The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

How to Prepare For (and Respond to) an Active Shooter Incident on Campus

Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when we published it in 2015. It’s been updated here with additional resources and related content. 

“Active shooter situation – campus on lockdown.” These are some of the most terrifying words you could ever hear. Unfortunately, too many campuses across the country have faced this reality. According to a January 15, 2019 article in Campus Safety magazine, a recent study found that between 2001 and 2016, 437 people were shot in 190 college campus shooting incidents.

Bottom line: every college and university must have a plan in place in the event tragedy unfolds on their campus.

Florida State University shared with us its active shooter preparation plan, and how it responded when the “what-if” scenario became real on November 14, 2014. Here are some takeaways:

  • Training and preparation are key. FSU requires mandatory annual critical incident/active shooter response training for all of its law enforcement personnel. The training is twofold: an online course as well as in-person, practical training. To make the training as realistic as possible, each patrol shift completes the practical training as a group (so that if/when a critical incident arises, team members are all on the same page) and law enforcement personnel are encouraged to attend the training wearing what they would normally be wearing on a shift (typically their gun holster with loaded gun, handcuffs, a radio and a vest – as opposed to their entire gun belt and other special equipment).
  • Implement a notification system for senior administration. Devise a plan for who notifies whom in the event of a crisis on campus. This can be as simple as a “phone tree,” but it’s critical that contact information (including home phone) for all those who will be notified is up to date and accurate.
  • Invest in an emergency alert system. The more ways you can push information out during an emergency (and the quicker you do so), the better. FSU’s alert system has 37 methods of notification, including text messages, phone calls, e-mail messages, radio announcements, postings to FSU’s website, activation of blue light phones on campus, indoor and outdoor sirens, desktop alerts and more.
  • Have a plan in place on how to deal with the media. Best practices include coordinating each press conference, selecting an appropriate location for press conferences, keeping university communications in the loop on what information is being released, sharing information regularly, being open and honest (be it good news or bad), never speculating, releasing only information that has been confirmed as accurate, and staying calm.
  • Review processes and procedures after any emergency incident on campus. The goal of an after-action review is to learn what worked, what didn’t and what should be done differently in the future.

Hear more from Florida State and other universities on how they have prepared for and responded to violence on campus in the March 7 virtual workshop “Keeping Campuses Safe: A New Normal.”

For resources to help you plan and prepare for an emergency situation on campus, see the Crisis Management toolkit in CUPA-HR’s Knowledge Center.

Related Readings: 
Addressing Distress Before It Becomes Disaster: How HR at One University Is Driving a Threat Prevention and Assessment Program for Staff and Faculty

Higher Ed Responds to Growing Mental Health Needs by Adding More Counselors on Campus

That Could Never Happen Here: Compliance and Safety Imperatives for Today’s College Campus