Active shooter situations are terrifying. This short article is not meant to inspire fear or paranoia, but simple guidelines for any emergency. These tips will help you be more aware of everyday life so you can be prepared.
– Situational Awareness –
Being ready for an active shooter situation means being aware of your surroundings at all times.
The US Coast Guard defines situational awareness as “The ability to identify, process and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening … More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you”.
According to Jeff Cooper’s Color Code taught by law enforcement instructors, situational awareness is condition Yellow: be aware of who and what is around you and pay attention to sights and sounds surrounding you, whether at home or in society. This does not mean live your life in a constant state of fear, just be alert. If you are attacked while in condition Yellow, it will not come as a total surprise.
Potential Barriers to Situational Awareness
- Perception – don’t let past experiences, expectations or mental filters affect your awareness
- Excessive Motivation – this includes “Get-Home-itis”. Don’t take unnecessary risks to accomplish another task. Remember the scene from Bambi, when the quail gets over-excited and flies away only to get shot, while the ones who hide stay safe? That poor quail was excessively motivated
- Complacency – if things are monotonous or slow, it can be easy to fall into complacency. Stay aware at all times
- High Stress – too much stress affects everything you do. Be careful to prioritize tasks by level of importance and minimize distractions
- Fatigue – not enough rest can affect you the same way as too much stress. Make sure to be as well rested as possible each day
- Communication – this is key to working as a team. Being situationally aware means communicating with your environment, not your phone.
Remember to stay awake and unplug when you can. Keep track of people walking behind you. Choose a seat in a restaurant with a clear view of the entrance. Know where the emergency exits are. Be aware of any environment you put yourself into. Take note of any potential dangers. If you’re by yourself, it’s probably best to not be completely captivated by your phone. Any new environment you enter, look for at least two different exits, remember where they are and multiple routes to get there
– Mental/Physical Preparation –
When you realize those loud POP’S are actually gunshots, your adrenaline will surge and your thinking capacity will be diminished. If you haven’t prepared yourself mentally and physically for an emergency, you’ll likely make some unnecessary mistakes. Know your environment. It might seem to border on paranoia, but the next time you’re at work, or school, imagine a shooter entering your area. What would you do? It’s much better to have a well-rehearsed advance plan than to make one up in the midst of all the chaos of being shot at.
According to the FBI, most active shooter situations are over in two minutes or less which means that you need to know how to take care of yourself during the 10-15 minutes it takes law enforcement to arrive. DO NOT succumb to the normality bias, a mental crutch that makes people underestimate danger during a disaster. Nobody wants to be in an active shooter situation, so unless you’re mentally awake, you might deceive yourself into thinking those gunshots are only a car backfiring and hesitate to act. The more prepared you are mentally and physically, the better chance you and others have of survival.
Anyone who has already witnessed traumatic events may remember the adrenaline rush accompanied by a surreal or “dream” feeling, like what they saw wasn’t really happening. Be as prepared and practiced as possible in what to do for various emergency situations and environments so that if/when the time comes you’ll do what you need to survive and/or help others without succumbing to shock.
Personally, I witnessed a tragic car accident on the freeway about two years ago when driving with my family. A car crossed four lanes of traffic and slammed into the median, only to be hit again by an SUV in the carpool lane. We were driving in the passing lane and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car again. Once we stopped, I looked around and saw that nobody was getting out to help, which I remember thinking was really strange.
I got out and ran up to the man in the car, remembering something I had heard about not moving him unless there was imminent danger because of possible back or neck injuries. I started talking to him while on the phone with 911 to try and get a response but, sadly, I watched the man take his last breath. A few moments later an Army officer ran around the other side of the car shouting that the car was on fire. Another man came to help and although three of the doors were smashed shut, we were able to free the man in the car through the rear passenger door and get his body to safety. All this happened while a fire was burning in the engine bay less than a foot from where I was standing. Needless to say, my adrenaline was pumping the whole time.
