Responding to an Active Shooter Situation

This is part one of two on the topic of responding to an active shooter situation.

Think about the preparedness drills we regularly experience. Fire drills, tornado drills and preflight airline safety presentations come immediately to mind.

We carry the principles we learn in these drills with us and are ready to apply them wherever we go, in order to be prepared in a crisis.

Fire drills instruct us to not use the elevator and to feel if a door is hot before opening it.

Tornado drills teach us to move away from windows and find the structurally strongest part of any building.

From airline preflight safety presentations, we know to locate emergency exits before we need them.

In recent years, schools and some workplaces have added armed intruder drills. While not yet as common of a drill, clearly the need for preparedness has been demonstrated by domestic and foreign terrorists, disgruntled employees, domestic disputes in public, street criminals and the mentally ill.

We don’t have to actually experience a drill to learn the principles of saving ourselves and those close to us in an active shooter scenario. We can prepare now.

The Active Shooter

An active shooter is an individual with a single purpose: attempt to kill as many people as possible in a confined and crowded place. There is no pattern or method to how they select their victims.

Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve rapidly. The situations often end quickly, within 10 to 15 minutes, often before law enforcement can be deployed.

This means that as individuals we must be mentally and physically prepared to deal with an active shooter situation.

Aware Is Prepared

Be aware of your environment. When entering any public space, look around. Make note of the exits. This is your escape route. Knowing that route ahead of time could mean the difference between getting out and getting hurt.

We have instincts. Trust them. If someone or something feels odd, seems out of place or your gut says isn’t right, listen to your instincts. Don’t wait around for something bad to happen to see if you are right.

Flee, Hide or Fight

There are three responses to an active shooter situation: get out, hide and as a last resort, fight back.

The first and foremost option is to escape. This is not a movie or video game. The best place to be when bullets are flying is somewhere else.

You should already know where the exits are. Get to them without hesitation. Leave possessions behind. Help others leave if you can. Prevent individuals from moving toward the shooter’s location.

Once you are clear, keep going. Call 911 when you are a safe distance away and behind cover.

If getting away is not an option, the next best course of action is hiding or taking cover. A good hiding place will keep you out of the shooter’s view without trapping you or restricting your options for movement. If you are in an office, stay there and lock the door.

If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door. Block the door with furniture or heavy objects. Turn off the lights and anything that makes noise, such as a radio or television. Avoid windows. If in the open, solid barriers such as pillars offer better cover than tables or chairs.

Be still and quiet. Silence electronic devices, including the vibrate setting. Dial 911 if you think you safely can, and describe the shooter’s location. If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen.

Only as a last resort, when your life is in imminent danger, should you attack the shooter. Be as aggressive as possible. Yell. Throw objects. Improvise weapons. Commit fully to these actions.

Next time we’ll look at what to do when help arrives, worker warning signs and prevention.


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