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Run. Hide. Fight.: Effective Public Policy for Individual Safety in Response to Active Shooting Incidents

Over the past 50 years the United States Government has launched multiple public policy programs targeting individual safety. For this article, public policy is defined as, “The action taken by government to address a particular public issue. Local, state, federal, and international government organizations all craft and implement public policy to protect and benefit their populations.” 1 The most recent of these policies, Active Shooter Preparedness, is an overarching program with multiple targeted audiences that explicitly includes First Responders. The portion of the program, widely known as Run. Hide. Fight., has the potential to become one of the most effective public policy programs ever designed for individual safety.

  • The characteristics for an individual safety public policy to be effective are:
  • Address a distinct or definable issue;
  • Be simple and easy to understand, accomplish, and explain to the average person;
  • Be easy to remember especially in a stressful environment;
  • Be actionable and include positive steps that any person can take for this distinct issue;
  • Be flexible enough to meet the needs of everyone while still accomplishing the characteristics above;
  • Easily trained and reinforced to ensure that the policy is as wide reaching as possible; and
  • Be nearly universal so that it transcends age, gender, and geographic location.

The United States has produced many public policy programs aimed at individual safety over the years that are carefully designed, developed, and delivered. Some are still highly effective programs, meeting all or most of the characteristics previously listed. There are some policies that are extremely ineffective and were either ill-conceived or became policy by default. An example of the latter occurred in March of 2002. The United States Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) introduced the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) and was described, “as part of a series of initiatives to improve coordination and communication among all levels of government and the American public in the fight against terrorism.” 2 The HSAS was a system for government agencies in place to easily change pre-planned defense postures.

However, at a time when many U.S. citizens were still in shock from 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks, the HSAS became the default public policy plan for individual protection. It lacked many of the key factors necessary for success. Chiefly, it was not actionable for the individual. For example, in 2003, DHS Secretary Tom Ridge advised citizens during a “code orange” to have duct tape and plastic sheeting on hand to create an air tight safe room against a possible chemical or biological attack. Although the system was actionable, it was difficult for the average person to understand what a safe room was and how it is constructed. Also there was no training for the policy to explain what a safe room was, why it was needed, and how one should be constructed, because it created by default, the HSAS was an ineffective personal protection public policy.

The best example of an effective personal protection public policy program is the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Stop, Drop, and Roll program. Developed as a method to extinguish clothing fires, Stop, Drop, and Roll became well known in the United States through consistent training in the public school system and through the 1970s public service announcements staring Dick Van Dyke. Originally designed for children, Stop, Drop, and Roll is an individually-based action that is simple to understand, remember, and demonstrate. It can be accomplished in any location by the vast majority of people. It has a simple training program that uses well-established infrastructure, like fire departments, to promote and reinforce the message.

Likewise, the Active Shooter Preparedness program is a comprehensive program containing various training and resource materials. The US Department of Homeland Security website describes the program in this way:

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) aims to enhance preparedness through a ‘whole community’ approach by providing training, products, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders on issues such as active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence. In many cases, there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations by their very nature are unpredictable and evolve quickly. DHS offers free courses, materials, and workshops to better prepare you to deal with an active shooter situation and to raise awareness of behaviors that represent pre-incident indicators and characteristics of active shooters.” 3

While the program includes many forms of training, guides, and materials for first responders and other government agencies, the focus of this article is on those portions relevant to the individual safety public policy or Run. Hide. Fight. There have been many high-profile active shooter events in recent years that have received wide ranging media coverage. It is a widely understood problem and an easily definable issue that necessitates a program targeting individual safety.

The basic principles of Active Shooter Preparedness are: run, hide, fight. Without instruction the average person has an understanding of the actions that guide the policy. The simplicity of the program makes the policy easy to accomplish. As well, the concept is universal. The program is intentionally unrelated to a geographic location making this policy potentially effective anywhere that active shooters are an identified issue. Run. Hide. Fight. would have been just as effective in the Washington, DC Navy Yard, in Mumbai India, or in Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya had it been implemented.

The process of Run. Hide. Fight. is intuitive, simple, and easy to remember and builds on our natural reaction to ‘fight or flight’ in emergent situations. With slight variation on our natural responses, and through minimal training, Run. Hide. Fight. provides the individual with potential life-saving options. It is advantageous for the program to build on our bodies’ natural reactions; the ‘fight or flight’ response during an active shooter situation will serve the individual with automatic triggers for remembering the fundamentals of the training.

