Ten years ago, the City of Houston, Texas, and the US Department of Homeland Security released an active shooter video involving Run, Hide, Fight that millions of people have since viewed. The video, titled “Run. Hide. Fight.,” takes place in a restaurant bar where two people are about to order dinner.
Suddenly, shouting can be heard on the video coming from the back of the restaurant. An argument is taking place and getting louder. Then, according to the video:
- There are gunshots.
- Chaos ensues as people start to flee.
- Screaming and more gunshots are heard.
- Someone calls 911, and eventually the police arrive.
Then the video’s narrator says, “You can survive a mass shooting. If you are prepared. Remember: Run, Hide, Fight.”
The narrator then explains:
- Do not hesitate. Leave belongings behind, and do not stop until you have reached a safe location.
- If there is no safe escape route, find a good hiding place.
- Fight only as a last resort. Use objects as improvised weapons. If with others, work as a team and coordinate an ambush of the attacker.
This Run-Hide-Fight (RHF) training video is still considered a powerful rendering of how to handle a shooting incident. OSHA, the Department of Labor, and the FBI all approve it. However, many in the security industry are now questioning its effectiveness. Moreover, some view the RHF guidelines as inadequate potentially due to the activation of the emergency action when an incident is already underway rather than before one occurs, increasing the likelihood of deaths and injuries.
Security Experts Discuss Their Concerns about Run, Hide, Fight
One of those questioning the RHF guidelines is Steve Albrecht, a former police officer and author of twenty-one books regarding workplace violence, security issues, concealed guns, and police safety, who also holds a degree in psychology.
Among Albrecht’s concerns about RHF are the following:
- While he agrees with the Run guideline, he says there is always the possibility of running into the assailant or one of the assailants or “hurting yourself in the process” (sprained ankle, a fall down the stairs, or the like).
- The second response, Hide, is problematic because there are no bulletproof chambers in most offices, schools, or stores, where many shootings have occurred. Instead, victims usually hide in a restroom, locker room, break room, or closet that the attacker may pass or easily find. Albrecht says that “You are a sitting duck. You could get killed in there.”
- The third response, Fight, Albrecht views as the least palatable. Most people need to be trained in how to defend themselves or handle themselves in such situations. “[While] brave and heroic people have done extraordinary things when faced with real chance-of-death events involving a shooter…fighting back could get you killed.”1
Albrecht is not the only security authority questioning the RHF guidelines. Another person who has serious concerns about it is Lieutenant Colonel Mike Wood (Ret.), author and certified firearms instructor. He views the entire concept as flawed.
The problem with it, according to Wood:
It doesn’t address the reality of an active shooter attack. The [guidelines] encourage a mindset and a pattern of behavior that may not adequately prepare potential victims to save themselves and others during an attack.
He also suggests that RHF encourages a “sheep-like mentality” that discourages citizens from using ethical and lawful force to defend themselves.” 2
The Freeze Component
Another problem with the RHF approach is that it assumes we have clear minds in an emergency, we know our choices, and we can make the best decisions at the moment. However, an article by Joseph Ledoux in the New York Times says that when we face a serious threat of any kind, we often “find ourselves frozen, unable to act and think clearly.”3
The Times article goes on to say that freezing is not a choice we can select in a dangerous situation. Rather, “it is a built-in impulse controlled by ancient circuits in the brain…and is automatically set into motion by external threats.” (Italics added)
Freezing is an old survival mechanism we all share. This is true for animals – even flies.
“Even invertebrates like flies freeze,” Ledoux writes. The reason for this, in humans or flies, is that the body’s freezing reaction releases hormones that can sometimes impair decision-making in highly stressful situations. (See example below.)
TAL Global’s Response: Prepare-React-Recover
According to TAL Global, a security consulting and risk assessment firm with security experts around the world, the traditional RHF method is no longer enough when dealing with active shooter situations, and similar threats. TAL Global suggests a new method is needed to adapt to the changing circumstances of our world and to enhance personal and organizational readiness and resilience.
The new method that TAL Global and its Chief Operating Officer, Oscar Villanueva, developed and recommend is Prepare-React-Recover (PRR). Villanueva claims that PRR creates a “resilience cycle” that can better handle workplace violence and active shooter incidents.
Among the three elements of PRR, preparation may be the most crucial one, as it can help prevent an incident from occurring or prepare ahead of time.
“Preparation for active assailant attacks should occur as a matter of routine security preparedness and not as an after-thought after the occurrence of an incident, as it often does now,” says Villanueva.
“Instead, it should be seen as a cycle that involves essential actions to improve the chances of preventing incidents from occurring in the first place, planning for avoidance of injury or death, and recovering post-incident. This is a proactive approach that does not wait for an incident, but rather starts with preparation.”
