Preparing Schools for an Active Shooter Emergency - Part One

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August 8, 2019

By Lisa Limper, MS, CSCS, ATC

In this series, we take a closer at what Athletic Trainers (ATs) need to know to be prepared for an active shooter emergency in schools. In part one, we take a closer look at active shooter risks and what ATs can do to prepare schools.

Is your school prepared to face an active shooter emergency? Chances are, probably not. According to a 2014 FBI report entitled “A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013,” active shooter incidents in schools are on the rise. An average of 6.4 incidents occurred in the first seven years studied in the report, and an average of 16.4 occurred in the last seven years studied. Through the end of July, there have been 22 school shootings in 2019.

As an AT and risk management specialist, you have some special considerations. School shootings occur quickly so law enforcement officers are not always present during the shooting incident. In fact, 60 percent of the incidents ended before police arrived. When the duration of the incident could be determined, two-thirds of the incidents lasted five minutes or less. The FBI report found that in 13 percent of incidents, unarmed staff or students confronted the shooters to end the threat. This means an AT or other school staff member would most likely be the first responder onsite. What you do in those first minutes will make a difference to save lives.

Another consideration is the potential locations for shootings to occur. Shootings can happen anywhere on campus, not just in classrooms. In the FBI study, where shootings occurred inside buildings, only about half took place in school classrooms. Other locations included hallways, cafeteria, school administrative offices or meeting rooms. Athletic facilities are a particular concern because of increased exposure as well as limitations in communication. In addition, most outdoor facilities like baseball or football fields are fenced in so people would have to get over a fence or through a funnel to escape an active shooter. The question becomes what should your school do to prepare for an active shooter situation?

Training Staff for an Active Shooter Situation

According to Campus Safety Magazine, to best prepare staff for an active shooter situation, create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), review it periodically and conduct training exercises. The EAP should be created with input from administration, teachers, ATs, coaches, the school property manager, local law enforcement and emergency responders. An effective EAP includes best practices for reporting emergencies, evacuation policies and procedures, emergency escape procedures and routes such as floor plans and exits posted in conspicuous locations throughout the facility, and contact information for law enforcement and local hospitals. The most effective way to train staff to respond to an active shooter situation is to conduct mock active shooter training exercises. Local law enforcement is an excellent resource in designing training exercises and should be included during those exercises.

How to Respond to an Active Shooter Incident

Prior to 2013, traditional response to this type of incident has been to shelter in place and wait for the police to arrive. However, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Education spent considerable resources researching active shooting events, and their studies resulted in a change in guidance. The 2013 guidelines expand to include multiple options that go beyond lockdown including run/hide/fight or ALICE protocols. Their position is that lockdowns aren’t always effective because a large percentage of shooters are already on the campus as current students at the school. It also recognizes that staff and students may have to use more than one option, and the decision to do so should be made using their own judgment, based on the evolving situation.

In all cases, quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Active shooter incidents are often unpredictable and evolve quickly. Remember that students are likely to follow the lead of ATs, administrators, teachers, coaches and staff during an active shooter situation.


According to information from retrieved from, you should apply the following actions in the event of an active shooter.

1. RUN - If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises, regardless of whether others agree to follow. Leave your belongings behind. Help others escape, if possible. Do not attempt to move wounded people. Call 911 to alert police to the active shooter’s location, and even if you cannot speak, leave the line open to allow the dispatcher to listen.

2. HIDE - If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the shooter is less likely to find you. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter’s view and provide protection while not restricting your options for movement. Lock the door and blockade it with the heaviest furniture available. Lock the door, silence phones and remain quiet.

3. FIGHT - As a last resort, and only when your life is in danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the shooter by acting as aggressively as possible toward him/her, including throwing items and improvising weapons.

Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE)

Some schools use protocols from ALICE training. According to information retrieved from, apply the following actions in the event of an active shooter.

1. ALERT - When you become aware of a threat by hearing gunfire or a warning from witnesses that a shooter is in the area, the sooner you understand you are in danger, the sooner you can take actions to save yourself and others.

2. LOCKDOWN - If evacuation is not a safe option then lock and barricade the door with anything available such as desks or chairs and tie down the door using belts, purse straps or shoelaces. Cover the windows in the door if possible. Once secured, do not open the door for anyone. Call 911 and silence all phones. Look for alternate escape routes such as windows or other doors.Gather weapons and mentally prepare to defend yourself. Put yourself in position to surprise the shooter should they enter the room.

3. INFORM - Using any means necessary, pass on real time information on the shooter’s location using plain language.

4. COUNTER - Should you be confronted by the shooter, anything can be a weapon, including coffee cups, chairs, books, pens, etc. Throw things at the shooter’s head to disrupt their aim and create as much noise as possible. Attack in a group by swarming the shooter and grab their limbs and head. Take the person to the ground and hold them there. Fight dirty - bite, kick, scratch, gouge eyes, etc. Once you have control of the shooter, call 911 and tell the police where you are and listen to their commands when officers arrive on scene.

5. EVACUATE - If you can safely evacuate, remove yourself from the danger zone as quickly as possible, bringing something to throw with you in case you encounter the shooter. Break out windows and quickly clear glass from the frame. Consider using belts, clothing or other items as an improvised rope to shorten the distance to fall. Hang by your hands from the window ledge to shorten your drop, and attempt to drop into shrubs, mulch or grass to lessen the chance of injury.

Resources for General Emergency Preparation and for Active Shooter

For generalized emergency preparation, the American Red Cross and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offer resources geared towards schools and children. The Red Cross Ready Rating™ Program, a free, self-paced program, entails a self-assessment of a school’s level of preparedness and helps tracking of the school’s progress through a customized, OSHA-compliant EAP and a resource center with additional tools.

FEMA offers the free youth emergency preparedness curriculum to help educators teach kids what to do before, during and after an emergency. Created for grades one through 12, it incorporates age-appropriate problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, leadership and communication skills, and safety lessons on disaster planning, response and recovery and is available at FEMA also offers a free online course, “Active Shooter: What You Can Do,” which can be accessed through

Specifically, regarding the preparation for an active shooter, ALICE, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and FEMA all have resources available for schools and individuals. Along with their live training and online courses, ALICE also has published a children’s book titled, “I’m Not Scared, I’m Prepared” to help young people feel some control when facing the potential of a shooting incident.

DHS and FBI both provide a variety of tools for schools to prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident, including reports, booklets, desk and pocket-size reference guides and reference posters. The resources include steps to creating an EAP, training for an active shooter or other workplace violence situation, the profile of an active shooter, and tips for recognizing signs of potential workplace violence.Additionally, DHS has developed a recovery guide and an incident fact sheet to assist organizations consider the recovery phase of an event.

Since you may be contracted from a clinic or hospital and may not be a school employee, it is vital that you are aware of the school’s EAP and policies, as well as being involved in mock drills. Know your role in securing your area and outside access points to help keep your patients and coaches safe.

Click here to read "Planning for Injuries from an Active Shooter Emergency - Part Two."


About the Author


Lisa Limper, MS, CSCS, ATC has worked in professional, collegiate and high school athletics throughout her career, and has been a personal trainer at the YMCA of Middle TN for 19 years. She coached high school football for 7 years and has served on committees for the National Strength and Conditioning Association and American Football Coaches Association

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