Active Shooter Protocol

Miles King, News Editor

Mass shootings have unfortunately become a regular part of American life. With the recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, how should students across campuses nationwide react in an active shooter situation?

According to a report by The Washington Post, there have been 150 mass shootings in the United States since Aug. 1 1966. A mass shooting is designated when four or more individuals are killed. The Post specifies that the total does not include gang related incidents, robberies gone wrong or incidents occurring in private homes.

This year, two notable mass shootings have already occurred, most recently being the hateful acts that transpired on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida. 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took 17 lives and injured 15 others. Since 1966, 1,077 individuals have been killed in tragedies similar to this, according to The Post.

Those convicted of mass murder are often associated with or recognized as having mental health issues. Identifying warning signs such as violent content written in journals or on social media is how these tragedies can be prevented, according to Darren Higashiyama, operations commander for the Kittitas County Sheriff.

“You just don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head,” Higashiyama said.

When a threat is reported, law enforcement conducts an assessment in which they meet with the school’s principal, vice principal and a teacher who is familiar with the student. Law enforcement and mental health professionals want to intervene before anything happens, Higashiyama said.

What if a threat is undetected? What if the unimaginable occurs and students are caught in an active shooter situation?

Both the Kittitas County Sheriff and CWU Police have adopted the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) method of run-hide-fight.



Higashiyama urges finding cover and concealment, separating yourself from the shooter and running as far away as possible.

“Get on a bus and go to Spokane,” Higashiyama said in an over exaggerated fashion, stressing the importance of getting far away from the situation.

CWU Police Lieutenant Marc McPherson echoed Higashiyama’s ideas, but also said that students should take anyone they can with them. The ultimate goal is personal safety first, then help others, McPherson added.  



Students should build barricades and try to make it impossible for a threat to reach them in the absence of a clear escape route, according to McPherson. Students should silence their cell phones and hide in an area in which they are not visible to the shooter, according to the DHS.



Students should only fight as a last resort, McPherson said. He does not recommend any specific take-down techniques, but to just use whatever is available. The DHS advises throwing objects and using physical aggression when engaging the shooter.

“We’re dealing with mental health issues here,” Higashiyama said. “You can’t bargain with these people. You can’t plead.”

Run-hide-fight is the standard recommended action for anyone involved in an active shooter situation. According to Higashiyama, students should not run at law enforcement at the scene for help. Law enforcement must decide in an instant if a person running toward them is a threat or an innocent person. This could result in innocent people coming to harm.  

Students also should not engage a shooter if they have an opportunity to flee the situation, Mcpherson said.

“The best help you can do is to be the one to report it,” McPherson added.

Law enforcement response time from the county or Ellensburg police departments vary, according to Higashiyama. He noted that it takes some time for officers on foot to reach the SURC, if there were an active shooter situation in the building.

Campus police have a much faster response time. According to McPherson, CWU Police can reach the SURC from the far corners of campus in two to three minutes. They also can call on agency assists, which alerts other law enforcement agencies who are close to the situation.

Once law enforcement arrives to a reported active shooter situation, the protocol is simple: “get in and stop the threat,” McPherson said.

Previous protocol called in SWAT for such situations, or even called for three or four officers to be present before neutralizing the threat. Now, the first deputy to arrive on scene takes care of the threat, Higashiyama said.

After the threat is stopped, the focus shifts to any victims requiring medical attention, then to any immediate safety concerns such as damaged structures.

Faculty and staff must keep up on their safety training. They are required to complete emergency preparedness courses every two years, according to CWU Police Department Assistant Chief Eric Twaites.

McPherson said using Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) techniques could subdue an active shooter if students are forced to fight for their lives. RAD is offered as P.E. credit on campus. According to McPherson, the class is always waitlisted; however, the class is offered in the community two to five times per year, Twaites said.

The Kittitas County Sheriff recently completed an active shooter exercise in the county courthouse on March 30. The next training event is scheduled for June in Thorp. That exercise, the Stop the Bleed campaign, will focus on applying pressure to wounds and getting those injured to trauma care, Higashiyama said.