How to Survive a Mass Shooting

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Ideas and Advice for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation

This article aims to provide ideas and suggestions on how to survive a mass shooting. I aim to aggregate the best advice from law enforcement, security experts, and people who have experienced and survived an active shooter.

I started writing this article on Sunday, November 18, 2018, the 322nd day of the year. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of that day, there had been 313 mass shootings in the United States in 2018. So, on average, there is one mass shooting every day in our country.

The United States has a long history of gun violence and is worse than any other developed country. For example, here are some of the latest statistics on gun violence in the U.S.:

  • In 2021, there were more gun deaths in the United States than in any other developed country.
  • Children and adolescents are disproportionately affected by gun violence. In 2021, there were 2,590 gun deaths among children and adolescents under 18.
  • In 2021, there were 48,830 gun deaths. This is a 23% increase from 2019.
  • Of the 48,830 gun deaths in 2021, 24,292 were suicides, 19,384 were homicides, and 4,154 were unintentional.
  • The gun homicide rate is 6.7 per 100,000 people. This is the highest rate of gun homicide among developed countries.
  • The gun suicide rate is 24.2 per 100,000 people. This is also the highest rate of gun suicide among developed countries.

What qualifies as a mass shooting?

The definition of a mass shooting varies but is usually defined as a shooting where three or four people are killed. However, such an event could occur where many people are shot, but nobody dies. I would still define that as a mass shooting. Depending on how many people are killed, some refer to these tragic events as mass killings.

No public place seems immune to the dangers of a mass shooting. The pointless and tragic events occur daily in schools, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs, malls, department stores, restaurants, and even yoga studios.


Be Prepared

Following is a list of things you can do to prepare for the possibility of a mass shooting. Given the increased frequency of occurrence, it is better to think strategically and have a plan before anything happens. That way, you don’t have to figure out what to do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation when every second counts. Every situation is different, but some universally accepted survival strategies exist.

Be Proactively Aware

Since mass shootings happen on average at least once a day, and no place is immune to the possibility, it is a logical assumption that it could happen to you, anywhere at any time. So, the first step in staying alive is to become more aware of your surroundings. Start paying closer attention to things when you’re out in public. Pay closer attention to buildings, such as entrances and exits, rooms, or things to hide behind. 

Observe the people in the crowd.

Look for anyone who looks suspicious. Look for anyone who is wearing a long trench coat that could be used to conceal a weapon or carry a large backpack. The more observant you are, the more quickly you can react. Experts also push the reminder, “If you see something, say something.” It is better to be wrong than to keep quiet and have something bad happen.

The National Threat Assessment Center, part of the Secret Service, examined 173 public attacks between January 2016 and December 2020. The study revealed certain similarities that are worth noting:

  • Almost all of the shooters were men
  • Almost all of them acted alone
  • Nearly 73% used a firearm in the attack.
  • Half of the shootings were motivated by perceived wrong in the workplace or at home (e.g., layoffs, firings, unfair treatment, bullying, etc.)
  • Nearly half had a history of domestic violence or contempt toward women. Many posted violent rants or shared offensive videos in online discussion forums or social media before the incident.

Some may consider this a form of profiling, which is true to a certain extent. However, it is profiling for a purpose – to keep people alive. I realize that not everyone who wears a trench coat is up to no good. It is just a simple fact that it is easy to conceal a weapon under a trench coat, so you need to pay close attention.

Identify Potential Exits Before Something Happens

When you enter a public place, you should first identify where the exits are located. Look for any way to get out of the room or building. In addition to doors, look for windows and even ceiling exits. Some students caught in the Virginia Tech mass shooting jumped from a second-floor window to escape safely.

This is fairly common advice for being prepared for an emergency. On every commercial airline flight, we’re reminded to identify where all of the exit doors are located.

Identify Objects or Barriers that can be used for cover

Next, look for cover from the shots. Look for brick walls, cement pillars, vending machines, steel or metal doors, or other solid structures. Note tables, chairs, and plants will not provide adequate cover.

Identify Potential Hiding Spots

If you can’t exit the room, hiding may be the next best option. After you identify all potential exits, look for potential hiding spots. Look for a room or a closet, especially one with a door that locks. Make a mental note of these hiding spots and map a path for how you’ll get there quickly.

Identify Potential Weapons for Self Defense

Next, identify potential weapons. Fighting may be the only option if you can’t run and you can’t hide. Look for anything that can be turned into a weapon, such as a mop or a broom handle, a pair of scissors, heavy objects that you can throw at the shooter, or even harmful chemicals that can be thrown or ignited. You should mentally note where these things are to grab them if needed.


What to Do if Your Hear Gunshots

If you hear gunfire or something that sounds like gunfire, it is time to take action immediately. Your preparations up to this point will prepare you to make decisions quickly. 

When the shooting starts, there is one crucial thing to remember: the shooter is there to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. In most cases, they don’t care what happens because they are prepared to die at the end of the massacre. Experts agree that chaos will erupt when a gunman enters a facility and starts firing. People will scream and scramble, and it will be a generally difficult time to make quick decisions. It is better to have a plan in mind.

Run – Hide – Fight

Most experts recommend that people in an active shooter situation remember this simple phrase, “run, hide, fight.” I’ll cover each of these in more detail in the following section.

Run – Get Away from the Shooter

To run away is a natural reaction to hearing gunshots. Live video footage of shootings often shows people scattering in every direction – running, jumping, diving out of the way to avoid getting shot or killed. If you can run, do so. Get out of the area as quickly as possible, but try to remain aware of what you’re doing. During some incidents, frightened people ran toward the person with the gun. There was so much chaos that nobody knew what was going on.

