In 2014 Professor J. Pete Blair of Texas State University, who conducts training on active shooter response and other topics at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT) at TSU, conducted a study of the 84 active shooter events that occurred between 2000-2012
As we discussed previously, running is your best, safest option. Get as far away as fast as your legs will carry you. Leave your personal stuff behind if you have to. Seems simple, right? To say that it gets more complicated with someone shooting at you is as much an understatement as it is to say that Adele is an okay singer and songwriter.
Just as it’s true that it is harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one, it is also true that a predictable moving target is easier to hit than an erratic one. So if bullets are flying, don’t just try to make a beeline from where you are to the exit. Everybody will be doing that, and the shooter can just start picking them off as they bottleneck near the exit.
You will want to hunker down, get low to make yourself a smaller target, and move as quickly as you can toward the secondary exit without the traffic jam. If you are low to the ground, things such as benches, overturned tables, decorative planters and trash cans can provide you with some degree of cover when bullets come your way.
If you are actually running away from the shooter, run in a zigzag pattern, randomly changing direction. Also try to keep your profile to the shooter rather than your back or torso — your side is a much narrower target to hit in a high-stress situation, and such a situation is a pressure-cooker for everyone involved, even the person with the gun. Help others escape if you can, but don’t delay your departure if part of the group is afraid to run. Do not attempt to move the wounded.
Once you are safely out of the building and a safe distance away, call 911 (if you haven’t already), as well as someone you know to let them know you made it out of the building unharmed. Tell the 911 operator the location and the number and descriptions of the shooters , the number and style of weapons being used, and the potential number of victims at that location. While waiting for first responders, if it is safe for you to do so, keep others from entering the building.
If first responders are already at the scene, approach officers with your hands up. They will need to interview you to help them assess what is unfolding inside.
As a hypothetical, let’s say you are in the waiting room of your doctor’s office on the second floor of a high-rise office building that has a bank on the ground floor. Building security notifies the receptionist that a former bank employee with an assault rifle and a grudge against his former boss has taken over the lobby, shut down the building’s elevators, and shot two security officers who were attempting to thwart him. (I use the pronoun ‘him’ for the shooter because men are the usual perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States. The perpetrator is a woman in only about 7% of incidents.)
He is on the stairs headed for his boss’ office, which is two doors down from where you are seated. What do you do? The second floor isn’t that far a jump. You might break something in the fall, but you’d probably survive. Anything higher than that and odds don’t favor your survival. And that’s if you can open the window.
You can’t just sit there thinking he’ll only create mayhem in his former boss’ office. Bullets flying that fast can go through walls. If you can’t run fast enough to get to the exit at the opposite end of the hallway by the time the gunman gets to the second floor landing, you’re dead. So running may not be an option. Time to hunker down. Don’t forget to turn off the ringer on your cell phone after calling 911.
Lock the reception area doors and barricade them with heavy objects such as desks, metal filing cabinets and move to one of the interior rooms to select your hiding place behind an exam table or something sturdy made of metal or real wood, not press-board or plastic. Also look for sharp objects to use as weapons. Make yourself as small as possible in your hiding spot, camouflaged if possible, and wait for the “all clear.” Don’t just wait and worry. Devise a plan of attack for the possibility that the gunman reaches you and fighting is your only option.
In nearly 40 percent of all the incidents studied by Professor Blair that were resolved before the police arrived, people on the scene subdued or shot the attacker themselves. In about 10 percent of the events that stop before the police intervene, the attacker just leaves.
Though it should be your last resort, if your life is in imminent danger, you’ll have to fight. This is easier if you are hiding in a group. The FBI teaches a swarm technique in which three or four people attempt to incapacitate the shooter. They hide to the sides of the locked and barricaded door. After the shooter breaches the door, one person goes for the arm in which the subject is holding the weapon, another person wraps up his ankles, and the third pushes the subject to the floor.
You must act like a wild woman whose last nerve is only attached by the tiniest thread and create chaos. Scream, wildly throw anything you can get your hands on, and if he gets close enough, use the weapons you found or improvised, to hurt him. Knee him in the privates. Jam your thumbnails into the corners of his eyes. Smash his nose with your head or a closed fist — at the very least, it will cause his eyes to water and his vision to blur, giving you a second or two to escape. Aim for vital areas such as throat, eyes or kidneys. A Also remember, the elbow is the strongest bone in your body and a well-placed one can induce excruciating pain, especially if you crack a rib. In short, fight like your life depends on it. Because it does.
When the cavalry arrives
When SWAT enters your area, remain calm, drop anything in your hands and raise them over your head, palms out, fingers spread, and follow officer’s instructions. Keep your hands visible at all times, and do not make any sudden movements toward officers. SWAT will not stop to attend to the wounded. They are “clearing” the building of any threats so that medical personnel can attend to the wounded and other officers can escort victims who are ambulatory to a location where they can be safely interviewed and medically evaluated.
With active shooter situations on the increase, especially at schools and large commercial venues such as malls, where 70% of such incidents occur, can you and your family really afford to be caught unprepared? Unfortunately, talking about this with your kids has become as important as the talk about birds and bees. These are traumatizing events for a community and, depending how much media coverage they see, kids are more severely impacted, feel more vulnerable, and possibly begin to doubt whether their parents can keep them safe in this world.
The only thing that will stop this cycle of violence is to keep such weaponry out of the hands of people with evil intent or psychosis. We haven’t been very good at that thus far in this country, and I suspect many more innocents will die needlessly before we figure it out.
And that’s a crying shame.
Stay alert. Stay aware. Stay alive.