During an active shooter scenario, there should be people with different responsibilities to ensure that the maximum number of people make it to safety. Those who can escape the situation must immediately call 911 and alert the authorities to get help for those still in the building.
Similarly, at least one person must be in charge of a mass communication system to keep employees updated as an event unfolds. Adopt a multi-channel, two-way emergency notification system to keep track of all your employees and relay crucial information in stressful scenarios.
A good emergency communication system should meet the following criteria:
- Intuitive interface: send out alerts with ease
- Two-way messaging: allow users to reply with status updates
- Wellness checks: quickly survey employees to see if they’re safe or need assistance
- Communication templates: use pre-made templates for different emergency scenarios
- Centralized Information: create event pages to provide one source for all information
- Availability: access via mobile device—an incident can occur at any time
Since an individual’s response is different based on the location of a threat, companies can use a threat monitoring tool to gain valuable information about the shooting. A comprehensive threat monitoring system can provide real-time updates on unfolding events and understand a threat’s proximity to your people.
Run, Hide, Fight Alternatives
Due to the many critiques of the process, multiple alternative approaches have emerged that attempt to remedy the shortcomings of the “Run, Hide, Fight” approach.
Move! Escape or attack
While this method follows very similar steps, proponents argue that verbiage can completely alter the message and meaning behind a process. By using the word “move,” the person is forced to think about where to move and how to do it while “run” creates a sense of panic and frenzy, which can be detrimental in active shooter scenarios. Similarly, the word “escape” instead of “hide” forces the person to think about escaping strategically. This may involve hiding and running for cover when the opportunity arises instead of just staying put like a sitting duck. Giving the person more flexibility within the options makes it less likely they will get stuck in linear thinking. Lastly, “attack” is offensive while “fight” is defensive. Using an offensive verb empowers the person to be more confident in their actions.
Identify, assess, prevent
This method deals more heavily with threat assessment and prevention than actual steps to take during an active shooter scenario. The first step is to “identify,” which involves training employees to recognize the behavior of potential threats. Provide your employees with the tools to report these threats and create a team to fulfill the next part of the process: “assess.” A threat assessment team within your company should evaluate every threat seriously and equally to create a plan of action to “prevent” disaster scenarios from unfolding.
Training people to use their intuition and instincts
Rather than following a three-step process, many experts urge companies to train their employees to use their intuition and instincts in stressful scenarios. Supporters of this strategy recognize that every situation will be different. A sequential process will often hinder people from fully evaluating the scenario and taking the best course of action. Go through potential situations you might encounter during an active shooter scenario and develop plans of action that will work specifically for your workplace and personnel.
Providing employees with comprehensive active shooter training is a critical part of overall preparedness and protecting your people from imminent danger. While no active shooter training technique is perfect, “Run, Hide, Fight” is a useful framework and good for anyone to know if faced with surviving an active shooter scenario. Safety leaders should also consider training employees on several techniques or adopting a hybrid approach based on the principles introduced by the “Run, Hide, Fight” method.