How to survive an active shooter
A few months ago I shared what I learned about how to survive a nuclear attack after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I want to be prepared and know what to do when disaster strikes. The horrible Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting on 5/25/22 is the 30th K-12 school shooting just this year alone and many more shootings will probably occur. So to be prepared, I wanted to learn more about them and what I can do. This isn’t the ultimate guide, but just what I learned after a few hours of research. Please correct or add to what I have.
The motive of an active shooter is to kill and maim as many people as possible to draw attention to their cause. They often target theaters, shopping malls, supermarkets, and schools because they are considered soft targets, which means they have low security and can include mass casualties of unarmed citizens including women and children. When attending these locations, be on extra alert of any suspicious activity.
Shootings can just be a spur of the moment heated argument that is unplanned or can be a coordinated attack that has been months in the making. In a worst case scenario, multiple gunmen might chain off exits to trap their victims and increase the casualty count, may deploy explosive devices for more damage, smoke bombs to create confusion, wear body armor to increase the time they have to hurt others before they are stopped, and may use modified and automatic high power rifles and other weapons to cause as much death as quickly as possible.
As soon as you hear gunfire, get down low and seek cover. Hesitation will get you killed. The three natural responses to immense stress like this are fight, flight, or freeze. Freezing is the worst, fighting is the next best option if fleeing is not. To avoid the tendency to freeze, play out scenarios in your mind and what you may do if something were to happen, know what gun fire sounds like and maybe even go to a gun range and just listen to what a gun sounds like in person when you don’t have hearing protection on. If you see people freezing and you wish to be the hero, use basic commands, hand signals, commanding voice, or even physically grab and move them to snap them out of the mental roadblock they are stuck on. If they put up a fight or resist, move on and don’t risk your life.
This may sound a little silly, but playing shooter video games and paintball can be valuable learning experiences against an active shooter situation. In these games you will learn how to hide behind cover and move from location to location without getting shot. The times I have played paintball really did feel like a war zone where you don’t know where the bullets are flying from, you have to constantly be moving, and it even teaches you a little on how to fight back. The adrenaline and pain you will experience by getting hit by a paintball is not lethal but will be a strong reminder that you might have just lost your life if this was real.
Avoid piling up with multiple people (like is commonly taught in schools). This just creates an appealing and larger target for the gunman to fire into. A single bullet can also pierce through multiple bodies. Spread out and be a smaller and harder target. Do not “play dead”, there are so many bullets flying around that you can easily get hit. Get out of there as soon as possible.
When entering a building, familiarize yourself with the layout. Know where are the entrances, exits, and places of cover and concealment. Cover is something that can stop bullets like a brick wall or vehicle. Concealment still hides you from being visible but will not stop a bullet, like a curtain or bush. Move from cover to cover until you are able to exit the building. If you do have to move from one cover to another cover and will be exposed in the open for a while, wait until there is a lull in the firing while they are reloading. When traveling down a hallway or open area, stay at least a foot away from the walls. If there is any shooting in your general direction and the bullets graze off the walls, you won’t get clipped by a ricochet.
Don’t get caught out in the open or huddled down behind something. The shooters will take out as many people as possible within the first few seconds and then sweep the building looking for those who are hiding. You need to get out and away from the building.
If you are in a supermarket or shopping mall, you may want to avoid running out the way that you came in. The gunmen will know that is where everyone will be fleeing and that is everyone’s natural instinct because that is the only way they know. Every store is required by law to have a back door, even the small shops in the mall have a back door leading to a network of fire escape hallways. The gunmen might not know about these or may not be in those areas because they think that no one would go there.
Be aware of some of the warning signs of individuals who may have active shooter tendencies and report them immediately. Each person who has ever become a killer has family and friends who if they were aware and close to the person, might have been able to intervene and prevent the situation from happening. Be brave and report that classmate, co-worker, or even spouse if you feel they may be a danger to themselves or others.
If you are a parent, talk to your kid’s school board or even teacher and know what their policy is. Recommend items such as a door brace that can be quickly deployed and add additional resistance to people entering your child’s classroom. The Desperate Hour is a recent show I watched where a mom hears of an active shooter situation going on in her child’s school as does everything she can to save him. Not the best movie (filmed during covid and social distancing), but definitely makes you think about what you would do in her situation.
Carry a tourniquet, and IFAK. Have your workplace upgrade their $20 first aid kit to one that can handle an actual emergency.
If you carry a concealed weapon, do not go hunting after the gunman. Get out and use that weapon only if the bad guy is between you and the exit. Be ready to drop the gun instantly when you get out so the police don’t think you are the shooter.