Being Prepared for an Active Shooter

March 23, 2019


Note: This is the first of a three-part article.

By David Stern and Nicole Sorce

The scene was Hoover High School, in Des Moines, Iowa, on the evening of Sept. 7, 2108, but it could have been almost anywhere in America. A Friday night football game was underway as part of homecoming weekend. There would be a school dance the following night in the gym. And a tight battle on the field was keeping community members fully engaged—Hoover was beating Des Moines North High School 21-18 with 2:15 remaining on the clock.

In the next moment, however, that tranquil slice of American life came crashing down. A series of gunshots rang in the air, at least 10 in total. At first, people thought they were fireworks. Then reality and fear took hold, and everyone began running for the stadium’s one exit.

The terror and chaos remains vivid for Hoover Principal Sherry Poole. “The first thing I heard were the police officers on the radio shouting ‘Shots fired!’ and communicating with their dispatchers,” she recalls. “Then the football announcer came on the radio saying, ‘What am I supposed to say? Somebody give me directions!’

“I was trying to tell the announcer to hold people in place and not have them exit into an open air parking lot,” Poole continues. “But instead the announcer came over the speakers saying, ‘Evacuate the stadium.’ There is only have one way in and out of the stadium, so the front gate quickly became clogged with people trying to escape.”

The gunshots had come from a parking lot adjacent to the stadium and involved students and community members who had previously been in the stadium. Fortunately, police soon secured the scene and no one was injured. But Poole says hefty emotional damage had been done.

“It totally caught everybody off guard,” says Poole. “Nothing like this has ever happened in our metro area at any open air event. It left us thinking, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

It’s easy to believe that gun violence won’t happen in your community or that your security system can handle all emergencies. But as Hoover learned, no sporting event is immune. In today’s environment, athletic departments need new and better protocols to prepare for an active shooter at a sporting event.


Most school districts and college campuses have extensive emergency plans in place to keep students and staff safe during the school day. Buildings are secured and IDs are needed. Visitors do not wander through hallways as they once did.

But what about high school and college sporting events? If someone opens fire during a game, does everyone on hand know how to respond? Securing classrooms is very different than keeping thousands of fans in a boisterous atmosphere free of danger.

Drew Pittman, Associate Athletic Director for Event Management and Facilities at Baylor University, explains that providing security at athletic events presents some unique challenges when compared to school security. “It’s vastly different,” he says. “The numbers grow tremendously, while the knowledge you have of who is going to be there drops tremendously. For the most part, you know on any given day who is going to be in your school setting, whereas at an athletic event, anyone can show up. You can’t simply lock the doors of a football stadium.”

Dr. Lou Marciani, National Director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), cites the daunting statistic that an estimated 365 million people are spectators at scholastic events each year. “We’ve found that a majority of high schools do not put enough consideration into security for after-school activities,” he says. “Schools need to look at their emergency plans specifically for after-school events and find what they lack. Then they need to allocate the necessary resources, man-power, and budget to address security concerns.”

At both the high school and college levels, Marciani suggests forming a risk assessment team. This group should consist of administrators, faculty members, security personnel, school board members or trustees, and community partners, such as law enforcement. Once the group is in place, the different members of the team should discuss their various roles and responsibilities.

“It’s important to identify the threats in your particular situation,” says Marciani. “Then prioritize these hazards and set goals and objectives for how to deal with different situations.”

From there, training and practice are needed. “Exercising the plan is the number one thing that can often lack when it comes to putting these protocols in place,” says Marciani. “It’s great to have plans, but how do you practice them and make sure everybody is prepared and on the same page?”

For example, if you create an evacuation plan for a football game, bring in local law enforcement, emergency personnel, the fire department, and school officials to rehearse what to do. This will help everyone prepare and identify any lingering gaps in the plan that need to be addressed.

Rehearsing the protocols is also one of the main ways to make sure that everyone understands their responsibilities and how to communicate and work together. “You want to engage the multiple agencies in your community and bring the folks that are responsible for the event together,” Marciani says. “Use this as an opportunity to go through all of the ‘what-ifs’ and walk through every emergency scenario that could occur at that event.

“These exercises should be discussion-based, so that people can ask questions about their own roles and the roles of others, such as the fire department, or and law enforcement,” he continues. “Everyone should leave the meeting knowing what they have to do and what everyone else has to do.”

Because staff members in athletics tend to change frequently, it’s also essential to make rehearsing the plan an ongoing activity. “Personnel often lack training on emergency plans because there has been turnover,” says Marciani. “You need to think about how you’re going to continuously educate employees, and how you’re going to communicate the protocols to someone new.”

Next week: A look at two high schools are handling this issue in their operations.


David Stern and Nicole Sorce have served as Assistant Editors for Athletic Management.

Four-Pronged Plan

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) suggests that athletic administrators focus on the following areas when developing a security plan:

• The development and implementation of solid emergency operation plans (EOP).
• The incident command teams exercising the EOP plans.
• Training the staff to best implement the plans.
• Implementing the prescribed physical security measures to meet the goal in the plans.

Online courses and other training resources from the NCS4 can be found at:

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