What Should You Do in a Mass Shooting?

"If you are ever to find yourself in the middle of an active shooter event, your survival may depend on whether or not you have a plan."

So says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a public service video posted online late last month. If you find yourself in the midst of a mass shooting, such as the gun attack near the Empire State Building Friday morning (Aug. 24), or the deadly theater shooting in Colorado on July 20, the DHS urges you to take one of three actions: run, hide or fight — in that order of preference.


When an active shooter is in your vicinity, and you have an escape route, evacuate. Leave your belongings behind, but help other people evacuate if possible. (The DHS video notes that you shouldn't wait around for people who don't want to flee.) Once you're away from the danger zone, prevent others from entering it. Stop to call 911 only once you are safe.


When a shooter is nearby and you have nowhere to run, find a place to hide. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view — ideally behind a locked or blocked door — and it should provide protection should shots be fired in your direction. It should not trap or restrict your options for movement when the time comes to leave the hiding place and go to safety. (In the video, those hiding push a round table against the door, also locking it.)

Remember to turn off lights and silence your cellphone.


"As a last resort, if your life is at risk, whether you are alone or working together as a group, fight," the DHS video instructs. "Act with aggression. Improvise weapons. Disarm him. Commit to taking the shooter down no matter what." (In the video, co-workers improvise weapons using a fire extinguisher, a belt and a chair to take down the perpetrator when he enters their room.)

To summarize, if you have an escape route, run. If you don't, hide. If there's nowhere to run or hide, fight for your life.

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Live Science Staff
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