Maximizing Your Chances Against An Active Shooter

Planning and training can make the difference
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Planning and training can make the difference
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Graphic courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - It is the nightmare situation: An armed “active shooter” breaks into an unprotected TV studio, causing death and mayhem as he fires at staff behind and in front of the camera.

So far this nightmare has not occurred in the U.S., but it is a real hazard south of the border. “Mexico, compared to the rest of the world, has an alarming rate of active-shooter incidents at TV studios,” said Shaun Sundahl; operator of the private security firm Sundahl & Associates and a career police officer with 16 years of law enforcement experience. “That is because when a TV studio covers a news story about the illicit drug trade, some drug traffic organizations become offended and as a result, the studio staff are either kidnapped, tortured or shot to death,” he said.

Here at home, active-shooter incidents are increasing. According to the FBI, before 2006 the average number of annual active-shooter incidents nationwide stood at six per year. Now the average is 14.

“Are they on the rise? Our study says, yes they are,” said FBI Special Agent Katherine Schweit; the FBI Report’s author (as quoted by Pennsylvania’s Reading Eagle newspaper). According to the FBI’s data, which surveyed 160 active-shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, 16 percent of these incidents occurred on government property (11 in government offices/facilities, five on military properties).

Short of turning your TV studio or office into an armed and guarded fortress, there is no sure way to prevent active-shooter attacks. However, there are ways to slow down active shooters to reduce their chances of inflicting harm, and to maximize staff survival: planning and training.


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Police arrive to control the situation. According to the LA County Sheriff’s Department, it usually takes 10-15 minutes for police to respond to an active-shooter situation. (Screen grab from LA County Sheriff’s Dept. video)

Whether he be an attention-obsessed loner or a disgruntled fired employee—we are using the male pronoun, since shooters are invariably male—“active shooters are generally motivated by a drive to avenge some form of perceived insult against themselves, by killing as many unarmed people as they can, as quickly as they can” said Greg Crane. He is founder of the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) Training Institute, which trains the public and police how to deal with active-shooter situations. Crane has served as a tactical team leader, SWAT officer, crime scene investigator, field training officer and patrol officer.

“Active shooters are also cowards,” Crane said. “This is why they tend to commit suicide using their own guns as soon as they are confronted by armed law-enforcement officers. The key to surviving such attacks is to make it as hard for shooters to achieve their goals, by slowing them down and reducing the number of easy targets until law enforcement arrives.”

Worth noting: People being attacked by active shooters need to respond quickly as soon as the gunfire starts, rather than wait for the police to arrive.

“In an active shooting situation, every second counts: If police take one to three minutes to arrive, that is a fast response time, but it’s still too late for an active shooter response,” said Sundahl. “Before police arrive, there is going to be casualties and lots of them.”


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An active shooter might be a disgruntled co-worker. (Screen grab from LA County Sheriff’s Dept. video)

Surviving an active shooter begins with planning long before such an attack takes place. Since government TV producers are not trained security professionals, “they should hire a professional to perform threat assessments,” said Sundahl. “A threat assessment will analyze intelligence and identify vulnerabilities so that precautions can be taken for the safety of a particular person or the studio’s support staff. A threat assessment would also identify the risks of broadcasting certain information via the video feeds.”

Once the level of threat has been determined, the TV studio/production office’s physical vulnerabilities can be determined and remedied. For instance, a TV studio with multiple unlocked and unmonitored doors is clearly open to attack; as is a ground-floor office with unhardened glass windows.

Planning also aids station/office managers in devising an emergency program for dealing with active-shooter situations; formulating policies and procedures for such incidents, and training staff to cope should such a situation come to pass. Planning can also identify alert procedures—such as warning staff over the P.A. system as soon as a shooter is detected—safe/hardened refuge areas and escape routes.

This is also the time to program in the local police department’s phone number into each employee’s speed dial for the fastest response. Calling 911 is not advised, especially in smaller communities, as 911 dispatch centers may not be located at the closest police precinct.


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An active shooter might be the normal-looking person who sits next to you. (Screen grab from LA County Sheriff’s Dept. video)

Hyper-realistic pre-battle training is one of the reasons why the U.S. military is so good at its job. Today’s soldiers get to safely experience the horrors of the battlefield before they get there—including injured and mangled bodies—thanks to on-site training exercises conducted by companies such as Strategic Operations.

“We use all the tricks of the movie industry’s makeup and special effects departments to create realistic scenarios for our trainees, without putting them in actual harm’s way,” said Kit Lavell, Strategic Operations’ executive vice president. “We initially offered this hyper-realistic training only to military customers, but now public safety and other government/private clients bring us in to let their employees [get the full effect].”

In the context of an active shooter simulation, Strategic Operation can use actors, pyrotechnics and medical special effects to let employees live and learn through all aspects of this stressful situation, without anyone getting hurt.

For those on tighter budgets, classroom sessions can still provide employees with a great deal of useful training. The Department of Homeland Security hosts day-long Active-Shooter Preparedness Workshops across the country (details at These workshops include presentations from law enforcement, behavioral subject-matter experts and local guest speakers. DHS has hosted more than 100 workshops since December 2008, with more than 11,400 individuals taking part.

“The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice have expanded access to federal training on active-shooter situations for law enforcement, first responders, faith-based organizations and school officials with additional outreach, new online resources, improved training curricula, exercises with law enforcement at all FBI field offices and DHS security briefings for 100 school districts across the country,” DHS said in a statement about active shooters.


It could happen: An active shooter breaks into your facility as you sit reading this article. What should you do?

If you are in the same area as the shooter and there is a chance to escape, then by all means take it.

“The people who are most at risk are those who cower in place,” said Rick Proctor, an active-duty police sergeant and owner/operator of VIAT (Violent Intruder - Active Threat) Consulting.

“This makes them easy targets for the shooters,” he said. “People who run are harder to hit; in part because it is difficult to shoot a moving target and in part because most shooters are unskilled at using guns.”

MORE INFO ALICE Training Institute:

DHS Active Shooter Preparedness Workshops:

Strategic Operations:

Sundahl & Associates:

VIAT Consulting:

A rule of thumb: “Be sure to zig-zag as you run,” said Proctor. “This makes you even harder to hit.”

If you have no way to flee, fight back as best as you can—and yell to other people to do the same. A shooter being pelted by shoes, purses and soda cans will go into defensive mode, losing his ability to focus and shoot with any degree of deadly accuracy. A fire extinguisher and fire hose can also be useful defensive weapons.

If you are in a space away from the shooter, then move further away and do your best to escape the building. Should you have no choice but to hide in a room, be sure to choose one with a stout door and barricade it with everything that you can. The harder you make it for the shooter to enter your space, the more likely he is to go elsewhere.

“Remember, time is on your side,” said Crane. “The longer you can evade the shooter, the better your chances of survival are.”

Finally, when the police do arrive, “be sure to put up your hands and appear clearly harmless,” Proctor said. “They have to know that you are not part of the threat.”


The active shooter’s ultimate weapon is to startle and terrorize his victims into submission, so that he can kill them easily. Planning, training and a personal commitment not to be a victim and to actively survive are the ways to foil the shooter’s intentions, and to minimize carnage until he can be stopped. As the points above prove, it can be done.

For a graphic and informative look at surviving an active shooter, the Los Angeles County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department has an intense video that gives information and walks through active-shooter scenarios. (The photos in this article are all screen grabs from that video.) This video is worth watching and discussing among your staff, but you should know that it shows considerable violence and is not suggested for children. You can see this video at

This is a serious topic that affects more than just video facilities, so we urge you to share this information with your colleagues and work acquaintances.