More specifically, preparedness (“Prepare”) for a business or organization involves the following:
- Understanding risk and what might happen in a violent situation.
- Assessing the preparedness of an organization and identifying where there are gaps or need for improvement.
- Conducting security assessments to identify physical security deficiencies and opportunities to correct them. The security assessment will become the foundation for a workplace violence or assailant action plan.
- Creating and implementing a workplace violence action plan based on the security assessment to help prepare for, prevent, mitigate, and manage incidents.
- Understanding the precursors to workplace violence and active assailant situations. Invariably, there are signs that such incidents are imminent.
- Including policies and procedures, such as outlining how an incident will be handled and by whom.
- Creating and implementing threat management teams at the local and corporate levels.
- Providing workplace violence, security, and situational awareness training for all employees, with more comprehensive training for managers, supervisors, and other leaders.
- Practicing procedures at least once per year through practical exercises and drills.
- Reviewing the program annually and revising it as necessary.
- Ensuring a notification system is in place to protect staff and building users.
- Taking measures to plan ahead for personnel terminations and taking disciplinary actions securely.
- Acting as liaison with first responders. Include them in your preparedness plan.
The React component of PRR for an organization involves the following:
- Taking advanced steps to identify hazards or threats to an organization.
- Implementing evacuation and lockdown procedures.
- Notifying all employees promptly, using the notification system mentioned under Prepare.
- Activating threat management team(s).
- Executing the plan as outlined under Prepare.
- Maintaining and monitoring the situation until conditions are safe.
Recovery after a violent incident is crucial. Typically, it starts with ensuring that anyone hurt during the attack receives prompt medical attention. It also includes long-term psychological support, which is invariably necessary in such incidents.
Additionally, after an attack has occurred, organizations should engage in the the following:
- Conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and its causes, and identifying any lessons learned or preventive measures that can be implemented in the future.
- Providing ongoing communication and information to the affected individuals, families, communities, and stakeholders, and addressing any concerns or questions they may have.
- Restoring the normal functioning of the affected organization and its operations as soon as possible.
- Ensuring safety and security programs are implemented as quickly as possible.
- Offering counseling, debriefing, and other forms of emotional support to the staff, volunteers, and partners who were involved in or witnessed the incident. Further, the efforts and contributions of these people must be recognized. It helps in the healing process.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the response and recovery efforts and incorporating any feedback or recommendations into the improvement of policies, procedures, and practices.
- Documenting the incident and gathering all the facts. A pre-litigation investigation may also be necessary.
- Providing on-site security quickly and as needed post-incident.
- Conducting a debrief involving interviews of those who witnessed the attack.
- Performing a self-assessment of how the organization handled the incident, looking for opportunities for improvement.
- Bringing in professional resources, if needed.
The RHF guidelines continue to be a valuable resource for dealing with potential threats but should be viewed as a component of RHF rather than a standalone reaction. They offer practical guidance on how to respond in the middle of an already underway crisis situation. However, as Wood pointed out earlier, the guidelines are not always applicable to the dynamics of a violent scenario.
One of the shared challenges in such scenarios is that there is a lag time between the onset of the attack and the response. This lag time can have devastating consequences, such as more casualties and more fatalities. “We need to adopt a new approach,” says Villanueva. “We are facing more frequent active shooter events, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that workplace violence has risen by 25 percent since 2015.”4
Villanueva suggests that preparedness, followed by reacting and recovery, can help us prevent, manage and survive such attacks. “These guidelines can also help minimize the harm done to people and organizations in the event of an attack, and equally important, help them recover and rebuild with improved security measures in place.”
TAL Global Staff
Sidebar: Freezing Caught on Tape
One of the most striking demonstrations of the freeze response in the face of violence was recorded on tape during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In the video (link below), we can see a bomb going off at 37 seconds into the tape. At first, there is confusion and uncertainty. Consequently, everyone freezes. Then, at 46 seconds into the video, we can see some people starting to run away. Others are still trying to figure out what happened. It is during these 10 or more seconds of freezing that people can become targets of violent crime.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/EklqZ5iFko8
1 “The Truth Behind the Run-Hide-Fight Debate,” by Steve Albrecht, published in Psychology Today, August 25, 2014.
2 “Why ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ is Flawed,” by Mike Wood, published in Police 1, June 15, 2016.
3 “Run, Hide, Fight Is Not How Our Brains Work,” by Joseph Ledoux, published in the New York Times, December 18, 2015.
4 Highlights from a New Report on Indicators of Workplace Violence, by Erica Harrell, et al., prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 7, 2022.