How should church members and staff respond to an active-shooter incident prior to the time that law enforcement officers arrive?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's recently released Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship states:
No single response fits all active shooter situations; however, making sure each individual knows his or her options for response … [can help them] react decisively [and] save valuable time. Depicting scenarios and considering response options in advance will assist individuals and groups in quickly selecting their best course of action.
The Guide offers these suggestions for responding to an active shooter:
The Guide states that "it may be valuable to schedule a time for an open conversation regarding this topic. Though some congregants or staff may find the conversation uncomfortable, they may also find it reassuring to know that as a whole their house of worship is thinking about how best to deal with this situation."
It is common for people confronted with a threat to deny the danger rather than respond. The Guide notes that "an investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, found that people close to the affected floors waited longer to start evacuating than those on unaffected floors." Similarly, during the Virginia Tech shooting, "individuals on campus responded to the shooting with varying degrees of urgency."
The Guide recommends that churches "train congregants and staff to skip denial and to respond immediately." For example, "train congregants to recognize the sounds of danger, act, and forcefully communicate the danger and necessary action."
If it is safe to do so, the first course of action that should be taken is to run out of the building and far away until in a safe location. Congregants and staff should be trained to:
Leave personal belongings behind;
Visualize possible escape routes, including physically accessible routes for individuals with disabilities;
Avoid escalators and elevators;
Take others with them, but do not stay behind because others will not go;
Call 911 when safe to do so;
Let a responsible adult know where they are.
If running is not a safe option, the Guide recommends that church members "hide in as safe a place as possible." In addition:
Lock the doors;
Barricade the doors with heavy furniture;
Close and lock windows and close blinds or cover windows;
Turn off lights;
Silence all electronic devices;