Surviving an Active Shooter Event: Recognize, React and Prevent Workplace Violence

Author, Sam Brown, Vice President of Human Services Group, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.


In the ongoing effort to keep employees safe from workplace violence, it is very important to train workers how to recognize, react to and prevent active shooter events.  In most cases, simply having a plan can mean the difference between life and death.


When forming a workplace violence emergency plan, try to answer the following questions:

  • How will first observers/responders communicate the threat and to whom?
  • How will the threat be communicated to everyone in the facility? Through code words?
  • Should the facility be locked down or evacuated?
  • Has your security been trained in providing guidance to employees for this type of emergency?
  • If your site does not have security, are your workers trained for this type of emergency? Do they know who to call if something happens?
  • Do you have site-specific emergency plans in place?
  • Do you have the capability to lock down your buildings remotely or deactivate card readers?


Preventing workplace violence is your first line of defense.  Try the following tips to defuse a situation:

  • Don't pick fights. Loud and aggressive arguments can easily escalate into physical fights.
  • Take verbal threats seriously. Do not aggravate the situation with a threatening response. Report all threats to your supervisor or the company's security department.
  • Report any suspicious person or vehicle to security personnel, especially at night. The suspect could be casing the place for a break-in. Or, the person could be stalking an ex-spouse who works with you.
  • Also, watch for unauthorized visitors who appear to have legitimate business at your plant. Crimes have been committed by people posing as employees, contractors and repair persons.
  • Observe your company's rules prohibiting drugs and alcohol at work. Many violent incidents at work can be traced to the use of these substances.
  • Be aware of the neighborhood in which you work and the areas you drive through on your commute. Gang activity and other violence does not always stop at the gate to your plant. Keep to well-traveled and well-lighted areas as you drive to and from work.
  • If you drive on the job, don't pick up hitch-hikers. The most important reason for this rule is your personal safety.
  • Keep your keys in a secure place so they cannot be stolen or copied. Notify plant security if you have lost your key to the premises.
  • Learn how to contact help in an emergency. Speed-dialing numbers should be programmed into phones and emergency numbers should be listed at each phone.
  • Some workplaces also have pre-determined code words so one employee can tell another about a dangerous customer or visitor without tipping off the suspect. Learn the distress signals used in your workplace.
  • Follow lockup procedures. Wear your identification badge as you are instructed. Never lend your key or entry card to anyone. Keep your entry password a secret by memorizing it instead of writing it down.


RUN: First and foremost, try to escape. 

  • If there is an escape path, attempt to evacuate.  
  • Evacuate whether others agree to or not.  
  • Leave your belongings behind.  
  • Help others escape if possible.
  • Prevent others from entering the area.  
  • Call 911 when you are safe.

HIDE: If you cannot escape safely, find a place to hide.

  • Lock and/or blockade the door.
  • Silence your mobile phone.
  • Hide behind large objects.
  • Remain very quiet.

The hiding place should:

  • Be out of the shooter’s view.
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
  • Not trap or restrict your options for movement.

FIGHT: As a last resort, if your life is at risk, act with aggression.

  • Attempt to incapacitate the shooter.
  • Act with physical aggression.
  • Improvise weapons.
  • Commit to your actions.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also offers Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers to help employers prevent such incidents.

For additional resources on Workplace Violence and Active Shooter Preparedness, visit the Rancho Mesa Risk Management Center or contact us at (619) 937-0164.