Stress Affects Judgement
I don’t share this story for any reason other than to illustrate what just a little bit of preparation will do to positively affect our actions. I’m pretty sure everyone else was in shock at seeing such a violent accident, I know my kids were. If the three of us hadn’t had some small amount of mental preparation, we might have just sat in our cars like many others, staring in disbelief. If we hadn’t made being physically fit a priority, we might not have been able to pull him out of the car. Being prepared mentally and physically for any emergency situation will help decrease any potential mistakes that could be made in a moment of panic. If there is ever an active shooter situation that you find yourself in, and are not somewhat prepared for it, you might find yourself paralyzed, staring in disbelief.
– How to React to an Active Shooter –
The Department of Homeland Security advises three steps during an active shooter situation:
RUN. Unless you have specialized trainingi.e. military, police, etc., you should try to run first. You should already know where multiple exits are based on your situational awareness. Choose the safest one and get away from the shooter as fast as possible. Bring as many people with you to safety as you can. Chances are you’ll see others who are paralyzed with fear, help them if possible but make sure to get home to your family as well
HIDE. If running is not an option, and there is a place that would provide protection from a shooter with a door that can be locked or barricaded, get as many people there as you can. Once you have barricaded the door, hide behind large items that will offer protection. Remain quiet and silence all cell phones. Turn off the lights and call 911. Give a description and location of the shooter(s), their weapon(s), and possible victims. If you are unable to speak, turn down the earpiece volume on your phone and let the dispatcher hear what is going on. Quickly devise a backup plan if the attacker is able to enter the room.
FIGHT. If you are not able to run and hide, fighting or dying might be your only two options. In a situation like this, it is important to remember that if you’re going to get shot, you better make sure nobody else will, especially if you are responsible for the lives of others. Remember the shooting on the train from Amsterdam to France in 2015? No? Because thanks to three Americans, two Frenchmen and a Briton, the shooter was taken down and knocked unconscious, saving the rest of the passengers. CNN also covered a story of teachers who have been given specialized training by Krav Maga instructors on how to team up and take down active shooters in their schools. If this training is available, you should take full advantage of it.
Time to Channel Your Inner Caveman
Apart from having special Krav Maga or military training, taking down an attacker is still possible by using whatever is available to you, especially when done with a team. Attack from different angles. Look around for items to throw at the shooter. Paper weights and hot coffee pots would be quite effective. Blind the shooter with spray from a fire extinguisher or bright light. Maybe a rolling file cabinet or tool chest could provide mobile protection or be used as a battering ram. Be creative.
Once you are close enough, grab the barrel to control the gun first, then worry about controlling the shooter. Stab the shooter with a pen or knock them out with a laptop. Remember, a life or death situation is no time to hold back. Attack with all your strength and animal instinct. Our society is built on laws to protect us, but our ancestors had to use violence to protect their families. This is a time to do the same. If you are in an area where concealed carry is an option, use your weapon wisely and neutralize the threat.
Here Come the Cavalry
Once police do arrive, make sure to remain calm and quickly comply with every order. They may push you to the ground, not to be rude, but for your safety. If you’re holding an item, drop it and raise your hands with fingers spread. Don’t run to or cling onto police officers for safety. The first group in isn’t there to rescue you, it’s there to take down the shooter. Other rescue teams will follow closely behind to help you to safety. Don’t scream and point at officers. Don’t ask them for directions, just leave the way you saw them enter. Remember to help others whenever possible.
An active shooter could be one of the most frightening things we would ever have to deal with. Being totally unprepared for an active shooter would be even more frightening. If you learned something new by reading this article, please take action to implement these principles into your life. They just might save it.
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Cooper’s Colors. Retrieved from: https://www.policeone.com/police-trainers/articles/2188253-Coopers-colors-A-simple-system-for-situational-awareness/
Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from: https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf
Teachers Shooter Defense Training. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/30/living/schools-teacher-shooter-defense-training/
US Coast Guard. Retrieved from: https://www.uscg.mil/auxiliary/training/tct/chap5.pdf