Exploring the “Run, Hide, Fight” Debate

In a previous blog, I explored the ways in which workplaces, educational institutions, and similar establishments can properly train their staff to handle violent threats. In this regard, many organizations have utilized free Department of Homeland Security resources and adopted the “run, hide, fight” approach; which is rooted in both quick-thinking defensive measures and the active disruption of crises that have already started. This, in turn, has led to a general uptick in active shooter training programs rooted in this approach.

However, despite its best intentions, the “run, hide, fight” approach has become a somewhat divisive topic in the security and public safety communities. Some find the method to be ineffective in wake of several recent violent tragedies, such as the Las Vegas concert shooting in 2017 and the 2018 attack on a Pittsburgh Synagogue; they suggest that the approach does not “address the reality of an actual active shooter attack.” Others feel that change is unnecessary, and that we should instead focus on a number of other issues preventing it from adequately working.

The proposed problems

A big issue with using the Run, Hide, Fight model as a “fix-all” to address active shooter incidents is that it is a response-based approach. This is a common issue with DHS-led programs since the cabinet-level departments creation after 9/11; as it fostered effective, widespread programs based on incident command, response and emergency management; but relied on agencies like the FBI and US Secret Service to provide insight on prevention and threat identification. While it is extremely important to train employees on what to do if and when they are faced with a potential attack; equal resources are better spent on security, corporate policy and threat assessment to try to avert attacks before they occur.  

Primarily, the current “run, hide, fight” model has been blamed for fostering a victim or “herd” mentality with regards to active shooter evacuation. Critics commonly cite the first two parts of the three-part process as detrimental actions that reinforce a non-aggressive mindset, leaving average individuals to fight back against a prepared, dangerously armed individual when conditions may demand such action. Furthermore, the model is described by some as ignorant to the ways the human mind actually functions in flashbulb moments of crisis — all while instilling a linear thought path that forgoes improvisation and innovation, two factors that could quickly become key for one’s survival. In contrast, military, security and law enforcement professionals train heavily to build “muscle memory” to react to life-or-death threats. The training offered in Run, Hide, Fight often spans from a 10-minute video to a few hours in a classroom. This simply is not enough to mentally prepare the average citizen to respond to a traumatic event.

The proposed solutions

Each workplace is different; and presents a different staff profile, threat matrix, and policy. Therefore it is imperative that the training, assessment and planning for this threat be tailored specifically for each workplace by a certified security professional – and not be instituted on an ad-hoc basis by human resources or facilities professionals in a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Recent standard-of-care litigation is placing scrutiny on workplace security and emergency management plans; which places a strong cost-vs-benefit argument on the budgeting of professional security planning and assessment.

Contrary to the full “run, hide, fight” model, some believe the “fight” aspect of the approach should instead be the first option — though, in the context of educational institutions, this angle is sometimes subdivided and focused primarily on certain age groups (encouraging it amongst college students, but not K-12 students, for instance). Conversely, critics of the “fight first” mentality argue that violent attackers are, in many cases, not concerned about their own physical wellbeing, and are instead focused solely on harming those around them; this potentially creates a dangerous scenario for those fighting back, as it pits someone with nothing to lose against someone with everything to lose.

Regardless of where the “run, hide, fight” debate goes in 2019, I believe that most workplaces can mitigate the risk of violent threats by simply investing more in proper security responsibility; this means employing a blend of staff training, stakeholder education, and a continuous desire to adapt and learn about changing security trends. If we can cut off the problem at its root, we will be able to dedicate more time to fortification of our workplaces and less time debating how to effectively survive attacks that have already started.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP is a nationally-recognized subject matter expert in public safety and investigations. He is the Principal Consultant for Mannes & Associates and has served on academic advisory boards for Pierce College and St. John’s University; as well as serving for six years on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. He is the former Director, Office of Investigations for the American Board of Internal Medicine and served in both federal and municipal law enforcement.