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'Active shooter' events: Balancing resident, staff safety

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This blog was co-authored by James Minninger, a security consultant with Sorensen, Wilder & Associates. A retired police sergeant in the suburbs of Philadelphia, he was an operator on SWAT, lead tactical firearms instructor and less lethal munitions operator. He is certified in basic and advanced SWAT operations, hostage rescue, basic and advanced weapons of mass destruction tactical operations and hostage negotiations.

Our previous blog focused on misconceptions associated with preparing for “active shooter” events and facility lockdown. This time, we’re focusing on some of the challenges in balancing resident and staff safety.

One of the most overlooked components in an active shooter response policy in a healthcare facility also is the main focus of your day-to-day routine: the care and well-being of your residents. As we noted previously, the traditional suggestion to survive an active shooter event, as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security, is the “run, hide, fight” doctrine, an approach that is sound but does not address a big challenge within the realm of long-term care: the well-being of the residents.

The mission statement and core values of your facility probably contain wording and ideology related to compassionate resident care. The active shooter policy for your facility also should consider that care. Although your active shooter response policy cannot dictate that staff members remain in the midst of an active shooter event to care for residents, leaving the residents to fend for themselves while staff members evacuate is not a sound idea either. So what are your options to balance staff and resident safety?

New tactics

After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, where one teacher and 12 students were killed, police response and tactics in active shooter events changed nationwide. Police officers no longer surround the scene and wait for specialized units such as SWAT to arrive. They immediately enter the facility and look for the shooter, to stop the action. This newer strategy had two effects: 1) the quick response to the threat has helped the police save lives, and 2) an active shooter now has changed his or her tactics in response to the police officers’ rapid response.

An active shooter now needs to move rapidly through a facility, looking for targets of convenience and opportunity, because the shooter knows that police officers are coming. This action is evident in the surveillance video that the FBI released of shooter Aaron Alexis at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard. Alexis moves rapidly, doesn’t stop to try to enter doors, and at the end of the video, quickly moves toward people he sees at the end of a long hallway.

The change in active shooter tactics because of rapid police intervention will help you survive an event. Let’s see how:

Your active shooter response needs to contain several layers dictated by the shooter’s location and actions. But what does that mean? Let’s look at the concept of “use of force” used by law enforcement officers.


Steve Wilder


Steve Wilder



Steve Wilder, CHSP, STS, is president and chief operating officer of...