Fifteen Minutes or Less: Understanding the Threat of Active Shooters


It’s not something we like to think about: A person with a firearm has suddenly entered your place of business and intends on committing acts of violence. Do you know how to respond?

Active shooters are grave threats to safety because these types of attacks are fairly simple to engineer, create a significant impact and transpire in a relatively brief period of time. In fact, according to the Department of Homeland Security, most active shooter events end within twelve to fifteen minutes. For example, the attack by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, wounded 58 and caused 12 fatalities. The entire onslaught lasted less than fifteen minutes.

For women, homicide are the most common sources of fatalities on the job. (Most female homicides at work are caused by domestic violence, FYI.) Apart from violence stemming from criminal behavior (such as robbery), domestic violence and disgruntled employees, there’s also the potential for strangers to enter and commit horrific attacks.

Of course, prevention is paramount. But every workplace has security vulnerabilities that may be impossible to predict or completely mitigate. That means all employers should have viable, practiced plans in place to help safeguard employees.

Along these lines, to better help my clients prevent and prepare for violent attacks, I recently took two FEMA courses: IS-907 – Active Shooter: What You Can Do and FEMA/RDPC: AWR 148-W: 8 Hour Course: Crisis Management for School-Based Incidents: Partnering Rural Law Enforcement and the Local School Systems.

While a lot of the information was fundamental (don’t panic, have a plan, evacuate if possible, hideout if necessary, etc.) I did learn a lot from these two courses, which I’ve recapped below.

One of the most striking aspects of these courses was listening to a series of actual 911 calls made during acts of violence. To be certain, employees are terrified when a gunman is on site and the caller may not have time to deliver details to law enforcement. But I found myself wondering how my clients would fare in such an event. Would they be able to quickly respond and relate the necessary information?

Essential information on Active Shooters:

Understand the threat: By definition an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined space or other populated area. According to FEMA, in most cases, active shooters use firearms and (often) there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. These events are rapidly evolving and unpredictable. FEMA states, “Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Active shooters usually will continue to move throughout building or area until stopped by law enforcement, suicide, or other intervention.” The courses described the three types of active shooters–workplace/school, criminal, and ideological–and how their planning cycles and behaviors differ.

This only underscores why evacuation is so critical. In general, the shooter does not care about negotiations or consequences of actions. He or she is there to kill as many people as possible in as fast a method as possible. Getting people out of the building or into secure hiding places until authorities arrive greatly reduces the impact of the threat. Critical to ending the violence is to initiate emergency responders promptly.

Teach Employees How to Call 911: Effectively communicating a crisis of this nature requires more than dialing authorities and reporting a gunman.

When possible, provide the following information to law enforcement officers or 911 operators:

  •  Location of the active shooter.
  •  Number of shooters, if more than one. 
  •  Physical description of the shooter(s).
  • Number and type of weapons held by the shooter(s).
  • Number of potential victims at the location.

It is critical that employees avoid company specific names to describe the area where the shooter is located, as authorities may not understand these locations. Employees should refrain from terms such as Human Resource office, R & D Division or conference room when making the 911 call. When possible, workers should use specific directions to guide police. For example, callers should state, “The shooter entered through the lobby and went into the second room on the left down the main hallway.” Clear directions or readily understood terminology, such as north building, west entrance, etc, will best guide officers in a crisis.

Poor communication can lead to disorganized response or delays by law enforcement. Seconds count in these events. Employees should ONLY call 911 when it’s safe to do so. In some situations, silence is essential. Make sure if you are in a lock down event, hiding from an active shooter, you silence your phone completely.

Realize The Goal Of Law Enforcement: In an active shooter situation, law enforcement concentrates on eliminating the threat ASAP. Stopping to assist injured persons, answering questions or helping civilians evacuate is not the primary objective until the scene is secured. Police officers take command of the situation and may push civilians out of harm’s way or yell commands. Employees should be instructed to remain calm, follow instructions and allow officers to do their job.  

Note: Officers may arrive in civilian clothing, or from many different duty assignments so anticipate these variances in appearance.

When law enforcement officials arrive, it is important to:

  • Remain calm and follow instructions.
  • Put down any items and immediately raise hands while spreading fingers, so as not to be mistaken for a threat.
  • Avoid making any sudden movements.
  • Keep your hands visible at all times.
  • Cooperate after reaching a safe location or assembly point, by offering information to investigators.

Among other resources, FEMA has an excellent printable booklet on the topic.

Click on this link to access the Active Shooter booklet.

In future blogs, I’ll discuss methods for evacuating and hiding from assailants during active shooter events. Establishing procedures for these situations can greatly reduce tragic consequences.


One thought on “Fifteen Minutes or Less: Understanding the Threat of Active Shooters

  1. William Crane says:

    I meant to tell you…. You did one fantastic job with this post. I guess I should get on LinkedIn and say something. I read it a while after you had posted it. But you really did good. I am proud of you, Leanne Coffman! Bill

    It is always my pleasure to communicate with you. Best relationships ~both business and social~ are based on honest and clear communications.

    Date: Tue, 28 May 2013 05:06:57 +0000 To:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s