Security experts say 'run, hide, fight' tactic in active shootings may be outdated


You’ve probably heard these three words – run, hide, fight.

Those tactics from the FBI, echoed to law enforcement agencies across the country and used to teach civilians about how to react if confronted by an active shooter, instruct people to evacuate the area, find a place to hide, or take action against the shooter.

A mass shooting, defined as having injured or killed four or more people, occurred at least 47 times in the US in just the first four weeks of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Deadly shootings have targeted grocery stores, apartment buildings, schools, dance halls, houses of worship and other seemingly safe spaces – and more and more people are attempting to fight their assailants. The trend that has some security experts across the country saying it may be time to reevaluate those guiding principles.

“The time is now to rethink how we prioritize what we’re telling people who might find themselves in a mass shooting,” said CNN National Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem.

An FBI training video that simulates customers caught in an active shooting at a bar instructs people to “run, hide, and fight” to improve your chances of survival.

The video reminds civilians to always be aware of alternate exits, keep hands empty and visible when exiting a building, and lock and barricade a door if hiding is the best option. People should only fight as a last resort and work with others to improvise weapons and coordinate an ambush, the video says.

“By employing the run, hide, and fight tactics, as well as knowing the basics of rendering first aid to others, they are prepared, empowered, and able to survive the attack,” the FBI said.

The tactic is also currently endorsed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has published similar guidance, and the protocol has been amplified across police departments, university campuses, workplaces, and other community spaces across the country.

There have been instances where confronting the gunman has proven to be the better course of action. Brandon Tsay, 26, disarmed a shooting suspect near Monterey Park, California, at a second dance studio during Lunar New Year celebrations earlier this month.

Last November, Army veteran Richard Fierro was one of two clubgoers who took down a suspected gunman at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In 2018, James Shaw, Jr. ended a deadly shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House by ambushing the shooting suspect before more lives were lost.

The “run, hide, fight” guidance has been used for decades, but Kayyem, who also served as a former security official under the Obama administration and now is the faculty chair of the homeland-security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said the increased frequency of shootings and more advanced weaponry may necessitate amended guidance.

“Things have changed. There’s more mass shootings, the weaponry is faster, it’s more deadly, a lot of damage can be done in a little period of time. And as we’ve seen in some cases, we can’t totally depend on law enforcement,” Kayyem said.

Kayyem, who previously wrote an Op-Ed for the Atlantic on the topic, now says engaging the gunman may prove to be more effective than a “last resort” option.

“With killers having the capacity to end the lives of so many people so fast, neither running nor hiding may be the best first option. It is our reality. I don’t love it; I don’t even like it,” Kayyem wrote in November.

The former assistant secretary for homeland security told CNN she’s “not saying everyone has it in them to engage a gunman, but [she’s] not sure that that should be the last option,” Kayyem said. “What we’ve seen in a lot of these active shooter cases now is that engagement with the shooter – trying to distract him, trying to demobilize him, trying to prevent him from reloading his gun – all of those things can help in minimizing the harm.”

For the past eight years in Franklin County, Ohio, authorities have adopted a different way of teaching the community how to respond to an active shooter situation: “avoid, deny, defense.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Fetherolf said the biggest difference between their alternate protocol and “run, hide, fight” is the shifting away from the “hide” tactic. Instead, the guidance advises doing what you can to deny the shooter access to you – such as keeping your distance and creating barriers – rather than hiding and potentially waiting for a gunman to find you.

“When we talk about this hide, that’s the big part that is different,” Fetherolf said. “These people go around looking for targets … when you have a hero step up, it saves all of those targets from being potential victims.”

Despite the evolving guidance, experts recognize that crafting guidance for active shootings is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and fighting back hasn’t always worked.

In 2019, a North Carolina college student charged a gunman and died. A week later, a Colorado high school student met the same fate.

Even still, security experts believe training civilians is an important part of keeping communities safe, especially in an era where mass shootings have affected nearly every facet of American life.

“Fifty percent of active shooter events end before law enforcement get there and what that statistic tells us as law enforcement is, it doesn’t even matter how much we train for these active events, but it matters a lot on how we train our civilians and how civilians respond because they’re always there,” Fetherolf said.

“The more we talk about it, the more we understand about what tactics of engagement do work, the more we can empower people to help and protect themselves,” Kayyem said.