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Run, hide, fight: Answering your questions about active shooting protocol

A police officer talks to a student on the scene.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A police officer talks to a student on the scene.

On Saturday March 16,  at 4:35 p.m., in the middle of a vigil on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus for the victims of the mass shooting in New Zealand, two police officers ran through the event, shouting for the students to move.

Watch below to see the moment the police ran through:

The crowd of almost 70 scattered — to the graduate library, to the undergraduate library, and to the academic building — where, for nearly 20 minutes, students believed there was threat of an active shooter in the campus's Mason Hall. However, it was revealed that the nearly 20 calls to the police were the result of popping balloons at another organization's event being mistaken for gun shots.

Inside the library, the television screens in the halls switched to the words: RUN, HIDE, FIGHT.

In the chaos, some asked what that message meant.

Run, Hide, Fight is a protocol created through a Department of Homeland Security grant as part of the Regional Catastrophic Planning Initiative. The University of Michigan Division of Public Safety & Security produced a video in 2017 explaining how to follow the protocol in the event of an active shooter situation. Note: The video contains a simulated active shooter situation. It may be uncomfortable for some to watch.

Active Attacker - Response and Prevention - University of Michigan - Award Winning

But what exactly does it mean to run, hide, fight? Here are the tips broken down:

run graphics
Credit Nisa Khan / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio


The first, and most important, suggestion.

  • Look for exits or areas that are easy to hide in.
  • Move away from the threat.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Encourage people to run with you, but do not wait for anyone.
  • Warn individuals from entering the area.
  • Keep your hands visible (for the benefit of the police).
  • Do not just follow the crowd— try to plan how you are continue to move away. Keep continuous movement (like a staircase might be a good idea, but the flow of people can get you stuck).
  • If you are in a staircase, walk on the edges for less sound.
  • If you need to break a window, aim for the corner of the window.
  • If you are on the second floor or lower, consider this as an exit. If higher, this can be fatal.

Hide graphic
Credit Nisa Khan / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio


If running is impossible, it is advised that you hide. Shooters often do not have a plan and may move on if they cannot enter a room immediately.

  • Secure the door.
  • Close blinds.
  • Barricade the room— with chairs, machines.
  • Make it hard to open the door. Like a tie to keep the knob shut or a door to prop it open.
  • Silence your phone.
  • Turn off the lights and be completely silent.
  • Do not hide in a group/huddle. Spread along the wall or hide in the room to make it difficult for the shooter to identify where people are.
  • Get behind a slab of wood (a desk) or anything else thick.
  • Curl your body to make you appear small.
  • Do not just wait— plan how you can immediately get out.
  • Try to text or use social media to alert the police.
  • Let people know, as informative as possible, where the shooter is. This can be through text, intercom, etc.

Fight graphic
Credit Nisa Khan / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio


This is the last resort and is recommended only if your life is in immediate danger.

  • Throw items at the shooter. This creates chaos and it disorienting to the shooter.
  • Yell loudly.
  • Be aggressive and use anything in your reach as a weapon.
  • Strength in numbers, disarm the shooter. One can go for the legs, one for the weapon. A large group of people could possible take a single person down.
  • Get the weapon away— perhaps in a trashcan or in a drawer. DO NOT hold it for long, as the police might think you are the shooter.
  • If you must attack— and you shouldn’t— aim for eyes, heart, throat, or stomach.

When the officers arrive

Tell the officer:

  • Where the shooter is.
  • What they look like and how many there are.
  • What the weapon is.
  • How many people are hurt.
  • Keep your hands visible and empty.
  • Follow their instructions.
  • Stay calm— quick movement can be interpreted wrong.
  • For many officers, detaining the shooter is their priority. If injured, they will direct someone to you if they cannot assist you themselves. Asking for directions is also advised against. Just move towards the direction of the evacuation.
  • Take care of yourself first.
  • If someone is injured but in a safe area— and you are the only person in the area and first responders are not arriving yet— apply pressure to the wound and turn unconscious on their side. Keep them warm.

During Saturday's event, there were confusing and conflicting messages coming from sources other than the University or police. Many students were receiving and reacting to text messages and tweets. Melissa Overton, University of Michigan Division of Public Safety & Security’s Public Information Officer, advised against relying on messages from those outside of the situation due to the flow of misinformation.
“Only use official accounts such as DPSS or UMICH for the most accurate information,” she wrote in an email to Michigan Radio.

Many people also wondered on Twitter about the seemingly slow rollout of updates — of partiular concern was that there was no alarm, like an Amber Alert seen in missing children cases.

"Amber Alerts follow the Public Threat Alert System Act Plan (Public Act 235 of 2016)," Overton said. "We did not have a confirmed active threat or suspect (about the shooting), therefore we did not issue it through that system."

The biggest criticism of the Run, Hide, Fight campaign is that, in the moment, it can be difficult to think about what to do.

Matthew D. Sztajnkrycer, an emergency physician at the Mayo Clinic, said to a clinical publication that "No one can tell us how we should or will act under these circumstances...The best thing to do, really, is to empower everyone to do what they feel most comfortable doing, without fear of subsequent repercussions or recriminations."

Joseph LeDoux, a professor of science at New York University, wrote in The New York Times that freezing is just a natural, involuntary response for many. Freezing is a built-in impulse, controlled by the brain's circuits like the amygdala. It is automatically set into motion by outside threats.

"By contrast, the kinds of intentional actions implied by 'run, hide, fight' require newer circuits in the neocortex," he writes. "Contemporary science has refined the old 'fight or flight' concept — the idea that those are the two hard-wired options when in mortal danger — to the updated 'freeze, flee, fight.'"

LeDoux suggests that a consistent discussion — through social media and word of mouth — would help make it a cultural response to run when it comes to an activity dangerous situation.

But again, he adds, “freezing will occur no matter what. It’s just a matter of how long it will last.”

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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