In 2018 alone, 213 casualties resulted from active shooter events in the United States. No company ever wants to think about an active shooter event occurring at their workplace, but with the number of active shooter incidents on the rise, it is crucial for companies to have an active shooter response plan in place. Since at least 60% of active shooter events end before the police even arrive, teaching employees response strategies can help save many lives. In this blog post 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.
Although the “run, hide, fight” method is widely taught, the way it is taught has become highly controversial. For example, some teach this method as a series of steps, whereas others teach it as a series of options. It may seem like there is little distinction between these viewpoints, but we’ll explain why it’s a very important distinction.
The City of Houston, with funding from the Department of Homeland Security, released this video which clearly presents “run, hide, fight” as sequential steps that someone should follow when facing an active shooter. The video providing viewers with a vivid, comprehensive lesson in how to employ the run, hide, fight process in the recreation of an active shooter scenario.
The method consists of (you guessed it) three simple parts: Run, Hide, and Fight. One option is to run away from the active shooter site as quickly as possible. If you exercise this option and remove yourself from the situation, call 911 as soon as you reach safety.
A second option if you believe the active shooter might be in your near vicinity is to immediately take cover and hide in a strategic location. Pick a spot that is ideally bulletproof and either locked or barricaded to prevent anyone from coming in. 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.
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, scissors, or hot coffee, use anything at your disposal to counter the shooter. 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 you wait for the police to arrive and end the situation.
While this three-step method seems to be a viable strategy for approaching active shooter scenarios, many critics assert that the method fails to address many unknown variables. One of the main critiques of the approach is the ignorance of the “freeze”, a phenomenon that paralyzes people’s thought processes during high-stress scenarios. Additionally, opponents find fault with the perspective that this approach is in sequential order. Let’s look at both the pros and cons of the “Run, Hide, Fight” method and potential alternatives.
Pros of “Run, Hide, Fight”
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 lay out 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. If the circumstances are reasonable, running is one option if there is an opportunity to safely exit, hiding is a second option if the shooter is nearby, and finally, fighting is a third option to protect yourselves and others. The flexibility and simplicity of the process are some of the key reasons why employers teach it to their employees. Even if employees are in shock and unable to think clearly, they most likely will be able to remember three simple steps as opposed to a more complicated, nuanced approach.
Cons of “Run, Hide, Fight”
Despite the many benefits of the “Run, Hide, Fight” model, there are many complaints with the training method. One of the main concerns of critics is the process’s failure to address the “freeze” that typically paralyzes people’s thought processes and inhibits their brains during shocking situations. Many psychologists and behavioral scientists argue that we are incapable of clearly deciding 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.
Additionally, many 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. Many will be motivated to fight to act as a hero or martyr, which is oftentimes a poor strategy. 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 leaves most of us unprepared to fight if necessary.
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 are able to 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.
An 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
- Reduce Delivery Time: 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 utilize a threat monitoring tool to ensure the most informed decisions are made. During an active shooter scenario, the shooter may directly confront employees outside the building or on the top floor. Based on the employee’s location, the location of the threat and circumstances, train your employees to either run, hide, or fight. To gain valuable information about threats, utilize a comprehensive threat monitoring system to get real-time updates on unfolding events and understand a threat’s proximity to your people.
Alternatives to “Run, Hide, Fight”
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, 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 strategically think about how to escape. This may involve hiding and then running for cover when the opportunity arises instead of just staying put like a sitting duck. By giving the person more flexibility within the options, it is less likely they will get stuck in linear thinking. Lastly, “attack” is offensive while fight is “defensive”. By using an offensive verb, the word empowers the person to attack and be more confident in their actions.
Identify, Assess, Prevent
This method deals more heavily with threat assessment and prevention rather than actual steps to take during an active shooter scenario. The first step is to “identify” which involves training employees to recognize 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, and a sequential process will often hinder people from fully evaluating the scenario and taking the best course of action. Go through potential situations one might encounter during an active shooter scenario and develop plans of action that will work specifically for your workplace and personnel.
Even though there might be a few flaws with the “Run, Hide, Fight” method, overall, the process is better than nothing. Despite some holes in the strategy, the process is smart for anyone to know in case of an active shooter scenario situation arising. Additionally, a hybrid approach is also an option by recognizing an active shooter response method that works with your company culture while recognizing the importance of encouraging employees to listen to their intuition and instincts. Until you are able to provide your employees with more comprehensive active shooter training, the “Run, Hide, Fight” process does a great job of giving your employees basic training and knowledge.