Ideas and Advice for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation
The purpose of this article is to provide ideas and suggestions on how to survive a mass shooting. My goal is to aggregate the best advice from law enforcement, security experts, and people who experienced and survived an actual active shooter situation.
I started writing this article on Sunday, November 18, 2018, which was 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 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 take place 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.
It seems that no public place is immune to the dangers of a mass shooting. The pointless and tragic events occur every single day in schools, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs, malls, department stores, restaurants, and even yoga studios.
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 spend time figuring out what to do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation when every second counts. True, every situation is different, but there are some universally accepted strategies for staying alive.
Be Proactively Aware
Given that 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 to hide in, 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 carrying 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.
I realize that some may consider this to be 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
Whenever you enter a public place, the first thing you should do is 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 of the students caught in the Virginia Tech mass shooting jumped from a second-floor window to escape to safety.
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 things like 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 there is some reason you can’t exit the room, hiding may be the next best option. After you identify all of the 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 where these hiding spots are located and map out a path for how you’ll get there quickly.
Identify Potential Weapons for Self Defense
Next, identify potential weapons. If you can’t run, and you can’t hide, fighting may be the only option. 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 make a mental note of where these things are so you can 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. The preparations you’ve made up to this point will prepare you to make decisions quickly.
When the shooting starts, there is one important thing to keep in mind – 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, when a gunman enters a facility and starts firing, chaos will erupt. 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 who are in an active shooter situation remember this simple phrase, “run, hide, fight.” In the following section, I’ll cover each of these in more detail.
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 are able to 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 actually ran toward the person with the gun. There was so much chaos that nobody really knew what was going on.
If you’re being shot at, try to 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.
If you aren’t able to get out of the building, you’re next best option is to hide. When looking for potential places to hide, look for a room with a locking 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 to be bulletproof. Look for furniture, cabinets, and other structures that are made of heavy metal. 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 you are inside the room, barricade the door with everything you can find. Move the heaviest objects you can find in front of 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 there are other well-lit areas with 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 other 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 have no other chance to run, hide, or fight.
Fight for Your Life
In this scenario, you are literally fighting for your life. There are no rules and there is 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 simply have no other choice, try to grab the weapon and take it away from the shooter. If you’re able to do so, either uses the weapon on the shooter or throw it as far away as possible, then run. Don’t keep the gun as you run away, as the first responders may think you’re the gunman.
- Punch, kick, scratch, bite anything you can to inflict damage on 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 on your phone. Follow the instructions on the alert and act quickly. Seconds count.
The following are additional tips and suggestions I’ve received on social media and in discussion forums since I began writing this article. 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 will 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 just 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 how to deal with an active shooter situation and survive 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 additional videos later.
Training and Educational Materials
In this section, I’ll list helpful training and educational materials from various sources.
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 stay alive, follow the steps above to prepare, get away from the shooter, hide and barricade yourself in a safe place and get ready to fight.
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please post a comment below.