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Event Emergencies

Active shooters: how to prepare and what to do, Part 1

You are working an event. All seems to be going really well. Everything is on schedule, the guests are smiling; food and cocktails are flowing nicely.

Suddenly someone yells, “He’s got a gun.” Then, several shots ring out. What do you do?

This is part one of a two-part series dealing with an immediate threat at an event. Part 1 addresses an active shooter at an event. Part 2 provides direction in a bomb situation.

An active shooter at an event is somber subject, but this topic needs to be addressed. You must have and execute a plan and provide directions that will save the lives of event guests, the client, your staff, or even your own life.

My hope is that you will never have to use the points covered here.

In denial?

You might be thinking, “It will never happen in my town.” Think again.

Public and private events in a post 9/11 world are considered a “soft target”—meaning there is not a lot of security. Recently there has been an increase in incidents at events, and more are expected. Now is the time to prepare.

For whatever motivation there are people who decide to make a point with violence at events. The shooters’ reasons and profiles vary: anything from a disgruntled employee, a former lover, someone struggling with mental health issues, or someone inspired to support a radical terrorist organization.

I often work on staff at many high profile events around southern California including The Oscars, Golden Globes, The Emmys, ESPY’s etc. in locations like LA Live, Hollywood and Highland, Staples Center. There are always celebrities, dignitaries, and a lot of people working hard for a living. Now there are also metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, and police officers wearing Kevlar vests.

Do you have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place to deal with an active shooter? Most catering and event production companies I spoke with do not. An EAP is a written document required by particular OSHA standards [29 CFR 1910.38(a)] and its purpose is to facilitate employer and employee actions during work place emergencies.

You might be thinking—more rules, and more money to create a plan. Check with your insurance broker(s), because some give a credit or discount for having an EAP in place. Some insurance carriers will provide templates and examples to offset development costs and speed the process along.

Following are points gathered from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ALERT Center at Texas State University, and several local law enforcement agencies from around the country on dealing with an active shooter, though most of those points were developed from the example of an active shooter in a work place environment. The points mentioned in this article were adopted for either a public or private event.
Please be aware: although federal law requires you to have a plan in place, consider that the plan is also a cultural issue for your company. We’re in the hospitality business. How we treat our staff is directly passed on to our clients and guests. If something happens and you don’t have a plan in place, the criticism for not having a plan will be hard to overcome.

Active shooter definition

An active shooter(s) is an individual or several people actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, using firearms.

An active shooter situation is unpredictable, evolves quickly, starts either outside or inside the event, and lasts usually less than 15 minutes.

Outside threat. Outside threat is when active shooter situation originates from outside the event space and might come into the event. You might recall the recent Nice, France incident in which a truck was driven into the crowd.
Inside threat. Is where the active shooter situation originates from inside the event space. The shooter may stay inside or move outside. What might come to your mind is the San Bernardino workplace shootings or the nightclub shootings in Miami.

How to prepare for an active shooter

First, you need to be aware of the space and the surroundings your event will be located in.

• Know at all times where the two nearest exits and all fire extinguishers are located.

• Don’t forget: If you see something unusual, say something. Report suspicious acts to security and authorities.

• Are guests and staff wearing wristbands? Are they wearing the correct color band? Is the wristband on the correct wrist? Inconsistency is either a mistake or cause for concern and needs to be investigated.

• Whether you hold an event in a public location or a venue, evacuation routes need to be clearly marked.

• Establish an after action gathering place on site and an alternate gathering place away from the event site. This is a place to meet, perform roll call, and check on each other’s safety. Mention these two locations during the pre-event meeting.

What to do in an active shooter situation

If you find yourself in the midst of an active shooter situation, there is a preferred plan of action to take to increase the chances of survival. The recommended protocol is based on ALICE Training. ALICE is the acronym for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate aka run-hide-fight, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Department program originally created for use in workplace violence. With that, if you hear gunfire:

Run – Avoid – Get Out

Run as fast and as far away from the shooting area as possible.

Avoid the shooter.
Get Out of the immediate area and building.

• Keep moving away from the shooter. Further and faster is better. Be careful not to trip, twist an ankle, or fall down stairs.
• Get as many people to keep moving quickly and quietly away from the shooting threat.
• Some people will freeze and want to stay. Encourage them to move with you, but do not stay with them. Leave them if they refuse to move. This is the one and only time I will tell you to ignore the guests. You need to save yourself.
• Put down anything in your hands, plates, trays, napkins, bags, jackets, any personal belongings.
• Stay out of parking lots and open areas. Seek cover. Use structures. Get out of the line of sight of the shooter.
• Breathe slowly. Look for first responders.

Hide ­– Deny – Secure
Hide if you can’t run.

Deny the shooter access to you.

Secure your location.

• Find a room, a closet, an office—any place you can secure or limit access to. Lock the door if possible. Barricade the door(s) and windows by pushing tables, cabinets, and furniture up against the doors and windows.
• Don’t make any noise. Turn off notifications (chimes, bells, ring tones) on cell phones and pagers.
• Shut off the lights, televisions, computers, and printers if possible.
• Stay quiet. Do not talk. Breathe slowly.
• Call 911 quietly. Let the authorities know why you are speaking in a hushed tone. Also, more localities around the country are offering with 911 texting. Check with your local 911 service.
• Do not open the door for anyone unless you know for absolute certain it is the authorities.
• If you cannot find an enclosed space and you are in the open, take cover. Get under tables. Turn tables on their side. A table will not stop a bullet but it can shield you from the shooter’s view. Get low to the ground. If there is no table, get behind a column or display.
• Avoid playing dead; the odds are against you.
• Stay put until police have cleared you.

