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What Are We Doing? A New Look at Active Shooter Training

Hiding under a desk is not a tactical plan that helps anyone, except the shooter.

Here we are again: Active Shooter in Annapolis, MD, five of our fellow citizens are dead and the shooter is in custody. Police responded in 60 seconds and fortunately went right to the gunman – we are thankful for these brave officers. Even as police response times to these events improve, the unshakeable reality of Active Shooter incidents in America remains — people in the environment have to take action and survive until the police arrive.

This article is written by a practioner who consults on this topic for a living and I take issue with some of the tactical guidance being provided to our fellow Americans. On Tuesday of this week, I was in Washington, D.C., providing Active Shooter training to employees at a Corporation and I gave them our firm’s best guidance – as if they were my own family. Many in the audience might have questioned their reason for the training; they do not question it now. Unfortunately, after most of these events I hear and read the same sad account from witnesses.

Reporter Phil Davis’ account from Annapolis is heartbreaking:

I’m a police reporter. I write about this stuff — not necessarily to this extent, but shootings and death — all the time,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “But as much as I’m going to try to articulate how traumatizing it is to be hiding under your desk, you don’t know until you’re there and you feel helpless.”

I hate that Mr. Davis felt helpless and that he did what others have been telling folks to do — Hide. As if this was the only option available to him.

Whenever I ask other active shooter prevention instructors if they would tell their family members to hide under a desk in an Active Shooter incident they unanimously say “No!” Then I ask, “Why are you telling others to do it?” No intelligent answer is given.

Hiding under a desk is not a tactical plan that helps anyone, except the shooter.

If you are unable to escape the area, it is perfectly acceptable to enter a room, lock it, and prepare to run or fight – this is being proactive and not passive, like hiding under a desk. I recommend making survival decisions based on honoring your intuition and your unique situation – i.e. your proximity to the shooter. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to survival and your response does not have to be linear: do A — then do B — then do C. Guidance on critical decision-making must begin with championing an individual’s innate desire to survive. This is why people feel helpless, they know they can do something more.

Of course, there are special groups (small children, elderly, and the infirmed) that need special guidance and this is not about them. This is written for the majority of our fellow Americans who can do incredible things, and will, if empowered to do so – people like James Shaw Jr. who fought an Active Shooter at a Waffle House recently.

As a security professional, my mission is to empower others to be active participants in their own survival, let’s give smart tactical guidance and save lives.


James Hamilton is Vice President of Protection Strategies at Gavin de Becker & Associates, James also served 17 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, where he implemented the FBI’s active shooter training and guidance program and was handpicked to create the Bureau’s close protection course. His courses are currently taught at the NSA, NYPD, and many other agencies.

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