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5 Tips for Surviving an Active Shooter Incident

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Having the ability to save yourself in an active shooter situation starts with understanding what’s going on around you. If things seem out of place, or you just “feel” something isn’t right, listen to your instincts. Here are five tips that can help you survive an active shooter situation.

Five things you can do to increase your odds of surviving an active shooter.

Table of Contents

1. Look For Signs of Danger

Looking for signs of danger means being aware of your surroundings at all times. It’s important to keep an eye out for any situation you might encounter daily, from natural disasters and terrorist attacks to nuclear meltdowns, pandemic outbreaks, and active shooters.

While a life-threatening situation such as an active shooter may not come with obvious warning signs, it’s critically important to watch for pre-attack indicators if you want to increase the likelihood of surviving an incident. Being observant and reacting quickly is often the most significant defense against a life-threatening situation. Some key indicators to look for may include:

· Visible weapon. This could be anything from a gun to a box cutter; most notably being in-hand, or, poorly or haphazardly concealed.

· Odd behavior or appearance. Individuals may appear nervous or act much differently than those around them (the ‘thousand-yard stare’), or, be dressed in an odd or illogical manner (e.g. heavy or bulky clothing in the summertime for example).

· Strange or abnormal interest in building or venue. Criminals, terrorists, and saboteurs oftentimes take an abnormal interest in the building, venue, or facility that they are targeting. They will spend time collecting information and intelligence by activities such as taking photographs or videos, observing and documenting key features (such as emergency exits, employee or staff entrances, alarm panels, etc.), and taking an interest in the routines and movement of persons and vehicles.

2. Have a Plan

If you think back to your childhood, there’s a good chance you can recall participating in school fire drills. While many youths rejoiced these and similar drills as a time to goof off, the repetition of these drills served as a part of an emergency plan.

In today’s world, one must make, practice, and implement personal or family emergency plans, even for the most mundane and routine of activities. The unfortunate reality is that you are solely responsible for your own safety and survival in a worst-case scenario. Here are a few tips on having a plan:

· Know and Understand Your Area & Risks. Knowledge of potential threats in your workplace, community, and home is critical to understanding how you will respond in an emergency situation.

· Identify Potential Threats. Signs of danger can come in many forms, from a stranger approaching you on the street to an entire building collapsing. In order to identify threats, it is important to be aware of your surroundings at all times and know what situations warrant concern. By being vigilant, you greatly reduce your chances of being taken off guard.

· Your Response. Planning your response to potential threats is the best way to ensure that you are prepared to respond quickly and appropriately when an emergency situation arises.

· Know and Understand Your Area & Risks. Knowledge of potential threats in your workplace, community, and home is critical to understanding how you will respond in an emergency situation.

· Practice. Practice. Practice. Imagine how you would respond to a life-or-death situation and try to plan for all potential scenarios. The more you prepare yourself or your family, the better prepared you will be when situations arise.

Situational awareness should be a key part of your daily life. In addition to looking for signs of danger, paying attention to your surroundings and implementing your plan will greatly improve your odds of surviving an active shooter incident and any other emergency scenario.

3. Run For Your Life

If you see a shooter, run for your life. Active shooters are known to target anyone and everyone they see, including people who are fleeing the scene. This is why it’s vital to immediately run, find an exit, and escape – no matter how close or significant you feel the threat might be. Escaping the area also allows responding security and police personnel to act faster and more effectively to stop the shooter.
Critical Tip: Keep your hands visible at all times and follow all instructions given by responders. If you are lawfully carrying a concealed weapon, keep it concealed and use common sense.

As the saying goes, adrenaline is a hell of a drug. The human body is incredibly adapted to sense situations which may result in serious injury or death. When this occurs, our bodies will almost instantly release a large amount of the naturally produced hormone adrenaline, which leads to the ubiquitous “fight or flight” response.

Use this to your advantage, and run. Separating yourself from the threat should be your only goal. By focusing and channeling the sudden adrenaline dump, you should have the speed and reflexes of a professional athlete. Maintain good situational awareness, and run until you reach an area that you are certain is safe.

4. Deny or Delay Access

If there is an active shooter in a building or other public area where a large number of people are gathered, it’s important to evacuate immediately. If evacuation is not possible, an option may be locking down the area or room – denying or delaying access. Think of this as a method similar to sheltering in place.

This can be accomplished by locking (and barricading) doors, locking windows, turning off any lights and other electronics, putting cell phones on silent, and remaining as quiet as possible. If possible and safe to do so, one person should dial or text 911, and provide as much information as possible about the shooter (description, weapons used, where the shooter was last seen, etc.), your location, and the number of persons in your group. It is important to understand that the area you are in may be compromised at any moment, and it is vital to have an escape plan if the shooter locates you or begins shooting into the area.

