By now, the Run-Hide-Fight active shooter video created by the City of Houston, Texas and the Department of Homeland Security has had nearly three million YouTube views. This suggests a lot of folks have taken the time to watch the six-minute program that now serves as the national protocol on what to do when an armed perpetrator enters a public or private business with the intent to kill.
The good news is that since the 1990s, the number of people killed in workplace violence incidents has fallen, and rather dramatically, from about 1500 some 20 years ago to around 500 now. One death at work is too many, for any reason, but it suggests that training, awareness (most of it driven by media coverage of these shootings), and new evacuation and police protocols is making a big difference. The Run-Hide-Fight video is one of many training responses from agencies in the US government tasked with keeping employees safe, including OSHA, the Department of Labor, and the FBI, who often investigate workplace, school, and college and university shootings as part of the response and reporting work done by their Behavior Analysis Unit 2.
We learn our lessons about how to stop active shooters in our schools and workplaces mostly the hard way. The usual police tactical response right up until the 1999 Columbine High School shootings was to surround the building and wait for the arrival of the SWAT team. That approach failed that day as officers on the perimeter had to hear the anguished screams from kids and students inside while they waited helplessly outside. From that day forward, law enforcement said, “No more!” and altered their tactics and training. When these incidents happen today, officers and deputies arrive quickly, grab their long rifles, form a fast entry plan, and go inside in teams of two to six, with the intent of engaging and stopping the shooter.
As I say in my training programs to employees on this issue just before I show the Run-Hide-Fight video, “And you don’t want to be anywhere in the area when the cops arrive.” In essence, the Run-Hide-Fight response and the accompanying video is a simple concept: if you can get out of the building safely, avoiding an armed assailant and not hurting yourself in the process (sprained ankle, a fall down the stairs, etc.), then run out and away as fast as you can. Take as many people with you as is safe, avoid going to any of the usual “staging areas” (parking lots, open concourses) like you’d do for a fire drill or a gas leak, and call 911 when it’s safe to do so.
The Hide part is a bit tougher but just as life-saving: leave your desk or work area, leave your stuff except for your cell phone, and run to the nearest “safe room” in your building. Once inside, with as many people as will fit, lock the door, barricade it with whatever heavy objects you can find, stay out of the door frame, spread out inside the room, stay low, and be quiet. If you can call out to 911 from this position without making noise, do that. The safe room is not a bulletproof chamber; it’s a break room, rest room, locker room, storage closet, utility room, training room, or supervisor’s office that can be locked, preferably without windows and off the main hallway where the shooter may pass. The purpose of hiding in the safe room is to keep you and others barricaded and out of sight until the police can arrive to engage with the bad guy or bad woman with the gun(s).
The third response is the least palatable but may be necessary to keep you and your colleagues alive: Fight Back. Almost any room in an office building, store, church, or factory will have something in it you can use for protection: a fire extinguisher (for spraying or head-bashing or both); chairs; tools; desk objects; or even heavy books. Brave and heroic people have done extraordinary things when faced with real chance-of-death events involving a shooter who has breached the safe room. Many people who did not see themselves as capable of protecting themselves or others with force have done so when called upon and saved lives.
At this point, as President Obama likes to say, “Let me be clear.” We do not teach the three steps of the Run-Hide-Fight concept to kids in K-12 schools. We certainly teach them the Run and Hide parts, following the directions of their teachers or other qualified adults on campus, to help them evacuate safely or shelter in place (most often in their locked classrooms), until the police arrive to engage the shooter. We don’t suggest that 4th graders fight perpetrators with guns. But the adults on school campuses have fought back and saved lives, so the concept applies to them as employees as well.
Critics of the Run-Hide-Fight concept, and there are a vocal few, suggest that each of the three steps has its flaws. They say, “Don’t leave a safe place in the building to run into harm’s way! You could be much safer staying where you are and not encountering the shooter in a hallway as you try to evacuate.” Or they say, “Don’t run and hurt yourself as you flee! That would only make it easier for the shooter to get you.” They don’t like the shelter-in-place idea either, “Don’t stay in one room like sitting duck! You could get killed in there! Get out of the building!” Finally, they say, “Most people aren’t trained in self-defense techniques. Fighting back could get you killed!”
To all this I say, “Run when it’s safe to run. Hide where it’s safe to hide. Fight if you or others around you have no other options.” It ain’t a perfect world and under the stress of these intensely frightening events, would you be able to remember to do ten things or only three? We’re simply asking all employees to remember Run-Hide-Fight, in that order, in the rare but catastrophic event where an active shooter arrives. Millions of employees in this country will go through their entire careers without ever encountering an active shooter in their workplace. A small number might. The concept was designed for all, to save the few who may need it.
Your homework today is to go to YouTube and watch the Run-Hide-Fight video. Make your own decision if you think the concept will work for you. Here's the link:
If you haven’t seen the Run-Hide-Fight video, one caveat: the shooter comes into the building and starts blasting people with a shotgun quite quickly. He’s bald and dressed all in black and looks a lot like the action movie actor Vin Diesel. You don’t see any blood, but it’s still alarming to see him shooting people. When I show the program in my training classes, I skip ahead to the 1:30 mark, to avoid triggering people who may have been in a critical incident before and don’t want to re-experience it. You can watch the whole thing or skip ahead and either way the description of the method is the same.
Until active shooters stop their attacks (not likely, especially as we consider the increasing movements of international terrorists back to our shores) or someone comes up with a better plan that doesn’t involve eleven steps and issuing everyone ballistic vests, I vote for Run-Hide-Fight.
Dr. Steve Albrecht is internationally-known for his writing, speaking, and training on workplace violence and school violence prevention. He manages a San Diego-based training and consulting firm specializing in high-risk HR, security, and work culture issues. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration, an MA in Security Management, a BS in Psychology, and a BA in English. He is board certified in HR, security, and employee coaching. He has written 16 books, including Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace (Irwin, 1994), one of the first books on this subject. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years. You can download his podcast, “Crime Time with Steve Albrecht,” on https://soundcloud.com/dr-steve-albrecht. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht