What to Do in Case of a Shooting Like the Newtown School Massacre

Security expert provides tips on getting through an 'active shooter' attack.

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Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

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A reverse 911 dialing system can also help disseminate information, Warren says.

Ideally, a school system would set up four separate established locations. This would allow a place for a command center, media outlets, a safe zone for children and meeting place for parents. Having multiple locations would also reduce the chance of a secondary attack if the shooter were familiar with the plan.

"If we'd done our job, we would have educated parents on community response," says Warren of how communities can best prepare. He also stresses that it must be up to the community as a whole to prepare, to ensure a seamless understanding between law enforcement, schools, parents and others who might be involved in a tragedy like this.

"It has to be a community response—community preparation," he says. "It's not if it happens here, it's when it happens here."

Do not take instructions from anyone except proven law enforcement, or someone you know

Never unlock a door for anyone unless you are sure that person is actually a law enforcement officer, or you hear someone you know well enough to tell if they are under duress.

When directing groups of people, particularly students, make sure their hands are exposed, ideally over their heads, Warren says. This makes it more difficult for a shooter to blend in with the crowd.

Act on any clues than an attack might happen

The shooters involved in Columbine and Aurora could have been prevented, either by parents or friends who acted on threats of bringing a gun into the school, or passersby in the parking lot who questioned the man entering the theater's side door.

Call the police, Warren suggests, and have them verify whether there is a threat.

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  • Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at pshinkman@usnews.com.