When implementing this action, it’s important to maintain as much situational awareness as possible. Often, this will be limited to only what you can hear, and what may be relayed through the 911 operator. Getting through to 911 may also be very difficult – they may be receiving more 911 calls than they can handle.

Unless directed to do so by a 911 operator, it is generally a very bad idea to speak or make any noises if someone knocks on the door – even if they claim to be an officer, firefighter, medic, etc. Active shooters have been known to knock on doors pretending to be a responder to lure more people out. It’s also important to know that active shooters have been known to activate fire alarms for the same reason, and gunshots are all but guaranteed to cause a fire alarm to activate. Don’t panic if the fire alarm is blaring.

5. Fight Back

If all else fails, you can fight back against an active shooter, but only when you are directly threatened by the assailant and your life is at risk. This should only be considered as a last resort, in most (if not all) cases.

It’s important to keep your wits about you and ensure you assess the situation before taking any action to fight back against an active shooter. If you have made the decision to fight back, you must fully commit to this decision, and fight with everything you have. A good rule of thumb for fighting back is to utilize improvised or expedient weapons if you are unarmed – such as items that can be found in most public spaces or office buildings. Some examples here include a fire extinguisher, scissors, pencils, pens, potted plants, and letter openers; any of which can inflict damage and possibly stop an active shooter.

If you have determined it’s necessary to fight back against the active shooter, do so with caution and keep your distance whenever possible. Consider the options available and whether you may be able to implement the element of surprise. Most active shooters are not expecting their intended victims to fight back.

Keep in mind that if you are injured it is important to understand you may not be able to move as quickly or with the same level of agility before your injury, which could make fighting back against an active shooter more difficult.

Fighting back against an active shooter should only be done when there is no other option and a direct threat to your life. Engaging the shooter puts you at a much higher risk of being injured or killed.

6. Bonus Tips

Plan in advance for “What if?” scenarios. Active shooters have been known to spread gas, chemical, or biological agents to inflict mass casualties. If you suspect that a hazardous substance was released, get away from the area as quickly as possible by following your escape route and moving upwind from the incident.

Fear and panic can cause some people to be “frozen with fear”. This response occurs when our brains calculate or believe we can neither take on the threat nor escape. If you can move safely get away from an active shooting situation, do so immediately, and encourage others to follow your example if it’s safe to do so. Quick and authoritative encouragement may help those who are “frozen with fear” to be able to escape.

If hiding, sheltering in place, or otherwise denying or delaying the shooter; take cover behind anything that might slow or stop bullets/fragments, and if possible, find cover from which you can observe the shooter without being seen.

Take all possible precautions not to be mistaken for the attacker by the responding security and police personnel responding. This is exponentially more important if you are in lawful possession of a concealed weapon.

Active shooters often wear body armor which serves to defeat the effects of responders who are trying to stop them. Bullets which are fired into the head, neck, upper torso, and groin area are normally the most effective. Active shooters may be suicidal or extremely hostile; both circumstances increase the likelihood of responding security or police personnel being killed in an active shooter incident.

Active shooters may be difficult to identify because they can appear normal (not necessarily armed), and can blend into their surroundings such as corridors and people exiting buildings during the chaos of the incident. Active shooters often know their targets before arriving on the scene; researching and studying venues or persons of interest long before an incident.

Active shooter planning is not easy for untrained individuals to pull off successfully; active shooters may break up events into separate components (e.g., reconnaissance; selection/research; procurement; installation of props and supplies) over long periods to carry out planned attacks successfully, which makes them more difficult to profile ahead of time like traditional terrorist groups who often plan months in advance.

Active shooters will often stalk victims at venues before events to identify weak points (e.g., the back door) for their purposes; active shooters also pick targets carefully (e.g., unarmed security guards vs armed officers). Active shooters know how to blend in with surroundings to conceal themselves during incident response.

Active shooters are often prepared with supplies like food, water, and additional weapons and ammunition that may last them long periods during event response so don’t assume if a shooter has been cornered by responders it’ll be over. Never assume the incident is “over” until a proper and official all-clear is given.

Tri State Enforcement Regional Authority is a multistate organization that supplies mission-critical public safety services, special police services, advanced protective security and armed guard services, court and judicial services, and related law enforcement and emergency services; for and on behalf of public, private, and government sector markets through cooperative and service contract agreements.

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