If you’re being shot at, keep low and run in an erratic pattern. This will make you a more difficult target. Try to duck and hide if possible, running from cover to cover. Try to make your way toward an exit.

Hide

If you cannot leave the building, your next best option is to hide. When looking for hiding places, look for a room with a locked door.

If you can’t make it to another room, look for objects to hide behind, such as a wall, cabinet, desk, etc. Look for anything that can shield your entire body and is likely bulletproof. Look for furniture, cabinets, and other structures that are made of heavy metal. If possible, avoid things that are made of aluminum, wood, and other light materials. This will help protect you from gunfire and help you hide from the shooter’s line of sight. Try to remain aware and be ready to move to another location if necessary.

Be as quiet as possible. Screaming and/or crying will only draw attention. If you’re able, silence your phone.

Once inside the room, barricade the door with everything you can find. Move the heaviest objects you can find before the door to prevent it from opening. On certain types of doors, you can tie a belt around the hinge at the top to prevent the hinge from extending.

If possible, turn off the lights. Remember, shooters are looking for quick and easy kills. They will generally avoid dark areas if other well-lit areas have easier targets.

Use your body to barricade the door only if necessary. 

Avoid “Playing Dead”

Experts don’t suggest “playing dead” unless you have no choice. Some victims of mass shootings chose to play dead, and it saved their life. In other cases, the shooter returned and shot the bodies on the ground again. Do this only if you cannot run, hide, or fight.

Fight for Your Life

In this scenario, you are fighting for your life. There are no rules and no such thing as a clean fight. The attacker has a weapon, and you don’t.

If possible, charge the shooter quickly before they can aim their weapon. Get in close enough to make it difficult for them to point the weapon at you. 

  • Go for the gun. If you have no choice, try to grab the weapon and remove it from the shooter. If you can, use the weapon on the shooter or throw it as far away as possible, then run. Don’t keep the gun as you run away; the first responders may think you’re the gunman.
  • Punch, kick, scratch, bite anything to damage the shooter.
  • Gouge their eyes with your fingernails. Kick them in the groin. Pull their hair. 
  • As you fight, scream, and shout as loud as you can, the loud noises may disorient the shooter.

Pay Attention to Emergency Alerts

Pay attention to alerts on the public announcement system or your phone. Follow the instructions on the alert and act quickly. Seconds count.


Other Advice

Since I began writing this article, I’ve received additional tips and suggestions on social media and discussion forums. I’ll work these suggestions into the full article as time permits. Please leave a comment below if you have additional ideas.

  • Once you are in a safe location, call the police. as quickly as possible. The quicker you call for help, the sooner police arrive to help deal with the active shooter. Also, paramedics can arrive on the scene to start helping the wounded.
  • Practice – If your school or workplace offers active shooter training, participate. Don’t skip out because you think it won’t happen to you.
  • Don’t set off any alarms. This may create more chaos and confusion.
  • Consider carrying a concealed weapon. Get a license to carry it and learn how to use it properly. Otherwise, you become part of the problem, not the solution. Note: this suggestion does not apply to schools.
  • Work as a team. This is where training comes in, as it helps prepare you to work as a team. There is no time for debate or arguments. You have to assess the situation and take action quickly.

Training and Education Videos

The following videos provide additional recommendations for dealing with an active shooter and surviving a mass shooting.

NBC News Video: How to Survive a Mass Shooting

In this video, NBC News provides advice on things you can do to stay alive.

ABC News Video: How to Survive When You’re in a situation with an Active Shooter

In this video, ABC News provides advice on things you can do to stay alive.

I’ll add other videos later.

Training and Educational Materials

This section will list helpful training and educational materials from various sources.

  • Homeland Security – Active Shooter: How to Respond Educational Booklet – View
  • Ready.gov – View

Legislation

What are federal, state, and local governments doing about this problem?

  • Congress is working on passing a law that includes enhanced background checks for young gun buyers and additional school safety and mental health funding. Also, the bill includes incentives for states to enact red flag laws.

In Summary

To summarize, the person doing the shooting intends to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. If you want to understand how to survive a mass shooting and how likely you are to stay alive, follow the steps above to prepare. Then, escape the shooter, hide and barricade yourself safely, and get ready to fight.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please comment below.

1 COMMENT

  1. Another mass shooting and the question asked once again is WHY.

    How to prevent the carnage would be a more appropriate question and solution?

    More than likely, the shooter is self-esteem deprived probably from childhood and has a resulting mental illness.

    Being capable of reflecting a subliminal self-esteem self image to the would-be criminal at the time of resulting
    fear and danger would automatically abort the crime encounter.

    If one doesn’t transform their victim mentality into a survivor / healer mentality we’re up the creek without a paddle
    when fear and danger randomly come our way.

    The subliminal thoughts that automatically do the trick and are activated by our conscious egos being threatened,
    bruised and or punctured due to fear and/or danger are:

    “We share one universal mind, one humanity and one planet. Therefore, what we do to another we in turn do to ourselves.

    Had our circumstances in life been reversed, then our positions now too would be reversed.

    Let us have only love, compassion and understanding for each other for we are all a part of each other.”

    Above are the humanistic alpha wave thoughts to be embedded into our subconscious, to be tripped, activated and/or
    triggered if/when we are randomly confronted with the fear/danger of a crime encounter.

    By reflecting automatically and subliminally self-esteem images to the mentally ill would-be criminal we not only survive the
    crime encounter we help heal to a degree the would-be criminal and the crime encounter is aborted.

    A very pro-active approach/solution to a crippling problem.

    For more information call 215-947-2063. e. m. calter

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