Reacting to an Active Assailant

The possibility of an active assailant on campus is extremely remote but there are things you should consider for your personal safety.


This video is a dramatization with instructions on what to do in a situation where there is an active assailant on campus. It was produced by Alberta’s post-secondary schools, in consultation with police officers. If you do not want to watch this video, there is alternatively a PowerPoint presentation available.


Active Assailant Defined

An active assailant is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area – in most cases, active assailants use firearms and there is no apparent pattern or method to how they choose their victims. Active assailant situations evolve quickly and there is no way to anticipate their course. Typically, the immediate deployment of police is needed to stop the attack and mitigate harm. These situations can be over within ten to fifteen minutes. For this reason, it is important that you are prepared to act quickly to protect yourself.


Run, Hide, Fight

Experts recommend three essential courses of action to help you avoid harm in an active assailant situation. These are the methods demonstrated in the video.

Run: Getting out is by far the best option if you believe you can escape safely. This is why it is a good idea to make mental notes of means of escape wherever you may be on campus. If you hear something that could be gunshots, don’t wait – get out.

Hide: Hide if you don’t know exactly where the attack is happening or it’s too late to escape safely. Get behind a lockable door if you can. Barricade the door, improvise with any object you can to prevent someone from entering. Once you are hidden, silence your phone, turn off the lights and stay quiet. If your spot is secure, be prepared to remain there until the police come to you with the all clear.

Fight: Fighting is your absolute last resort. You would only confront an active assailant if you somehow became trapped in a space with no escape. Active assailants typically don’t respond to reason so you must assume they intend to harm you. Find an object you can use to strike the active assailant with, be as aggressive as you can – do anything you can to stop them. You will need to decide if you can do this. Remember, it is your decision.


You Can Prepare Yourself

You can make a difference simply by imagining various scenarios playing out in the places you take classes, study, or work. Where are the exits? Do the doors lock? What would make a good barricade? What would make a good weapon? Ask yourself, “what if…?” This kind of thinking is helpful in preparing for all kinds of emergencies, wherever you may go.


About the Police

You might be surprised by the actions of the police in an active assailant situation. First, they may not have time to help you when they first arrive, as their top priority will be to find and stop the assailant. Second, the police might not know exactly what the active assailant looks like, so they have to consider you as a possible threat. For that reason, if you encounter police, don’t run toward them. Remain calm. Keep your hands visible. Follow instructions.


Identifying a Person at Risk

There is no way to accurately predict who is on the way to becoming an active assailant, but there are behaviours that can indicate someone is in trouble. Be aware of the signs.

Behavioural changes: angry outbursts, agitation, poor hygiene, visible weight change, intimidation and bullying, altercations with others, intoxication or substance abuse, uttering hostile or offensive remarks, strange or disturbing behaviour.

Performance: repeated absences, missed deadlines, significant drop in performance, inappropriate or incoherent writing, frequently interrupting, disruptive behaviour.

Social/Emotional: significant problems interacting with others, isolated or withdrawn, extreme or prolonged sadness, emotional outbursts, devoid of any emotions, erratic mood swings, excessive fatigue.


Reporting a Concern

If someone is committing violence, or about to commit violence at the university, call 911. If you are worried about something you observe or if you have a worried feeling about someone but aren’t sure what to do, contact Campus Security at 403.220.5333. They can answer questions and guide you.


There are three reasons for bringing this information to you:

  1. College and university emergency planners believe this material could save lives, whether on a campus or anywhere else people may travel.
  2. Emergency planners are frequently asked for this information and we are responding to that request. People with this information often report that it brings a sense of empowerment and peace of mind.
  3. Finally, the information can be generalized. You can employ the thought process to prepare for any kind of emergency. This information encourages you to ask yourself that powerful “what if...” question.

Active assailant events happen very fast. They evolve quickly and are typically over in a matter of minutes. The police will come, but you need to think about those few minutes before they arrive, and you should have an idea of what to do when they do arrive.

Keep in mind this is the last resort. Active assailants almost always continue until something happens to stop them. If you are trapped with nowhere to go, it might be your only choice. Nobody can force you to take this step, but you should at least be aware it is an option. What you do in such a situation is your own decision.

This video was made with the support and input from the Edmonton Police Service and is endorsed by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. By working directly with police, both the police and the public know what to expect from the other in such a situation.

No, it’s not practical to have a detailed plan for every situation. You can take a moment in various locations to ask, “what if...?” It will prompt you to make a mental note of exits and possible hiding places. That small amount of forethought could make the critical difference in how you react to a real emergency.

It is impossible to predict how anyone will react in such an extreme event. Any one of us is capable of becoming a leader with the presence of mind to remember what to do and to take action. It might be an instructor, a member of administration, a member of support staff, or a student. With this education, we are all equally prepared to make informed decisions for ourselves.

The sound of gunfire can vary a lot. Sometimes it can sound like a firecracker. Sometimes it’s more like a pop or a loud bang. Gunshots sound different inside and outside. It probably won’t sound like you expect it to sound. The sound of gunfire on your campus, however, will be out of the ordinary. Listen and look for other clues and if there’s any doubt in your mind, treat the situation as though it is gunfire.

You are not expected to be a hero. You must do what is right for you. If you are confident you can help others without putting yourself in unnecessary danger, you may choose to do so.

It is okay to be upset. It can be helpful to talk to someone about your response. Most people find it helpful to talk with friends or colleagues. If the subject matter is especially distressing to you, there are resources available, see below for more information.


Linda Hastie, the manager of nursing at the Students Union Wellness Centre and supervisor of the Student Medical Response team, standing outside of the Wellness Centre.

Wellness Centre

MacEwan Student Centre Room 370 

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

403.210.9355 | sar@ucalgary.ca

Learn more

Person sitting at a desk, looking at computer.

24/7 Support

Distress Centre Calgary

403.266.4357


City of Calgary 

Dial 211 to access a wide range of services

A family of three

Your Employee and Family Assistance Plan

When you or someone you care about needs support, help is available through the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) from Homewood Health. Whether you need advice, counselling or treatment, the EFAP can lend a hand. UCalgary faculty and staff can access this valuable resource 24 hours a day at no cost. 

Log in or sign up to get assistance today. 

Connect to resources

A phone displaying the UC Emergency Mobile App

Download UC Emergency Mobile

UC Emergency Mobile delivers alerts and updates that can save lives and prevent injury. The app is one part of the university's emergency management plan and a big part of creating a safe and healthy living and learning environment for everyone on campus.

Learn more