Safety Tips for Surviving Active Shooter Situations
The world can be a dangerous place. From small towns in rural America to big cities across the country, seemingly random shootings are happening without warning in the workplace, nightclubs, shopping malls, fast food outlets, schools and even churches. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself involved in an active shooter situation, but it’s important to know what to do – and what not to do – in the event you’re caught in a shooting incident. Below are some tips for surviving an active shooter situation.
Be Aware of You
Whenever you enter an unfamiliar setting, take a few seconds to make a mental note of the nearest two exits, as well as places you could hide in the event of an active shooter situation or similar life-threatening emergency. Have an escape route in mind in case it becomes necessary. Always be aware of your surroundings and be on the alert for potential threats. If you see anything that strikes you as suspicious, say something immediately – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If there’s a clear path to an exit, run as fast as you can. Get as much distance as you can between the shooter(s) and yourself as quickly as possible. Leave your belongings behind. If it’s feasible, try to help other people evacuate. Regardless of whether others choose to join you, don’t hesitate — head for an exit immediately. If you cannot find an immediate exit, drop down as quickly as possible to avoid fire. If you notice a moment of calm, move yourself to a safe space as soon as possible (more on that in a moment).
Calm and clarity are highly important in these situations. Yell “Gun!” as loudly as you can to alert others of the danger. And while you may think creating a distraction may be the right move, don’t pull a fire alarm or create a scene — this will add to the confusion as people gain a sense of what is going on, and will possibly cause people to leave their offices or positions, making them easy targets for the shooter.
Once you’re away from the active shooter’s immediate area and it’s safe to stop and do so, keep low and call 911. Warn other people against entering the area. If someone is wounded, don’t try to move them. Keep your hands visible at all times and follow the instructions of police officers and other first responders you encounter as they arrive.
If it’s not possible or safe to evacuate, hide. Try to find a place that’s out of the shooter’s view and line of fire where you’re least likely to be found. Look for a hiding place that offers you at least some basic concealment and protection, such as an office, classroom, storage room or closet. Close and lock the door and, if possible, block the entry with file cabinets or heavy furniture. Stand to one side, since doors won’t stop bullets. Set your mobile phone to mute and turn off radios, televisions or other sources of noise that could give away your location. Close the blinds, turn off the lights, hide under or behind a desk, cabinet, overturned table or other barrier. Then, remain silent and wait for help to arrive.
Rather than trying to hide by bunching together in groups, conceal yourself separately or have people spread out and lie flat on the floor along a wall. If you still have your mobile phone, do your best to communicate silently with the police using text messaging or social media to report the shooting. If possible, put a sign or some sort of signal in a window to let first responders know where you are. Stay in hiding until law enforcement arrives and gives you further instructions.
As a last resort, fight back. If — and only if — your life is in imminent danger, fight with whatever means are available. React to violence with violence. Act aggressively using makeshift weapons such as chairs, scissors, silverware, bookends, fire extinguishers, letter openers. Use anything else close at hand to distract and ambush the shooter. Try to get others to join you in attempting to confuse, disarm or disable the gunman. Your best chance will be during a brief pause, such as when the gunman is reloading and is temporarily distracted, but don’t wait — act immediately if all other options have been exhausted. Your life is at stake, so be prepared to do whatever is necessary, including inflicting serious and even lethal injuries on the shooter.
When Law Enforcement Arrives…
Immediately put down anything you’re holding and keep your hands visible and in the air at all times. Avoid making quick movements and follow all police instructions. Don’t stop to ask them questions or get directions — just keep evacuating in the direction from which the police are entering. If you’re in hiding, remain there until you’re given the all clear by law enforcement.
Be aware that law enforcement’s first priority is to take down the shooter and diffuse the situation by whatever means necessary. This includes the use of firearms, tear gas, tasers, pepper spray, flash-bang stun grenades and other lethal and non-lethal means. To get to the scene and stop the shooting as quickly as possible, they may shove people to the ground for their own safety or pass by those injured without stopping to help them.
Once you’ve taken care of yourself, try to help the injured until medical assistance arrives. If they’re in danger, try to help get them to safety. Unconscious victims should be turned on their sides and kept warm. Keep them covered with blankets, towels, jackets, raincoats or whatever else is available. Apply pressure to visible wounds, and if you’ve been trained to do so, use tourniquets to stop arterial bleeding.
In summary, to survive an active shooter situation, escape if you can by running, hide if you can’t escape and, as a last alternative, fight back.
Following the incident, you might want to consider seeking professional help for you or members of your family to overcome the effects of then trauma you’ve been through. You can find a few resources via the American Counseling Association’s website.