In light of the active shooter and workplace violence incidents over the past year or so, I was asked by a co-worker to write an article addressing how to respond to these events. In simple words, there is no distinguishable rhyme or reason to these events. It only becomes clear what the subject was thinking after the event has taken place. As officers work to reconstruct the event and drag every meaningful detail out of witnesses and subject, a better idea of the progression of events reveals itself. So, in short I would be remiss if I stated that one could treat all of these events the same. These events are rapidly evolving, inherently unpredictable events. Based on my training and experience I can give but one mans opinion on preparedness and possible ways to handle these events. Remember, I am not providing this information as a checklist of what you must do to survive one of these events. I don’t believe anyone could provide a checklist. The things I will try to impart in the following paragraphs are many of the decisions you could be faced with, it will take diligent observation and quick decisive action or a ton of luck to survive during these abhorrent events.
In the wake of Aurora, Sandy Hook and other events it is relevant to mention the idea of being a soft target. If you are in a “Gun Free Zone” or an establishment that doesn’t allow firearms, who knows that information? Everyone. In an effort to not get caught up in the politics of this I will merely suggest limiting your time in, and business done in these areas. If you are unarmed you are decreasing your chances of survival!
F – Fight, Flight or Freeze. Covered at length in my previous article, Anatomy of a Gunfight – Feeling stressed? Know that your stress reaction can be overcome. If you are in fight or flight mode, slow down. Think about what is needed, a rash decision in these situations is not good. If you are in freeze mode, you seriously need to get moving. Get over the shock and create a plan.
I – Indecision is a decision. A choice to do nothing, whether it be by virtue of fear or lack of training, is still a decision. These decisions could have consequences. You must readily assume the individual currently shooting up your workplace, school, or bank has a plan to kill you. The longer you wait to act the more likely you are to end up a victim.
R – Realize that emergency services are on the way. You need to call them as well. Don’t assume they have been called. Understand that if they have been called, they have been given a general description of a person with a gun shooting people. That’s also you if you are employing your firearm at the time they show up. I’m not saying don’t utilize your firearm in quick decisive action to end the scenario, just realize they haven’t been given much information to go on. My suggestion, find another person who is currently in that freeze mode and put them to work. Get them on the phone with 911 to relay what you look like and any further information about the individual or individuals attacking.
E – Escape. This is not always an option but it should always be the thought process. If you are in a room with windows that lead outside break them if necessary. (As long as you aren’t three stories off the ground. Think!) Hopefully you know the facility you are in. If you do not, look for exit signs and start heading for them after you know where the assailant is. Escape, help others if you are able.
A – Actively Observe. Your survival depends on knowing where this person is and what they are utilizing in their attack. Is the assailant going room to room methodically? Are they randomly shooting people that run through their path? What are they wearing? What type of weapon is it? This is all information that can readily assist in your rescue, escape, or in reconstruction of evidence. Relay as much information as possible to emergency services. If he is moving through areas methodically make a plan to escape. Know that you have a much greater chance of survival if you get out than if you stay and wait.
R – Restrict activity. Minimize movement, lights, noise or any other actions that would call attention to your position. It may become necessary to address screaming, crying, loud attempts at barricading or many other actions. Do your best to secure your position if escape is not an option. People you are around will most like be irrational. If you are able to maintain your cool you are already percentage points higher towards survival.
M – Maintain your composure. I know, easy for me to say I’m not the one being shot at. What I am talking about here is staying out of the way. Emergency services will arrive and the worst thing anyone can do is restrict their movement or distract them. There is a high likelihood everyone will be treated as a threat while Police clear the area or diffuse the scenario by force or other means. Do not scream at them, hug them, jump around like a fool or anything else that would cause an officer to have to make a split second decision as to whether you are the threat or not. Stay down.
Many of you may have noticed by now I chose the word FIREARM to build my article around. The reason for that is two fold. First reason is the military has programmed me to think in acronyms (I am sincerely sorry). The second reason is the important one. If you are caught in one of these scenarios without a firearm you are at a distinct disadvantage. You have a lot higher percentage chance of survival in a gunfight vs. a shooting. If you end up in an active shooter or workplace violence scenario without a firearm these steps still apply you just don’t have a fall back plan. Again, this list is not meant to be all inclusive or a DIY guide to surviving an active shooter. They are merely top priority things you should be thinking about. While this list will not save your life it very well could improve your chances of survival. I pray that no one reading this article will ever experience this scenario. Let’s be honest though, none of us carry to get in a fight. However if you carry, you should be equipped and trained to end one that’s brought to your door step.