If you find yourself at work, school, church, etc., when an active shooter event unfolds there are a few things you should know and practice.  First, if you can safely do so, RUN!  Get out of the situation as fast as possible.  You will improve your chances of knowing where to run if, in advance, you are thinking about your way out far before you have to flee (think preplan). Once an event turns hostile, you will have little time to think about your escape route.

If running is not a safe option because the shooter is too close, then hide.  I’m not talking about hiding under a desk. That, in fact, may be your worst option.  Hiding under a desk makes you a sitting duck. Hiding under desks may work in the movies, but it’s a bad plan in real life.  Hiding means actively barricading yourself behind cover. If you cannot find cover, then find a way to conceal yourself.

Think of cover as a barrier that can stop bullets (e.g., the engine block of a car or a brick wall).  Concealment, on the other hand, is something that will conceal (i.e., hide) your body, but bullets can still penetrate through (e.g., drywall or a wood door).  When you hide, barricade and lock the door if possible. Put large heavy objects such as tables, computers, or desks in front of the door so it cannot easily be opened.  Remain quiet and wait there as long as you need to until law enforcement arrives.

Lastly, and only if the first two options won’t work, fight! If you are by yourself, your best option is to hurl any object available to you at the shooter and try to get away to cover or run out of the building. Use any means you can imagine to slow the shooter down. Active shooters are cowards and they won’t be expecting a fight.


One of the things we teach civilians on how to survive an active shooter encounter is to disrupt the shooters OODA loop.  Let me explain. The OODA loop – developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd – is a four-step decision making/action taking process. Colonel Boyd described it as:

  • Observing;
  • Orienting;
  • Deciding; and,
  • Acting

By disrupting an Active Shooters decision making process (i.e., their OODA loop) we can momentarily cause the shooter to pause their decision making process and this may be all the advantage we need to increase our chance for survival.

For example, during a hockey game if the Forward is on a breakaway and has no Defender or Goalie in their path, they can OBSERVE there is no one to block their shot.  The Forward can then ORIENT their stick in a way to ensure the shot can be made.  The Forward can then DECIDE to shoot the puck into the empty net and ACT on that decision by slapping the puck toward the goal and score!

However, the entire process can be interrupted if there is a Defender facing the attacking Forward.  If after Observing and Orienting, the Forward decides to shoot, the Defender may attempt to slap the puck away from the Forward.  This maneuver may be enough to disrupt the Forward’s decision making process (i.e., their OODA loop) and the Forward would likely avert the shot and start the OODA loop process over again. This can buy you a few precious seconds.

Think of the Flight 93 scenario, trained terrorists hijacked a plane. The passengers bonded together and took out the terrorists. And while all the passengers perished when the plane crashed, their heroic actions likely saved countless lives at the destination the terrorists where intending to strike with the plane.  They accomplished their mission by being brave, having a plan, and disrupting the terrorist’s OODA Loop.  They did a great job improvising weapons (e.g., a beverage cart, hot coffee).


Situational awareness is essential to your survival and may help save your life if you encounter an Active Shooter.  Consider conducting mental rehearsals of Active Shooter scenarios. During a mental rehearsal, you imagine yourself in an Active Shooter situation and think through (in advance) what it would be like.  Imagine using all of your senses. What would you be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling? Vividly imagine the situation and how it would play out in as much detail as you can.

Practice “what if” decision making scenarios. For example, you might think: If I were in my office and I heard a gunshot in another part of the building, then I would ________ (fill in the blank).  Rehearse as many “what if” scenarios as you can imagine, building complexity into the scenarios as you gain confidence.

The benefits of mental rehearsals can be two-fold.  First, mental rehearsals can reduce surprises.  Your critical thinking skills can be impacted by the element of surprise.  (Coincidentally, disrupting critical thinking skills is what you’re trying to accomplish when you interrupt the Active Shooter’s OODA loop). When you find yourself in a real-world situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed, you’re far less likely to be surprised.  Rather, you’ll be expecting it to happen and you will have already thought through one (or more) decision options.

The second benefit of mental rehearsals is they can help improve prediction skills.  In active shooter situations, it is important that we are thinking ahead of the current situation – being mindful of not only what is happening right now, but also thinking about what is going to happen next (e.g., what/who might be waiting for me around the next corner?).

When practicing “if-then” scenarios and performing mental rehearsals, think beyond yourself.  Imagine the actions of others who will be present.  To take down an Active Shooter you may need to lead (direct) others on what to do.  For workplace Active Shooter preparation, talk with coworkers about what should be done if an event occurs. The actions of your coworkers could help save lives.  Or, their actions could cost lives.  Don’t assume everyone will know what to do.  That would be a mistake. Have a plan!  Remember, it’s much easier for the body to get through a tough time when the mind has already experienced and planned for it.


When we work with companies, we recommend annual training for all employees and the training cover all forms of potential violent acts at work.  Professional training ensures workers know what to do, but also how to do it.  Be prepared for an act of violence, this involves mental AND physical preparation.

Think about the phenomenal job firefighters have done teaching citizens how to Stop, Drop, and Roll if their clothing catches on fire.  What to do is quite intuitive now, but it took years of repetitive training and having a plan for it to happen.  Repetition improves physical and mental performance under stress. That’s why schools conduct multiple fire drills every year.  As a result of their diligent efforts, it is extremely rare for a student to die from a fire in a school.

We live in a world where, sadly, Active Shooter events are becoming more common. It’s time for companies to develop plans and to take the lead training workers on how to be prepared.


  1. Discuss ways a person could disrupt an Active Shooter’s OODA loop.
  2. Discuss what objects in your home or at work could be used as a last-resort weapon to defend yourself against an active shoot.
  3. Review and discuss your family’s plan for an Active Shooter event.
  4. Review and discuss your company’s plan for an Active Shooter event.
  5. Discuss with your coworkers what each of you should (and should not) do during an Active Shooter event.


About the Authors

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.