top of page

Active Shooter Incident Response Planning

In light of the tragic shooting in Portland, Oregon today, I thought it appropriate to post some relevant content concerning active shoot scenarios.  I recently prepared much of this content as a mechanism to help others plan and prepare for such an incident.  Incident response planning is a tremendously important process for all organizations.  Planning is a proven first step to mitigating the impact of these tragic events.  Most of this content was collected from three sources:

Department of Homeland Security – Active Shooter Preparedness:

Federal Bureau of Investigation – Law Enforcement Bulletin – Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter By Katherine W. Schweit, J.D.:

New York City Police Department – Active Shooter Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” In its definition, DHS further notes that, “in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” This is the scenario each business, organization and individual should consider and prepare for accordingly.

Relevant Statistics

The following are valuable statistics to consider when developing an active shooter response plan. These statistics are provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department:

  1. The average active-shooter incident lasts 12 minutes. 37% last less than 5 minutes.

  2. In 98% of incidents, the offender is a single shooter.

  3. 97% of all offenders are male.

  4. In 40% of incidents, the offender commits suicide.

  5. The median age of an offender is 35 years old. However, this median conceals a more complicated distribution. The distribution of ages is bimodal, with an initial peak for shootings at schools by 15-19 year olds, and a second peak in non-school facilities by 35-44 year olds.

  6. The average number of deaths in an incident is 3.1. The average number of wounded individuals is 3.9.

  7. Active-shooter incidents often occur in small- and medium-sized communities where police departments are limited by budget constraints and small workforces.

  8. 43% of the time, the attack is over before the police arrive at the scene.

  9. When law enforcement arrives while the shooting is underway, the shooter often stops as soon as he/she hears or sees law enforcement.

  10. 24% of all incidents occur in an open commercial space. 11% occur in an office building.

The FBI has provided a list of relevant points when considering active shooters. These points are very important when developing training material for employees and, specifically, human resources personnel. These key considerations of an active shooter include:

1) There is no one demographic profile of an active shooter.

2) Many active shooters display observable pre-attack behaviors, which, if recognized, can lead to the disruption of the planned attack.

3) The pathway to targeted violence typically involves an unresolved real or perceived grievance and an ideation of a violent resolution that eventually moves from thought to research, planning, and preparation.

4) A thorough threat assessment typically necessitates a holistic review of an individual of concern, including historical, clinical, and contextual factors.

5) Human bystanders generally represent the greatest opportunity for the detection and recognition of an active shooter prior to his or her attack.

6) Concerning active shooters, a person who makes a threat is rarely the same as the person who poses a threat.

7) Successful threat management of a person of concern often involves long-term caretaking and coordination between law enforcement, mental health care, and social services.

8) Exclusionary interventions (e.g., expulsion, termination) do not necessarily represent the end of threat-management efforts.

9) While not every active shooter can be identified and thwarted prior to attacking, many potential active shooters who appear to be on a trajectory toward violence can be stopped.

10) The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is available to assist state and local agencies in the assessment and management of threatening persons and communications.

Preparedness Recommendations

The following content has been sourced from the Department of Homeland Security and the New York City Police Department and is considered a best practices approach to preparing for an active shooter incident.

Develop Procedures:

  1. Conduct a realistic security assessment to determine the facility’s vulnerability to an active shooter attack.

  2. Identify multiple evacuation routes and practice evacuations under varying conditions; post evacuation routes in conspicuous locations throughout the facility; ensure that evacuation routes account for individuals with special needs and disabilities.

  3. Designate shelter locations with thick walls, solid doors with locks, minimal interior windows, first-aid emergency kits, communication devices, and duress alarms.

  4. Designate a point-of-contact with knowledge of the facility’s security procedures and floor plan to liaise with police and other emergency agencies in the event of an attack.

  5. Incorporate an active shooter drill into the organization’s emergency preparedness procedures.

  6. Limit access to blueprints, floor plans, and other documents containing sensitive security information, but make sure these documents are available to law enforcement responding to an incident.

  7. Establish a central command station for building security.

Implement Systems:

  1. Put in place credential-based access control systems that provide accurate attendance reporting, limit unauthorized entry, and do not impede emergency egress.

  2. Put in place closed-circuit television systems that provide domain awareness of the entire facility and its perimeter; ensure that video feeds are viewable from a central command station.

  3. Put in place communications infrastructure that allows for facility-wide, real-time messaging.

  4. Put in place elevator systems that may be controlled or locked down from a central command station.

Train Employees and Building Occupants:

  1. Evacuate if at all possible. Building occupants should evacuate the facility if safe to do so; evacuees should leave behind their belongings, visualize their entire escape route before beginning to move, and avoid using elevators or escalators.

  2. If evacuation is not possible, then hide. Building occupants should hide in a secure area (preferably a designated shelter location), lock the door, blockade the door with heavy furniture, cover all windows, turn off all lights, silence any electronic devices, lie on the floor, and remain silent.

  3. Take action as a last resort. If neither evacuating the facility nor seeking shelter is possible, building occupants should attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by throwing objects, using aggressive force, and yelling.

  4. Employees and building occupants should be trained to call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so.

  5. Make sure employees and building occupants are trained on how to respond to law enforcement when they arrive on scene: follow all official instructions, remain calm, keep hands empty and visible at all times, and avoid making sudden or alarming movements.


The content of this document should provide the foundation for decision making when developing policies, plans and procedures to deal with an active shooter scenario. When questions arise during the development of these documents, do not hesitate to reach out to local, state, and federal law enforcement for guidance and clarification.



bottom of page