Run. Hide. Fight. is, by definition, actionable. The associated training provides the individuals with basic survival actions that can make the difference between life or death in an active shooter environment. The most basic of actions is Run. When possible, flee the scene using the closest and safest means possible. And if practical, take people with you and only call for help once you reach a safe location. The instruction to Hide. sounds simple on the surface, however, there are nuanced supporting actions that have proven to save lives. Most active shooters are seeking opportunistic targets. Active shooters are potentially defensible by actions as simple as ducking below a cubical wall or other locations that block you from view. Furthermore, moving to a more secure room and shutting, locking, or barricading the door may take away the reason for a shooter to advance. The action that is most engaged and problematic is Fight. and is consequently suggested as a last resort option. The training can make individuals aware of what objects in their immediate surroundings can become makeshift weapons. For example, an individual should look for hard objects, like a fire extinguisher, to use to strike the shooter when he enters the room. The purpose of the training is to introduce potential methods to protect yourself in the event that you need to engage in combat.

The principles taught in Run. Hide. Fight. are designed to be flexible and to make the most of each person’s abilities and their environment. The training is flexible so that the training provided, and the reaction to a crisis situation, is contextually appropriate. A person may be combat trained or may have never been in a violent situation in their life. They may be near an exit or trapped in the middle cubical of a large call center. The facility may have many small rooms with heavy locking doors or it may be an open floor plan. In any given scenario, with all the possible combinations, any individual should be able to apply at least one of the Run. Hide. Fight. options to increase their chance of survival.

The Active Shooter Preparedness program has multiple levels of training including an introductory level suitable for the average citizen to specific tactics for police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The Run. Hide. Fight. training is designed so that each person or group can be trained to the level appropriate to them. A private sector facility can deliver their own

in-house training using materials from the US DHS website. For example, a facility with a robust safety and security department may deliver the training without modifications but can also easily make adjustments that incorporate their existing plans and policies. Private sector facilities, schools, churches or other groups may also request local emergency management or law enforcement personnel to conduct training for them. Having first responders provide the training often adds a level of gravitas to the program.

The City of Houston, Texas produced a six minute training video that provides a basic overview of the program’s concepts. The video realistically depicts an active shooter scenario in a generic office building. As the shooter moves throughout the building the narrator describes the principle actions: run, hide, and fight. As the three actions are demonstrated, additional nuanced information is provided to support the given actions. The video details the actions with information such as: when and where to run, remembering to turn off your cell phone or locking doors when you hide, and if left with no other choice, what common objects might be used to fight off the attacker. The video has been so well-received that it has been formally adopted by local, state, and federal agencies as the basis for their active shooter training. This video is also available for private sector business and individual consumption. The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS, and many of their State and local counterparts offer a wide selection of support training and documents to reinforce the message of the program. A private sector entity can go to the Federal, state, or local web pages and find the support information and materials that they need to develop their own policy and training program. This provides a cost efficient program that increases employee safety while requiring minimal amount of their employees’ time. From conducting vulnerability assessments to providing planning, training, and exercise support most responders and private sector groups find the process mutually beneficial.

In essence Run. Hide. Fight. has all of the characteristics necessary for a highly effective individual safety public policy. The key to the future of the program is in consistency. In order to become the effective policy that it needs to be as many people as possible need to be trained in the program using the current format. In an effort to make it their own a government agency or private sector entity that begins to make changes to the core program can endanger the larger synergistic effect. For example changing key elements of the program such as renaming “hide” as “shelter in place” would make the program harder to understand, to remember and train. Additionally it removes the universal approach of the program and could cause confusion in orders given during an active shooter event. It is truly sad commentary on our society that a program such as this needs to exist; however this is our reality and Run. Hide. Fight. is a program that will save lives.

References


  1. “What is Public Policy”, Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, accessed 4 June 2014, http://ips.jhu.edu/pub/public-policy.
  2. “Chronology of Changes to the Homeland Security Advisory System”, US Department of Homeland Security, accessed 4 June 2014, http://www.dhs.gov/homeland-security-advisory-system.
  3. “Active Shooter Preparedness,” United States Department of Homeland Security, accessed June 5 2014, http://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness.
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Holt Clark is a US consultant on CBRNE, active shooter, terrorism, and training and exercises. He has extensive experience leading multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional exercise programs at the State and local levels involving man-made, WMD, and natural disaster scenarios. His experience includes more than 19 years in emergency planning, response, management, and exercise design.