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Active Shooter Scenarios Part 3: The Police Response and Managing Your Stress Response

2018 June 7
by Bethany Wilson

WARNING: Some of the information to follow is graphic and might be upsetting. This information is being presented in a very direct way to help adequately prepare you for an Active Shooter situation.

In previous blog posts, we have provided suggestions on how you can take a proactive approach to emergency planning and detailed the actions you should take during each element of the Department of Homeland Security’s RUN, HIDE, FIGHT approach to handling an Active Shooter incident. In this final post, information will be provided on what the police response to an Active Shooter situation might look like and what physiological responses you might encounter should you find yourself involved in an Active Shooter situation.

The Police Response

Most police departments have taken measures to train police officers on specific tactics to follow when faced with an Active Shooter scenario. Should you find yourself involved in such an incident, a good understanding of what to expect from police responding to the incident is valuable.

When police arrive on scene,

  • They will form a Contact Team before entering a building.
  • A Contact Team is often a team of four officers who will enter the building together.
  • The first officer will take the point (front/lead) position.
  • The second and third officers will cover the left and right positions (wings).
  • The fourth officer will cover the rear and keep in contact with the command post by relaying team position and location of any injured.
  • These positions may change as the team moves through a building and encounters doors and other obstacles.
  • Flexibility and adaptability are crucial for a Contact Team.

The Contact Team may be comprised of officers from different police agencies and may be wearing many different uniforms. They could be plain-clothes officers, uniformed officers, or officers in heavy tactical gear. The objective of responding officers is to form a Contact Team as quickly as possible, get into the building and find the shooter(s). Once they do so, they are charged with eliminating that threat as quickly as possible.

If you encounter a Contact Team while exiting the building,

  • Keep your hands in plain view.
  • Do not shout at or grab onto any of the officers.
  • Run in the opposite direction as the Contact Team.
  • If you have information about the location of the shooter, let them know as you pass.
  • Do not stop to engage them in conversation or ask questions.

Remember, the responding officers are feeling the effects of this high stress situation too and are on high alert. Do your best to stay out of their way and follow their directions. They may yell things like “Show me your hands!” and point weapons at you. They may shove you out of the way of yell at you to “Get out! Run!”. Follow their directions without question.

The Stress Response

While engaging in emergency planning and scenario training, learning the steps of RUN, HIDE, FIGHT, and hearing what to expect from responding police officers are all proactive ways to prepare yourself to handle an Active Shooter situation, none of these can adequately prepare you for the physiological changes you will experience during a high stress situation.

The Stress Response or “Fight-or-Flight” Response begins in the brain. When the brain perceives a threat, the autonomic nervous system signals the adrenal gland to pump adrenaline into your bloodstream. This flood of hormones will result in several physiological changes that include:

  • Increased heart and breath rate
  • Tense muscles
  • Narrowed vision
  • Sweating
  • Sensitive hearing.

You may freeze in place, unable to move, or lose your vision entirely. Knowing that your will have this response, recognizing it when it is happening, and taking steps to combat it are crucial.

First, you must slow your breathing so that each breath contains enough oxygen rich blood to feed your mind and slow your heart rate. First responders and military personnel are taught to engage in a technique called Combat Breathing to reduce stress and calm down. It helps you focus your mind and gain control of your body. Once you have regained control, you can take steps to extricate yourself from the situation using the RUN, HIDE, FIGHT response.

I hope that these posts have provided you with a broader understanding of an Active Shooter Situation and provided you with information you can use to prepare for and handle such a high stress scenario. If you have any questions or would like further information about any of the information provided in this post, please do not hesitate to contact Bethany Wilson, Youth Services Consultant, at or 512-463-4856.



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