While a little off topic in light of yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, and what seems like an escalation of deadly public shooting situations, I thought I would share some thoughts on what you can do if you are caught in an active shooter situation. The prevailing philosophy of how a person should react in an active shooter situation is Run – Hide – Fight.
Whether you’re at the office, school, hospital, movies or a shopping mall any time you are alerted to a dangerous situation – leave. Don’t wait to hear shots or see what is happening. What may not seem like a deadly situation can quickly escalate into one. If it is not your job to deal with crazy or unruly people move away from them when possible. While everyone is going to see what all the commotion is about, go the opposite direction so you are close to the exit or even out of the building.
In an active shooter situation your focus must be on getting out of the building quickly. You must always keep moving and not allow anything to distract you. Keep your cell phone in your pocket and wait to call 911 until you are out of the building and safe. In fearful and highly stressful situations your adrenaline will be pumping. Adrenaline affects your fine motor skills and can make it hard to use your cell phone. Some people’s hands shake uncontrollably and others have trouble speaking. You also do not want to be distracted and allow the shooter to walk up on you.
If your ability to escape has been cut off and leaving would put you in the direct line of fire of the shooter, your next option is to hide. Lock the door to the room and push any heavy furniture in front of the door to barricade it. Stay directly behind the furniture barricading the door and do everything you can to keep the shooter from entering the room. Once the shooter knows the door has been barricaded they also know someone is in the room.
If you do not have time or heavy furniture with which to barricade the door, pull a couch or chair away from the wall just enough for you to crouch behind it. A shooter looking into the room across a horizontal plane from the hall cannot tell you have pulled the furniture away from the wall to create a hiding place. If the shooter enters the room the two most likely places they will look is in the closet and under the desk. Try not to hide in either of these places.
Do not lay down behind furniture to hide. You may inadvertently expose your feet or head thinking the furniture is larger than it is. It is harder to flight or flee from a prone position. Resist the temptation to call 911 and let them know where you are. The 911 call center will probably be overloaded with calls and police are trained to methodically search the building and neutralize the active shooter or shooters. They will not come directly to where you are hiding to save you. It is not part of their active shooter response protocol. You also do not want the shooter to hear you on the phone and enter the room looking for you. The shooter will know you are on the phone to the police giving them vital information that influences their response. This makes you an immediate target for the shooter.
An unarmed person probably will not survive an encounter with an armed gunman. A person roaming a building shooting innocent people at random will kill you if they have the opportunity. You’re only chance is to fight.
Listen for the shooter. If you are hiding you will know when the shooter is approaching. The shooter will be the one not running. Playing dead rarely works because it is hard to pull off. Most people close their eyes so hard when they try to play dead it is obvious they are not. Others pray or mumble without realizing it. You must fight to save yourself. Find the heaviest item around you to use as a weapon. While fire extinguishers are usually not kept in offices, when searching for a place to hide grab one from the hall if you can. Because of the pressure within a fire extinguisher they are made of steel and one of the heaviest objects found in an office. You can use it to spray and blind a shooter or strike them with it.
A chair with metal legs can pin the shooter against a wall or door frame making it hard for them to point a weapon at you, especially a rifle or shotgun. If you are hiding with others the largest and strongest person in the room should attempt to pin the shooter while others beat the shooter with anything at hand. Do not strike the shooter and then attempt to run. You may have only dazed the shooter and they will shoot you as you flee. Keep striking the shooter until you can get their weapon away from them. Don’t stop because you think the shooter is unconscious or dead. Only stop when you have the weapon away from them and can leave.
Do not run through the building with the shooter’s weapon. You do not want to be mistaken for the shooter and shot by responding police officers. If the building has windows that open throw the gun out the window. The shooter cannot get to the weapon and you will look like a victim again. Leave the building with your hands high in the air.
The City of Huston has produced an excellent video titled Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event which I encourage everyone to watch.