Active Shooter Scenarios: Do’s and Don’ts
I have 13 years experience in Security / Public Safety flied. The single-most important factor that can increase your chances of surviving an active shooter scenario is deceptively simple: be prepared. The immediate question that follows, is how exactly does one “be prepared” for such a life-altering, terrifying and (hopefully) one-off experience? After all, not everyone has a military or law-enforcement background!
- “Recon” entrances and exits
Think about where active shooter scenarios can occur. Usually, not in large, open areas, but rather in confined spaces where access is a bit restricted (within rooms, buildings, sections of roads or alleyways, etc). Once the shooting starts, the chaos that usually ensues can be disorienting as people rush to evacuate. Being aware of different exits can be the difference between life and death; just a quick mental note of your surroundings can help. Making a habit of a quick and causal survey of the entry and exit points every time you walk into a new place is highly recommended. No, you’re not being paranoid, you’re just well prepared!
- Survey your surroundings
As you go through your day-to-day tasks, wherever you may be, be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Keep a lookout for suspicious activity, or something that doesn’t appear to blend. For example, an individual wearing a trenchcoat when it’s 90 degrees outside; could it be that he’s hiding guns and ammo under that coat?
- Remain calm
This piece of advice is as underrated as it is overstated and subconsciously dismissed. If you panic, you lose control of your greatest weapon: the ability to think clearly and logically. Panicking makes you become part of the problem, not the solution. I know, easier said than done in a situation where you fear for your life, but it is essential to keep calm before you think about how to escape your circumstances. Impulse-driven, knee-jerk reactions may not be the best thing to resort to: remember, the shooter is expecting chaos. Don’t make his job easier.
- Find cover
Don’t impulsively run for an exit; you may inadvertently draw the shooter’s attention and end up in his crosshairs. Duck and drop, and use your surroundings to hide and protect yourself from incoming fire. Find cover that will absorb bullets, and if that is not possible, look for a place to conceal yourself even if it is not ideal cover; remember: out of sight, out of mind, one less target the shooter is going to think about.
- Evacuate & alert
- Attempt to leave the area as soon as you can, and leave all belongings behind. Remember that some people will freeze in such situations; take charge and force them to leave with you gently but firmly, if you can do so at no risk to yourself. Seek an exit and direction opposite to the sound of where gunfire is coming from. As you make your exit, call 911 as soon as you are able to, and also alert people you may encounter on the way out. 911 Dispatch will require much information, so calmly and clearly answer their questions over the phone. Under no circumstances go back until law-enforcement personnel give you the all-clear. If you have no way out of the building; lock yourself in a room, put some objects behind the door to create a barrier. Stay away from the doors and windows, take cover and calmly call 911.
Countering and making contact with the gunman should be the absolute last resort, but sometimes, it may be the only thing you are able to do. Grab anything you can use as a weapon and use it against the assailant. The goal is to temporarily disable and or disarm the attacker, buying you enough time to make your exit. In active shooter scenarios, gunmen may expect resistance from law-enforcement, but usually not the intended victims; thus you be able to use the element of surprise to your advantage should you decide to counter. If you manage to disarm the attacker, do not attempt to make use of the assailant’s gun. You may hurt yourself, innocents around you, or may be mistaken for the gunman by law-enforcement personnel and taken down! The proper way to deal with the firearm would be to place it in a container before carrying it out with you upon exit; never hold it in your bare hands or tuck it away in your clothing. Have your hands visible for your own safety. Another very important thing to note: in high-stress situations like these, do not hold in your hands any object that law-enforcement personnel may mistake for a firearm! That includes video recording equipment, cell phone cameras, etc. You could be taken down before the police realize it was not a weapon.
Short of military and law-enforcement training, these few pointers can give you the edge to make it out alive should you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being involved in an active shooter scenario. Better to be aware of these and never have to use them, than the other way around! Good luck, always be mentally prepared, and be safe!