Acts of terrorism and shootings in public places have become an unfortunate reality in modern society. As a result, many organisations are taking proactive measures to protect their people, stakeholders and reputation.

One of the best ways an organisation can prepare for this type of incident is to train the emergency response staff and also give active shooter awareness training to general staff.

Building Design

Many modern buildings are designed with floor-to-ceiling glass entrances, internal glass partitions and glass doors. These do not provide a significant barrier to a determined armed intruder.

This was shown in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting of 2012. As part of the standard security procedure, entrances to the school were locked at 9:30am. However, when the shooter (former student Adam Lanza) arrived, he was able to gain access to the school by shooting his way through a glass panel by the front entrance.

Front entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary

Front entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary

Many buildings also feature an open plan design, which makes restricting the movement of an active shooter more complicated. Once inside, an active shooter may move quickly to new locations. This demands a fluid response. With limited time to make critical decisions, it is essential to have procedures and training in place so staff members are able react in time to make a difference.

Wardens and security staff should be trained on active shooter response procedures which are specific to their site. Active shooter awareness training for general staff would also empower people to make informed decisions during an active shooter incident.

A training package for staff awareness should cover the following response options:


Forming up and moving through standard evacuation routes to the designated assembly area is not recommended. If the location of the active shooter is known, then staff should plan a safe route and move quietly, while taking advantage of any available cover and concealment. Organisations should pre-determine off-site ESCAPE assembly areas at a safe distance from the site.   Depending on the size of the organisation these might include public buildings, similar organisations (e.g. a school might evacuate to a neighbouring school) or a nearby park.

At Sandy Hook Elementary, some staff members took children to neighbouring houses and the fire station.

Hide / Barricade

If a quick escape is unlikely, hiding can also be effective. Staff should be trained to lock and barricade doors where possible. At Sandy Hook, one teacher locked the classroom door and hid her students in an adjacent toilet which she barricaded with storage unit. Lanza bypassed this classroom, probably believing it to be empty.

Lanza then entered Room 8 which was unlocked and fatally shot 2 adults and 15 children. He then entered a second unlocked classroom where he fatally shot 2 adults and 4 children.

While some were able to escape, most people hid. Library staff hid 18 children in a storage room which they barricaded with a filing cabinet.

Take Action

It might seem impossible for an un-armed person to take on an active shooter, however this is exactly what happened at Monash University.

In 2002, business student Huan Yun Xiang took six handguns to class where he fatally shot fellow student William Wu before embarking on a random killing spree.

When he ran out of ammunition and began reloading his pistol, he was tackled and restrained by students and lecturers. Police arrived nearly 40 minutes later. Two people were killed and five were injured. Had he not been restrained the death toll would likely have been much higher.


Training is an essential part of preparing for an active shooter incident, and can make all the difference. Ideally this would be followed by a discussion exercise to test procedures and prepare wardens to act confidently under pressure.

With the proper planning and training, organisations can better respond to an active shooter tragedy, despite the unpredictable nature of such incidents.

If you have questions about steps your organisation can take to prepare for an active shooter incident, contact us on ops@dynamiqglobal.com or take a look at our Critical Incident Response Courses.

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