Identifying a Potential Active Shooter

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What to Look for & How to Respond

In most active shooter scenarios, it is decided through investigation, the incident could have been prevented if someone had noticed the shooters behavior earlier. Whether in a house of worship, a school, a hospital, or a movie theater, staff and employees should be actively monitoring their environment for suspicious activity. Learn how to identify behaviors by knowing what to look for in a potential active shooter and how to respond if you find yourself involved.

What to look for:

Unfortunately, active shooters often show many signs that should raise red flags but don’t. Some of the basic signs to look for are general nervousness, excessively looking around, maintaining minimal eye contact, or wearing overly large clothing and heavy coats. Someone wearing a trench coat in the summer or carrying an excessively heavy backpack should raise a red flag to at least investigate further or notify authority of your suspicions. If you are at a movie theater, it may be more difficult to spot a potential active shooter, but someone with little to no facial expression or with a highly concentrated look should be watched closely for unusual behavior.

If you are in an environment where you are able to get to know individual people on a personal level, such as a school or place of worship, be aware of those who show signs of being distraught or suicidal. A person that should raise red flags is one that behaves in an unstable manner, someone who has developed a personal grievance, such as the death of a family member, a failed relationship, termination from employment, etc. If someone you know is looking for revenge or has a sudden change in appearance, demeanor, or dynamics, monitor them closely and share your concerns with security.

Active shooters do not fit into a typical profile, making them harder to identify. While female shooters only accounted for about 6% of active shooters, most potential shooters can range in age, gender and come from any economic background or race.

How to respond:

If you find yourself in the situation of an active shooter scenario, you really only have three options: run, hide, or fight.

  • RUN

    If you choose to run, do so only when it is safe and when the shooter is not in your direct vicinity. Take as many people with you as safely possible, keep quiet, and avoid main hallways and typical staging areas where other assailants may be located. Also, ensure you move quickly, but avoid injury to yourself such as spraining an ankle or falling down stairs.

  • Hide

    If you are alerted of an active shooter but cannot safely get out, find a “safe room” with minimal windows that can be locked from the inside and with has heavy equipment to safely hide in. Turn off all lights and close all shades, lock the door and barricade it with heavy objects such as bookshelves, desks, and chairs. If you can safely and quietly call 9-1-1 while hiding, do so, but everyone should stay silent, still and low to the ground. Wait until law enforcement gives the all clear before trying to exit to ensure everyone’s safety.

  • Fight

    The last resort when faced with an active shooter situation is to fight. If the shooter breaches your barricades and you find yourself face to face with them, use any objects around to fight back. A chair can be thrown, books used to hit them or a fire extinguisher to distract them. It may not be the first instinct, but it can save lives when done properly and aggressively.

An active shooter situation is typically over within 5 minutes or less, but even with law enforcement arriving on scene, it is imperative people know how to react when faced with these life or death decisions. If you are still in the environment when law enforcement arrives, keep your hands visible and follow their orders. Give responding officers as much information as possible including the last location you saw/heard shots, how many shooters are involved, physical descriptions, amount and type of weapon being used, and a number of potential victims.

In the rare event that you find yourself in an active shooter situation, you should know what to do and how to respond when met with responding forces, but knowing the red flag signals that can identify an active shooter can prevent the situation from occurring. Anything suspicious should be dealt with accordingly and a watchful eye should be kept on those with fragile emotions or recent life changes.

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