Active shooter situations are becoming more frequent.
Unfortunately, these days you cannot relax and enjoy public venues. Violent crime, gang shootings, drive-by shootings and terrorist guns and bombs converted our communities into potential war zones.
An “active shooter” is someone who initiates a shooting, and either remains at the scene, or shoots while in motion at multiple victims. Active shooters target crowded locations such as stores, theaters, airports and public buildings where every round fired may potentially hit one or more victims.
The recent shooting in Las Vegas brought a new dimension to this threat.
A shooter who can establish a position above the crowd such as high in an open amphitheater or in a building overlooking an event or parade can kill dozens of victims who cannot find cover. Panic will result in many additional injuries.
Originally, I wrote this article for a shooter that enters a building. I added some suggestions for surviving an elevated sniper situation. Copycats and terrorist are expected to emulate the tactic used in Las Vegas. The reader would be well advised to avoid open events where tall buildings provide positions for shooters.
If caught in an active shooter situation you can be sure that the killing will continue until the police engage the shooter or he/she/they have killed everyone in sight. Even the police now admit that civilians caught in such situations should take certain actions rather than “stay calm” or try to reason with the terrorists.
Below are steps and actions that you can take to survive such an event.
Prepared for a Potential Active Shooter
Be observant and alert! In any crowd, you must observe for suspicious behavior. Are people wearing unnecessarily baggy or long clothing? Do some people have suspicious bulges in their clothing or are they carrying odd long packages? Are some people wearing backpacks, or leaving backpacks or bags behind? Are some people moving around suspiciously and looking about as if getting ready to take some action?
Think in terms of “what if.” If your “sixth sense” is telling you to get out, or get down, then do it!
Make an escape plan. In a restaurant, mall, theater or other potential terrorist target, make sure to constantly be aware of the exits. Exits can be fire doors, windows, over railings or anything that works. Consider routes to all the exits that offer the most bulletproof cover. If true escape is not safe, then seek any room with a solid door that can be locked and barricaded with heavy furniture. Avoid attending open events where shooters may open fire from elevated locations such as building windows or roofs. If you must attend such functions position yourself near a solid wall, an entrance to a building or other possible shelter from overhead shooters.
Identify potential bulletproof cover. There is a difference between concealment and cover. While you may hide behind furniture, car bodies, and plaster or wood walls, these will usually not stop bullets. They only provide concealment.
Bulletproof cover is offered by brick walls, cement walls, heavy appliances, engine blocks and other very solid objects. If an elevated shooter is a possibility, think about diving under a vehicle. Constantly identify these as places to go if escape is not immediately available. Be able to get to cover without being trampled.
When the First Shots are Fired
Act Immediately! If you have accepted the possibility of an active shooter situation, and taken the steps above, you can move from denial to action while other hesitate or panic and become victims.
Take Cover. If you are in the shooter’s vision, or you see no covered escape route, find cover. Immediately get behind the strongest, thickest object possible. Stay low or lie flat. If you are wounded, or among those who are wounded, lie down and play dead. Shooters will instinctively shoot anyone they see that moving. If you cannot quickly get to bullet resistant cover in an elevated shooter situation, you may have to play dead or settle for concealment under a kiosk, or tented shelter. The shooter probably will not shoot at you if he cannot see you and has other targets running.
Escape. If the shooter has his back to you, or you are out of his immediate vision, you have a chance to escape or at least reach good cover before they turn around. Remember, there may be more than one shooter. If you go through a door, move to the right or left of the door immediately, and keep moving towards any cover. The shooter may shoot through the door, or follow you out the door.
If you chose to run, leave your belongings behind and keep your hands visible and fingers spread. Police will not know if you are a victim or a shooter. Remember that you will be running towards police who do not know you. Do not stop to ask the officers for information. Avoid pointing and screaming. Others outside the building or target area may be unaware of the situation inside and could be about to enter. Tell them that there is an active shooter and to get away from the building.
Hide and Barricade. If you cannot exit the building safely, your next best option is to get into a securable room. Turn off the lights. Be sure every cellphone ringer is off. Block the door with anything available, and get out of sight. Quietly call the police and tell them where you are.
Engage. The Washington D.C. chief of police and many others now recognize that civilians may need to take action on their own to save themselves and others before law enforcement arrives. If you cannot escape or find cover, and the shooter continues to shoot, your best chance is to distract, delay, or disable the shooter. Discharging a fire extinguisher. Throwing a heavy object. Tackling, clubbing, or stabbing the shooter are all justified in this situation.
If you have a firearm, use it! Yes, shoot them in the back if necessary. Shoot for the head as they often have bullet-proof vests. If possible shoot from a low position so your bullets go upward and avoid hitting bystanders. Don’t hesitate and don’t try to get the shooter to surrender. He will just shoot you. CAUTION: Remember, the police will consider anyone they find holding a gun as the enemy! Once the shooter is down: do not pick up his weapon. Put your weapon down, and your hands up. Wait for the police.
Communicate. If not in immediate danger, use your cell phone to call for help. Provide the police with any information that you can: such as the description and number of shooters, location of the shooters, type of weapons being used, direction shooters are or did move. If you are barricaded or behind cover, provide your exact location and your own description. The police receive a lot of calls during an event like this, don’t be shocked if you are put on hold or disconnected. Leave a callback number, but have your phone on vibrate. If nothing else, pull the fire alarm to warn others and distract the shooter.
Recovery. If you are lucky enough to have survived such a violent event, you are not safe. Police will be very jumpy upon entry. Shooters may hide among victims to escape or open fire at the police. The police consider everyone a potential threat until they can search, interview and clear everyone. Follow police instructions carefully. Raise your hands, and spread your fingers immediate. Keep your hands visible at all times. Do not reach for your cellphone or any other object. Avoid making any quick movements towards the officers.
If you are carrying a firearm (open or concealed), be sure to immediately tell the police while keeping your hands up.
Help Others. If safe to do so, direct others to escape or to shelter. If you have any medical training, try to help the wounded until the medics arrive. To help victims with severe bleeding, immediately apply direct pressure over the wound and/or apply a tourniquet above the wound. Treating for shock may be an important lifesaving action.
Recognition of a Potential Active Shooter
In most cases, recognizing and reporting a shooter’s actions and mental state in advance would prevent active shooter situations.
The next active shooter could be a family member, fellow employee or neighbor. If you know, or encounter, someone with one or more of the following traits, contact authorities, employers and psychological support organizations immediately. Do not confront or argue with such individuals.
- Obsession with extremist, violent political or religious ideas combined with interest in and access to firearms or explosives;
- Increased anger at others such as employers, family, or religious groups;
- Talk of revenge or getting even;
- Increase mood swings, absenteeism at work, drug and alcohol use and depression;
- Paranoia, hostility and withdrawal; and
- Obsessive interest in violence, firearms and explosives.
James C. Jones is a Certified Hazard Control Manager. Emergency Medical Technician and retired Safety and Security Manager for a Fortune 200 corporation. Jim spent has 40 years experience teaching survival skills, and advocating family preparedness and self-sufficiency. He was instrumental in defending and defining the true survivalist philosophy in the 1980s. Jim founded Live Free USA in 1968, an organization dedicated to the support of preparedness, self-reliance through public education and group support. Many national preparedness magazines published it articles, and he’s authored two books “Beyond Survival, an Introduction to the Self-Reliance Revolution,” and “The Live Free Book of Total Survival.” He is a frequent featured speaks at major preparedness expositions and conducts survival seminars and events for Live Free USA Jim can be contacted at email@example.com, or through the Live Free USA website at www.americansurvivor.com