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Workplace shootings: How can you stay safe?

CEPAR led a crisis drill last spring designed to enhance coordination for emergency response among the many resources of Emory's community. Photo courtesy of Emory Center for Injury Control.

While the probability of an armed gunman entering our workplaces, schools or houses of worship remains low, the need to know how to react to these events is as real as today's headlines.  

The answer, safety experts say, is as simple as three words:

  • Run.

  • Hide.

  • Fight.

Recent tragedies at a Colorado theater and a Wisconsin Sikh temple have created an opportunity to discuss lifesaving tips that could better prepare our campus community for what to do should such incidents occur, says Alex Isakov, associate professor of emergency medicine and executive director of the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR).  

Although Emory University has been recognized as a safe place to work, teach, study and live, earning a Safe Communities designation from the National Safety Council and practicing crisis and emergency response drills, active shooter events are unpredictable, notes Sam Shartar, senior administrator for CEPAR.  

"It's an unfortunate reality, but the more proactive we are about this, the better our ability to respond," Shartar adds.  

"Our desire is that people begin to have a dialogue and learn what they can do to protect themselves and others, no matter where they are."  

To help initiate that conversation, CEPAR references a video that contains practical lifesaving tips on what to do during an active shooter event. Produced by the City of Houston's Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the video reviews key steps that anyone can take to increase their chances of survival and safety.  

The video  — which depicts a graphic dramatization of a workplace shooting that could disturb some viewers — emphasizes that survival may depend upon whether you are aware, prepared and have a plan, which doesn't have to be complicated. CEPAR encourages faculty and staff to assess their environments and discuss exit plans.    

Workplace shooting safety tips  

The video emphasizes that taking a few simple steps can make a difference:  

  • Run if a safe path is available. Always try and escape or evacuate even if others insist on staying. Don't linger to gather belongings.  
  • Encourage others to leave with you, but don't let their indecision slow down your own escape. Once out of the line of fire, try to prevent others from unknowingly walking into the danger zone and call 911.  
  • If you can't escape safely, find a place to hide outside the shooter's view. If you can't find a safe room or closet, hide behind large objects that offer protection. Seek a hiding place that doesn't restrict your options to move. Try to remain quiet and calm.  
  • When hiding, turn out lights, lock doors and silence the ringer and vibration mode on cell phones. If a door doesn't lock, attempt to block it with furniture or other large objects.  
  • As a last resort, if your life is at risk, working together or alone, act with aggression. Use improvised weapons — a fire extinguisher or chair for example — and fight.  
  • Be aware that first responders are usually not there to assist the injured, but to stop the shooter; help for the injured is on the way. Once law enforcement arrives, remain calm and follow instructions. Keep your hands visible at all times and avoid pointing or yelling.

For more information on how to be prepared visit

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