How restaurants should deal with the threat of an active shooter

An organization of security and loss-prevention experts offers recommendations for how to better protect customers, employees and the business.
active shooter response
Photograph: Shutterstock

After the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, we asked the Restaurant Loss Prevention & Security Association (RLPSA) what restaurants can do to better protect customers, employees and the business from an active shooter. The group, an organization of security and loss-prevention experts, provided these recommendations from its members.

Restaurant Business: Is it advisable to train a staff for the unlikely situation of having an active shooter on the premises? In other words, are the potential benefits worth potentially scaring employees?

RLPSA: Yes, the benefits far outweigh the potential of scaring employees. Although any active shooter situation will be scary, preparing restaurant employees with survival tactics and event expectations can reduce anxiety and increase situational awareness. We liken this to the safety briefing we all receive prior to every flight we take. This safety briefing is not intended to scare people or warn them of an impending disaster. It is simply providing them with information and procedures that could increase their chances of surviving a life-threatening event. 

RB: What should the staff do to protect customers and themselves in the event someone does start shooting on the premises?

RLPSA: Every restaurant has a different way to approach this issue. Some don’t provide any training at all, and others provide extensive training. 

However, a typical in-mall restaurant may provide this directive:

“If the shooter is in the restaurant, follow the Run, Hide, Fight method. If the shooter is in the mall but not in the restaurant, lock down the restaurant, move guests and staff to the interior of the restaurant, then wait for police direction.”

Nonmall restaurants may provide a variation of some or all of the following:

  • Evacuate, shelter and protect yourself in the event of an active shooter.
  • Determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life.
  • Be aware of your environment and surroundings.
  • Know your nearest and quickest exit to safety.
  • Determine areas or rooms that could provide you with better protection.
  • Find areas that you could barricade yourself when no alternatives exist.
  • As your last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the shooter. If you are at close range, and are unable to flee, your chance of survival may be much higher if you try to incapacitate the attacker.  

RB: Is dealing with a potential shooter—someone armed but uninterested in taking money—different from dealing with an armed robber? In other words, are there dynamics peculiar to that situation?

RLPSA: Yes, these situations are drastically different. With an armed robber, the focus of the person is to get the money and leave, so cooperation is the best way to handle this. The robber only wants money, not to take a life or hurt anyone. 

With an active shooter, the focus of the person is to take as many lives as possible. That is why fleeing, hiding or fighting are the only options for saving lives. 

RB: What are the obligations of the proprietor in terms of signage, means of egress and training?

RLPSA: Fire codes largely define the exit and signage obligations of all businesses. Proprietors must follow local, state and federal codes regarding unlocked and unblocked egress; lighted exit signs showing the way out of a building, even in a power outage; and emergency lighting.  

Training on those are required during every employee’s onboarding process. Reiterating the location of exits during an active shooter training program is an easy step because it’s more of a refresher. Again, restaurants are obligated to cover that information as per their fire codes.

RB: If a shooting should occur, what should the establishment do?

RLPSA: The establishment may not have much choice on actions immediately following a shooting incident. Emergency responders will take control of the scene until an investigation is done. The establishment should be prepared for short-term closure, to cooperate with law enforcement authorities throughout the investigation, and to bring in resources as needed—counseling, PR support, legal assistance, etc.

RB: Are there things an establishment can do to lessen its chances of becoming the site of a multiple shooting?

RLPSA: There are crime reduction and prevention measures that may be taken every day, such as handling cash and assets safely, installing cameras, establishing strict access control measures, maintaining good lighting, etc. However, since we are public businesses, it’s almost impossible to prevent a gunman from entering our business or having an open environment. Of course, our teams are trained to call 911 to report suspicious people or activities, so teaching employees to look for and report suspicious activities could prevent an incident from occurring. 

It's also important to keep in mind that some active shooters have a history with the places they attack, meaning they may have been a former employee or are the disgruntled spouse or acquaintance of a current employee. In those cases, not too much can be done to prevent the incident unless management is aware of the threat beforehand.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Restaurants bring the industry's concerns to Congress

Neary 600 operators made their case to lawmakers as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.


Podcast transcript: Virtual Dining Brands co-founder Robbie Earl

A Deeper Dive: What is the future of digital-only concepts? Earl discusses their work to ensure quality and why focusing on restaurant delivery works.


In the fast-casual sector, Chipotle laps Panera Bread

The Bottom Line: The two fast-casual restaurant pioneers have diverged over the past five years, as the burrito chain has thrived while Panera hit a wall. Here's why.


More from our partners