The Department of Homeland Security demonstrates the options for people to consider when caught in an active shooter situation, and also how to assist authorities once law enforcement enters the scene. (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

Okay. Two mass shootings in one day.

Also, two last Friday and one Sunday.

That makes 355 mass shootings this year in the United States. An average of 1.06 per day. In all but five states. In towns called Rock Hill, Holly Hill and Pine Hills. In cities called Baltimore, Fort Worth and Colorado Springs. By white shooters, by black shooters, by shooters purporting to be Christians or Muslims. At a music festival. At a gas station. At a block party. At a child’s birthday party. Now, on Wednesday, at an office holiday party.

It’s only a matter of time, then.

What to do in the interim?

Buy a gun? I’d be too nervous to carry it everywhere, all the time.

Write my congressman? That’s rich.

What, then?

Find an online course on how to respond to an active shooter in the workplace.

Google “active shooter workplace training.”

Click on a course called “Active Shooter: What You Can Do,” from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.

Tuition: $0. Time: 45 minutes.

It begins with a video.

“Active-shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly,” a narrator intones. “Are you prepared?”

No, I am not. That is why I am taking this course.

“Losing a loved one to a random act of violence is unthinkable,” the narrator says. “Unfortunately, recent events serve to remind us we are not immune to these types of tragedies. As we know, an active-shooter event can occur at any time or any place.”


The video shows images of Gabby Giffords, Columbine, Virginia Tech. The accompanying music is heavy on strings and sounds like the score to a Merchant Ivory film about a mass stabbing in Victorian England.

Because shooter situations are usually over within minutes, the narrator says, you must be prepared to handle the situation until law enforcement arrives.

That means you do one of three things:

1. RUN.

2. HIDE.


If you’re going to run, the training says, keep your hands up in case you meet law enforcement officers. If you’re going to hide, pick a place “out of the active shooter’s view.” (Isn’t this the definition of hiding?) The third option is a last resort, says the narrator, who recommends yelling at the shooter. Also, throwing things at the shooter.

From the FEMA pamphlet on active-shooter situations.

From the FEMA pamphlet on active-shooter situations.

I look at objects within my reach.

A nickel, a dime, a napkin, Post-it notes, an umbrella (sword?), a plastic waste bin (helmet?), a metal water bottle (which could bludgeon, but only at close range).

“Commit to your actions,” the training says. A supplemental pamphlet depicts a middle manager raising his briefcase against an unseen assailant who no doubt has an automatic weapon.

The last part of the training is how to learn from an active-shooter experience, so that the next active-shooter experience is less bloody.

“Type a list of post-event actions you should take that day and in the coming weeks,” the training commands. In the white space provided, I type:

Cry, go into shock, take a bunch of sick leave, experience night terrors, return to work as a shadow of former self.

I click “submit.”

The training responds with alternatives, including “Develop an after-action report, identifying successes and failures of the incident.”

Mass shootings, in the parlance of Human Resources.

Part of work. Part of life.

America, 2015.

The training ends with a link to a printable active-shooter pocket guide. I print. I tack it onto my cubicle wall. RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.

I sit, and I wait.

Read more:

How ‘active shooter’ became a depressing part of our vocabulary

The San Bernardino suspects: A couple with a baby

The simple reason why the shootings won’t stop