How to react to an active shooter

Nobody wants to be involved in an active shootout when a shooter is trying to kill other people in a tight or crowded area. But knowing what to do when a mass shooting is in progress can help protect you and maybe others too.

What is an active shooter?

The US Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as someone who enters a room and attempts to kill other people, usually with a firearm. The location could be a confined building, like a mall or school, or it could be outside at an event or on a busy sidewalk. It is referred to as an “active” shooter event while it is ongoing. An active shooting can be a mass shooting when many people are involved. Police have specific protocols for responding to active events as opposed to responding to events that have already occurred.

Sometimes the shooter will target individuals, but other times they’ll shoot anyone they can (or anyone trying to stop them). They can plan their actions in advance or be in an emotional state and attack a specific spot.

An active shooting situation is chaotic and unpredictable and can change quickly.

What should I do in an active shooter situation?

In more than half of all cases, an active shooting occurs before the police arrive. Some of these types of events only last 10 to 15 minutes Most are over within 19 minutes because the shooter runs out of bullets, a gun jams, the police come for the shooter, or the shooter kills himself. The police arrive in about 3 minutes on average. So you may have to act on your own to survive.

First, see what you can do to protect your own life. Be aware of where you are and what might be protecting you, like a large piece of furniture or a nearby room you can sneak into. Be aware of others around.

Go away.

  • If there is a way out, try to take it.
  • Walk even if others around you are not following you.
  • Don’t worry about your belongings.
  • Don’t try to move someone who’s been hit.
  • Hold your hands so the police can see you are not the shooter.
  • Call 911 when you’re sure.

If possible:

  • Help others get out.
  • Stop others from going where Sagittarius is.


If you can’t leave the area, try to hide somewhere. Choose a hiding place that:

  • Gives you protection when the shooter fires either a separate room or a room with large obstacles such as furniture
  • Prevents the shooter from seeing you (like behind a closet)
  • Don’t catch yourself if the shooter gets close

When you can’t hide:

  • Squat deep.
  • Don’t huddle in groups.

If you are in a room:

  • Turn off the lights when you’re in a room so the shooter can’t see, either.
  • If possible, cover doors or windows so the shooter cannot see anything.
  • Barricade the door with whatever furniture is there.
  • Lock the door if possible.
  • Escape through a ground floor window when safe.

Stay calm.

If you cannot escape or hide and the shooter is nearby:

  • Mute your phone or other devices around you. Knowing how to quickly mute your phone is a good idea.
  • Turn off other sources of noise such as radios or televisions.

If possible:

  • Call 911. Even if you can’t speak, you can stay on the line so the dispatcher can hear what’s going on. If you’re in a room with others, choose someone to make the call.

Act as a last resort.

If you think the shooter is going to shoot you, you can fight back as a last resort If you want. Decide what to do and commit to your plan. To disturb or injure the shooter:

  • Throw objects at the shooter.
  • Scream.
  • Get physically aggressive.

What should I say to a 911 agent when I call?

Only call 911 when it seems safe to do so. Even if you can’t speak, leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what’s going on. If you can speak, tell them:

  • where are you
  • When there is more than one shooter
  • What the shooters look like
  • How many guns they have
  • How many people were shot, if any
  • How many people could be affected
  • If you know of an explosive device at the crime scene

What should I do if the police come?

The police first go to an area where they hear shots. They will not stop helping people who have been shot Your goal is to get living people out to avoid further casualties.

Expect from the police:

  • carry weapons
  • shout commands out loud
  • Wear uniforms, bulletproof vests, helmets and other tactical gear
  • Work in teams of four people
  • Use pepper spray or tear gas if necessary
  • Push people to the ground for their safety

When the police arrive:

  • Listen to their orders.
  • Do not scream.
  • Try to stay calm.
  • Hold your hands up and spread your fingers.
  • Don’t talk to them or hold them.
  • Don’t ask them any questions.

Rescue teams usually follow police officers trying to get people out. They will try to help anyone who is shot or injured. If you are safe and these teams have not arrived, you can try to get other injured people to safety, or you can try to help.

After you move out of harm’s way, the police will hold you in a safe area until the shooter is caught, dead, or they know the shooter fled the scene (and other shooters are no longer there). They can question you. Don’t leave the safe area until they say it’s ok.

How do the police react to active shooters?

It’s a good idea to understand how police respond to active shooters so you know what to do.

In some cases, a police officer may already be on site. A police officer on site can decide if they can try to stop the shooter. They will also try to call in the rest of the armed forces and emergency services. There may also be an off-duty police officer at the scene of the shooting, who may not be in uniform. Both can play a crucial role in helping before other officers are notified and arrive.

Once they find out about the shooting, the police will respond to the scene and try to get people out and protect people. They can split up so officers can try to stop the shooter at the same time, but that depends on the situation.

What should I do after active shooting?

Going through a traumatic experience can affect you Mental health. Everyone reacts differently. You may have access to local consultants. If you’re struggling with your emotions after this day, look for advisory.


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