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Take time to think about preparing employees for the unthinkable

Stephen Scott//September 13, 2022

Take time to think about preparing employees for the unthinkable

Stephen Scott//September 13, 2022

The recent arrest of a man who allegedly planned to shoot up a festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington serves as stark a reminder to employers that a shooting can occur almost anywhere. In workplaces, active shooters are often disgruntled current or former employees, or their family or friends; however, shooters could also be complete strangers. While such events are often unpredictable, employers can take the following four steps to prepare for the unthinkable.

Evacuate – properly exit in an emergency

Employees should be prepared to evacuate the active shooter area, because that is often the best course of action to address the threat. An employer’s evacuation plan and corresponding training should provide employees with information to:

  • know two exits and escape routes from their work area;
  • assist others to the proper escape route, if possible;
  • exit to the proper area regardless of whether others comply and follow;
  • call 911 once it is safe to do so and notify the dispatcher of the situation; and
  • keep hands visible and comply with law enforcement commands upon contact.

Hide out – if evacuation isn’t possible

Employees should be trained how to effectively lock and barricade themselves in a safe area, if possible, when escape is not an option. This may include the use of door locks and/or desks or furniture to block the entrance to a room.

Hiding places should be out of sight of windows, and employees should also silence noise-making devices that may alert the shooter of their presence (cellphones, tablets, computer speakers, etc.). Ideally the area will provide protection if shots are fired in the employee’s direction (i.e., behind a desk or cabinet in a locked room).

Employees should contact 911, if it is safe to do so, to alert the authorities about the situation. However, they should be careful as to not alert the shooter to their location.

Fight – if escape or concealment are not options

Employers also should train employees, when their lives are in imminent danger, to take appropriate action against the shooter as a last resort. This may include yelling at and attacking the shooter aggressively and overwhelmingly. The attack may be made with fists, improvised weapons, or thrown objects that are at hand. Employees should commit to their actions once they begin the attack. Employers may want to consider retaining an outside expert on self-defense to help train their workers on useful techniques in this area.

Drill so that a response is second nature

Preparation, training, and periodic drills are key to employees internalizing the preceding information and tactics necessary to deal with workplace violence and an active shooter. Such repetitive drills will assist in making the response reflexive or second nature, which is necessary in such stressful situations.


No one wants to think about an active shooter in the workplace. No one wants to imagine the unimaginable. For some people, the thought of an active shooter at school keeps them up at night. That is before one even considers the possibility that it could occur at a job site. This fear/uneasiness is the exact reason employers should put in place a plan for the unimaginable. The reality is that every second and every decision made during a real active shooter situation is truly life and death. Therefore, it is absolutely critical for employers to set their employees up for success. Developing a strategy and providing training could make all the difference.

Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law.

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