Fight – Defend – Survive

If you can’t escape or find a place to shelter, then your life may depend on your will and creative uses of resources to defend yourself and subdue your attacker.

Fight the attacker. This is the last resort for saving your life.

Defend yourself. You have a legal right to defend yourself.

Do whatever it takes to survive. The actions you take matter and could save your life.

• What’s around to use as an improvised weapon? Anything you can throw and use as weapon to inflict pain and suffering to defend yourself. Throw any and everything at the attacker: flatware, glasses, food, centerpieces, chairs, tray passing platters. Toss the steaming hot water from chafing dishes. Avoid throwing cans of lit fuel, however, as this could cause a fire.
• Do you recall the old Kung-Fu movies where the good guy would grab anything lying and turn it into a weapon? Now is the time to bring out your inner MacGyver to improvise and use that skill.
• Aim for key vulnerable areas; nose, eyes, throat, groin.
• A broom or mop handle can be effective.
• Grab a fire extinguisher, spray fire retardant in the attackers face as well as on the ground in front of an advancing attacker. Most fire retardant when sprayed on the ground will cause the floor to be slippery. This may give you time to escape or overcome them. Use the empty tank as a weapon.
• Beer, wine, or liquor bottles can be thrown at the attacker. If you are face-to-face with the attacker, smash a bottle across their nose. Break off stemware, beer, wine, or liquor bottles and use the sharp edge to gouge or cut the attacker in the eyes and throat. This also applies for using your wine bottle opener.
• If you are up close, smash the attacker in the nose hard with your hands clinched in a fist. Gouge their eyes with your thumbs.
• Scream and yell loudly at the attacker. The noise can be unexpected distraction to them and may bring others to your aid. This is the time to act aggressively to save your life.
• If you are with a group, work together to subdue the attacker.
• Unless you have experience with weapons in stressful situations, leave all weapons on the ground. First responders could mistake you for the shooter. Cover any weapon. Tell responders of the location of any weapons.

What to do when law enforcement arrives

Keep in mind, the first objective of first responders is to neutralize the active shooter, not stop to care for the wounded.

• If police are present, get your hands up above your shoulders, spread your fingers wide, and listen for instructions.
• Don’t point, shout, or yell at first responders. Avoid quick movements toward officers.
• Do not stop to ask officers for help or directions when evacuating. The police will direct you. They may contain, search, and detain you until all clear is announced. They might direct you to get or push you down on the ground. This is for your safety.

Give the police any information you can about the situation and shooter(s);

• Provide the last location you saw the attacker in.
• Is there only one or multiple shooters?

Physical description of the shooter(s):
• Height, clothing colors, complexion, wearing armor, and comments they made?
• Wearing backpacks or carrying gym bags?
• What language did the attacker speak in?
• Type and number of weapons: Pistols, shotguns, rifles?
• The number and location of wounded.
• Stay calm, breath slowly and follow directions of officers.

Once officers have given an all clear and released you, go to the designated meet-up spot to check on each other. Report anyone missing to the police.

What to do next

You need to formulate a written plan specific for your organization including the points mentioned here. If you manage or work at certain specific venues, develop a specific plan for those sites.

Make a short outline version to be included at every pre-event meeting:
Reminder: “Does everyone remember the three action points?” Review as needed. “Today the two meet up locations are A on site and B offsite.”

Review your written plans with local law enforcement. Due to unique local circumstances local authorities may have specific directions and or recommendations for you. I.E., 911 services is available by text.

Next review the plan(s) in person and in writing with all staff. Make the plan part of your orientation or on-boarding process. In my experience—as uncomfortable as it is to talk about this subject—I have found staff to be receptive, relieved, and thankful the active shooter situation was discussed and guidance given. A good YouTube video to reference is

If you would like to review some additional supporting information visit website of the US Home Land Security:

Hopefully you and your staff will never have to use any of the points discussed.

I will close with a quote from Susan Shragg of StaffworkX Event Staffing in Los Angeles. This is exactly the kind of statement every company needs to make to their guests.

 “As a company that supplies staff at events, either high-profile or not, we must be concerned about the safety of our staff. Recent incidents around the world have created the real possibility of an incident occurring at a soft target such as an event with a large number of people attending. Because of this, we have integrated basic safety protocols into our employee handbook and our on-boarding process. As an owner, I feel it necessary to do anything to best educate and protect our employees.”


Roy Porter is the Activities Director at Activities Director

Engage Works, Inc., Los Alamitos, CA

Roy Porter

Activities Director, Engage Works, Inc., Los Alamitos, CA

A California native, who prior to returning to catering, spent several years in direct marketing as a planner, strategist and copywriter on numerous lead generation, sales conversion and customer retention campaigns.

Recognized as consummate and approachable hands on innovator in performance improvement and training off-premise catering staffs for plating (FOH), table and bar service.