In today’s world, where safety and security are at the forefront of public consciousness, malls stand as not just centers of commerce but community hubs that attract diverse people every day.

With this footfall comes the responsibility of ensuring safety for shoppers, employees, and visitors alike. Among the various threats that malls must be prepared for, the possibility of an active shooter situation is one that requires special attention and preparedness. 

Active shooter incidents in public spaces have shown the critical need for effective response strategies. In malls, where crowds are large and layouts complex, managing such an emergency requires meticulous planning and coordination. This is where active shooter tabletop exercises come into play. These exercises simulate an active shooter scenario, allowing mall management, security personnel, and other stakeholders to test and refine their response strategies in a controlled environment. 

The purpose of these exercises is multifold. Firstly, they help in identifying strengths and weaknesses in existing emergency response plans. Secondly, they foster a better understanding of roles and responsibilities among various personnel and external agencies such as local law enforcement and emergency medical services. Thirdly, these exercises provide an opportunity for training and skill enhancement in crisis management and decision-making under pressure. 

Active shooter tabletop exercises are not about creating fear or paranoia. Rather, they are about empowerment, preparedness, and building confidence among those who are responsible for public safety. By simulating real-life situations, these exercises provide invaluable insights and learning opportunities, ensuring that if the unthinkable were to happen, those in charge are as prepared as possible to handle the situation effectively and minimize harm. 

In a world where threats are unpredictable, the value of being prepared cannot be overstated. For malls, this preparation involves understanding the specific challenges they face and adopting tailored strategies to address them. Active shooter tabletop exercises are an essential tool in this preparation, enabling malls to be not just places of commerce and leisure, but safe environments where the public can feel secure. 

Conducting Active Shooter Tabletop Exercises 

Planning and Preparation: 

The first step in conducting an active shooter tabletop exercise is meticulous planning. It involves understanding the layout of the mall, potential entry and exit points, and identifying areas that could serve as safe havens or danger zones. Utilizing resources such as PreparedEx’s Tabletop Exercises can offer a structured approach to planning these exercises. 

Scenario Development: 

Develop scenarios that are realistic and challenging. These could include a lone gunman entering the mall, a hostage situation, or a coordinated attack. The aim is to cover a range of possibilities to ensure comprehensive preparedness.  

Execution of the Exercise: 

During the exercise, present the scenario to the participants without prior information. This approach tests their instinctive reactions and decision-making abilities. Observers should note communication effectiveness, decision-making processes, and how well participants adhere to emergency protocols. 

Debrief and Feedback: 

Post-exercise, conduct a thorough debriefing session. Discuss what strategies worked, what didn’t, and how responses can be improved. Constructive feedback is crucial for learning and refining emergency response plans. 

Related: An Interview with Hector Delgado: Preparing for Active Shooter or Other Violent Intruder Crises

Types of Active Assailant Scenarios for Malls 

Malls present unique challenges due to their size, layout, and the volume of people present at any given time. Scenarios for tabletop exercises should consider these factors. Examples include: 

A Lone Assailant: A scenario where a single shooter enters the mall. This situation tests the mall’s immediate lockdown procedures and communication with law enforcement. 

Multiple Assailants: More complex, involving coordination among security teams and emergency services. 

Hostage Situation: This scenario tests negotiation skills and the ability to manage a situation without escalating it further. 

Key Elements to Include in Mall Tabletop Exercises 

1. Communication Plans: 

Ensure that the exercise tests the communication chain, from mall security to local law enforcement and emergency services. This includes testing communication equipment and backup systems. 

2. Evacuation and Lockdown Procedures: 

Include scenarios that require either evacuation or lockdown. This tests the effectiveness of these procedures and the ability to adapt them to different situations. 

3. Interagency Coordination: 

Incorporate roles for local law enforcement and emergency services. This promotes understanding and cooperation between different agencies during a crisis. 

Involving Mall Personnel in Tabletop Exercises 

1. Security Team Involvement: 

The security team is the first line of defense in an active shooter situation. Their involvement in tabletop exercises is crucial for testing response times, understanding of protocols, and coordination with external agencies. 

2. Mall Management: 

Mall management plays a critical role in decision-making during a crisis. Their participation helps in understanding the broader implications of any emergency, including business continuity and public relations. 

3. Retailers and Staff: 

Including retailers and their staff in these exercises is vital. They need to know how to react, where to guide customers, and how to communicate with security during an emergency. 

4. Emergency Response Teams: 

Local law enforcement and emergency medical teams should be part of the exercises. Their expertise and feedback can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the mall’s emergency response plan. 

Detailed Steps for Conducting an Active Shooter Tabletop Exercise 

Step 1: Define Objectives: 

Start by defining clear objectives for the exercise. Objectives may include testing communication systems, response times, or inter-agency coordination. 

Step 2: Develop the Scenario: 

Craft a scenario that is realistic and relevant to the mall environment. Utilize resources like PreparedEx’s FirstLook services for expert guidance in scenario development. 

Step 3: Involve Key Stakeholders: 

Ensure that all relevant parties, including mall security, management, retailers, and emergency responders, are involved in the exercise. 

Step 4: Conduct the Exercise: 

Carry out the exercise as planned. Observers should monitor the proceedings and note areas of strength and those needing improvement. 

Step 5: Debrief: 

Conduct a thorough debriefing session after the exercise. Discuss outcomes, lessons learned, and areas for improvement. 

Related: Webinar Video Clip – Midnight Thunder: An Active Shooter Tabletop Exercise Walkthrough


Active shooter tabletop exercises are an essential component of emergency preparedness for malls. These exercises not only test and refine emergency response plans but also foster a culture of safety and readiness among all stakeholders. By involving a diverse group from mall personnel to emergency responders and utilizing resources like PreparedEx, malls can significantly enhance their ability to respond effectively to active shooter situations. 

Rob Burton
Rob Burton

Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.