Workers at table discussing active shooter response strategies
Emergency Management May 05, 2023

Run, Hide, Fight—Active Shooter Training & Response Plan

In an active shooter attack, survival is the top priority. Learn how the “Run, Hide, Fight” method can help protect your people from violence and mitigate the impacts of an increasingly common crime.

Active Shooter Readiness Assessment
Use this checklist to assess your organization’s readiness to deal with workplace violence and active shooter situations.
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When an active shooter begins their rampage, there is usually very little warning for those in danger. People in harm’s way have only minutes or even seconds to recognize the threat and get themselves to safety. That’s why training and proper active shooter response protocols can save lives and protect businesses.

Whataburger, the beloved Texas fast-food chain, has dealt with all kinds of dangers to its employees across its hundreds of restaurants in multiple states. In an episode of The Employee Safety Podcast, Whataburger’s Senior Emergency Manager, Ron Derrick, recounts the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting. Since a Whataburger location shared the parking lot with the Walmart, its employees and customers were also in serious danger.

Thanks to Whataburger’s sophisticated emergency mass notification system, Ron’s team was immediately notified of the mass shooting attack while it was still ongoing. They were then able to quickly alert the at-risk restaurant and instruct employees to lock down the building and enact their active shooter protocol. They were able to do so all before police arrived at the scene. Whether the necessary response is to run, hide, or fight, timely awareness of an active shooter threat is critical.

Whataburger’s commitment to their customers, communities, and employees means that they have plans and procedures in place for even the most horrific of occurrences, which allows them to react and protect people from some of the worst tragedies in modern U.S. history.

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” active shooter training and what experts recommend doing before, during, and after an active shooter event.

Recent active shooter statistics

From 2019 to 2021, the number of mass shooting events in the U.S. increased by 165%. 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.

Stressing the importance of workplace active shooter preparedness, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also indicates that over 80% of active shooter events occur at a public or private workplace. Despite recent trends toward remote work, the majority of U.S. workers are still going to their jobs in person.

What Does “Run, Hide, Fight” Mean?

The three-step “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol has quickly gained national recognition as one of the most prominent active shooter defense strategies meant to increase peoples’ chances of survival.

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.

A summary of the run, hide, fight strategy


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. Throwing items can be effective in this situation. Whether that be a fire extinguisher, heavy object, scissors, or hot coffee, use anything at your disposal to counter, disarm, or immobilize the shooter.

Why is it not the “Run, Fight, Hide” protocol?

“Run, Hide, Fight” is so-called because that is the correct order in which the steps should take place: First, try to run. If that’s not possible, hide. If that’s also not an option, your last resort is to fight back against the gunman.

This system was developed to save lives, not to stop an active shooter—that’s the job of the police. Fighting an attacker armed with a weapon, especially when you’re likely unarmed, is extremely dangerous. Even as a last resort, fighting is meant to provide an opportunity for people to escape unharmed, not to fully subdue the attacker.

While there have been recorded incidents of heroic intervention by bystanders that effectively stopped an attack, there are far more examples of people who were not able to overcome their attackers and lost their lives trying to do so.

Is “Run, Hide, Fight” Active Shooter Training Effective?

The “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol is widely used for active shooter training and preparedness. Though, it’s important to recognize that “Run, Hide, Fight” active shooter training is not universally recommended. For example, in the U.K., the government advises those in an active shooter scenario (far less common in the U.K. than in the U.S.) to “Run, Hide, Tell.” It refrains from advocating that those in danger fight back against an attacker and, instead, promotes the importance of getting help from the police.

There isn’t much concrete data on which of these approaches is superior, so it’s hard to use numbers to guide policy on how individuals should react to a shooter. One study by Purdue University using computer simulations suggests that running is likely the best action of the three. Still, researchers didn’t offer judgments on how effective “Run, Hide, Fight” is as a framework compared to other forms of training.

There are also concerns that active shooter training is inherently stressful because it forces people to imagine a devastating attack, which might end up causing more harm than good. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how best to protect your employees from workplace violence.

How to Prepare for an Active Shooter Event

As important as the “Run, Hide, Fight” procedure is to employee safety, the most effective way to keep your people safe during an active shooter event is by implementing measures 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

Create and practice your active shooter response plan

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 all the types of workplace violence if they 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. Practice this plan with an active shooter tabletop exercise. Regularly conduct active shooter drills to ensure your employees don’t “freeze” during a real-life active shooter situation.

Map and memorize escape routes

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 nearest lockable rooms can help your employees more easily reach a safe location as quickly as possible.   

See something, say something

A safe workplace requires all employees to be aware and involved. If employees feel free to report suspicious activity to an authority figure, leaders can take action and the workplace is less likely to be caught off guard by an active shooter. A violent actor 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.

Conduct first aid training

Along with active shooter training, companies should ensure that some of their employees are 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 first aid training for employees, you empower them to help in disaster scenarios.

Use our Active Shooter Assessment to ensure your bases are covered in advance of a workplace shooting incident.

DURING an active shooter event

When to run

During an active shooter event is when “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. Encourage others to do the same, but don’t stay behind to help others. Call 9-1-1 only after you are safe.

When to hide

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. Barricade doors to keep out an attacker.

When to fight

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. Use items around you as weapons and projectiles to disorient and delay the shooter.

It needs to be noted that most experts recommend fighting as a last resort.

When and how to help the injured

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. 

Report to a rendezvous location

Your active shooter response plan should include an emergency evacuation plan with 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 report there only 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.

Cooperate with law enforcement

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.

Seek help to process trauma

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.

Complete an after-action review

It’s saddening that active shooters are such a common threat that “Run, Hide, Fight policies are the norm. Even worse, affected workplaces can’t let up on their efforts after an attack.

There’s no guarantee that a workplace that experienced a violent attack won’t be targeted again in the future. For those organizations, it’s important to reflect on the incident with an after-action review.

An after-action review is a process through which an organization looks back on a recently completed event and collects data, identifies what went well, and points out what could be improved for next time. By involving key stakeholders throughout the business, you can ensure a thorough and complete after-action report. You might also consider inviting representatives from the police department or other law enforcement agencies to participate in the review.

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 the pros and cons of the “Run, Hide, Fight” response and potential alternatives.

Pros: What advocates say

Since at least 66% of active shooter events end before law enforcement even arrives, teaching employees response strategies can help save many lives.

The Department of Homeland Security argues that the “Run, Hide, Fight” 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” active shooter response strategy is also critiqued for encouraging individuals to act as heroes and become martyrs. The slogan preferred by the U.K. government is “Run, Hide, Tell,” driven by the belief that it will avoid such motivations. 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 most significant downsides to the “Run, Hide, Fight” model is the individualistic focus of the response 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 oversee 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 a 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 help you understand a threat’s proximity to your people.

Alternatives to the “Run, Hide, Fight” Active Shooter Response

Due to the many critiques of the process, 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, whereas “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.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

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.

While these violent attacks are relatively rare, it’s clear that the risk is increasing over time. That’s why 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” protocol.

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