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Since Sandy Hook, I get asked daily about "RUN, HIDE, FIGHT," the new response to an active shooter on a campus or in a workplace.

Let's start with some facts for context:

  • Campus shootings are not increasing. U.S. government studies show the number of incidents have held steady or decreased over the last two decades
  • Campus violence is workplace violence. Schools and colleges are workplaces before they are campuses
  • Workplace homicides are down dramatically over the last two decades
  • Workplace violence of all calibers except homicide are on the increase. Harassment to assault to robbery and rape are much more likely than homicide.

So, how does "RUN, HIDE, FIGHT," add to this conversation?

Mother Mitchell always told me, "Bo, for every complex problem, there is a simple solution--that is always wrong." Her wisdom applies here.

Police response has changed since Columbine. Police no longer wait for backup. They FIGHT immediately to stop the carnage.

So, should civilians, too, FIGHT shooters at work or at school? Not as a first step, and really almost never. Very few civilians have the training to successfully FIGHT a shooter.

But, this gets complex.

RUN, HIDE, FIGHT have been the standard responses forever to workplace and campus violence, including shooters. Yet RUN, HIDE, FIGHT is not a list of choices. It is a continuum of decision making for intended victims.

  • First, RUN: Police and experts always recommend that civilians get away from the perpetrator as the first and most effective way of achieving safety. RUN is your first decision.
  • If RUN can't work, then HIDE. HIDE is complex. HIDE can be "out of sight" with silence (cell phones off); it can be locking doors and windows and/or covering windows, it can include barricading doors. Complex stuff.
  • If RUN and HIDE don't work, then FIGHT. Are you alone? What can be used as weapons? Will turning lights on or off be advantageous? Can you combine with others to FIGHT?

Very complex decision making.

The complexities abound for an employer writing and training procedures for all personnel, whether at work or school.

For instance, will an employer be held negligent for recommending that employees--unarmed and untrained in combat tactics--FIGHT an active shooter who then kills one of those employees? Probably.

Will a head of school be held negligent for telling staff to RUN and HIDE but not to FIGHT, thereby leaving children exposed to an active shooter? Probably.

Yet, in both scenarios, the employer might be applauded by a jury if FIGHT responses were written and trained as last resorts after all else fails.

Emergency Insights:

  1. Workplace (and campus) violence are foreseeable circumstances at every workplace in America without exception.
  2. The U.S. government has a panoply of studies on the ubiquity and severity of workplace violence. The CDC calls workplace violence "an epidemic."
  3. This is complex stuff. Each employer--campus, corporation and medical facility--shall have site-specific procedures to respond to workplace violence and shall train those procedures to all employees.
  4. Employers should collaborate with local police, fire and EMS regarding planning, training, exercises and drills for workplace violence.
  5. No one can ignore this, or delay planning, training and drilling.

"Let's be careful out there."

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Bo Mitchell was Police Commissioner of Wilton, CT for 16 years. He retired in 2001 to found 911 Consulting which creates emergency, disaster recovery and business continuity plans, training and exercises for organizations like GE Headquarters, Cablevision, Goodrich, Western and Central Connecticut State Universities. He serves clients headquartered from Boston to LA working in their facilities from London to San Francisco. Bo has earned 16 certifications in homeland security, organizational safety and security. He also serves as an expert in landmark court cases nationally.

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