emergency preparedness

Active Shooter! Tips on How to Respond and Get to Safety

Nadia TamaraA Little Bit of Everything, Active Shooter, Evacuation, Safety 1 Comment

emergency preparedness

This week has been emotional for the many people who witnessed and experienced the loss of a loved one at the Gilroy shooting in California. Just two months ago, a shooting took place in Virginia Beach leaving 12 dead and 4 injured.

It breaks my heart to know that there are people out where who will pick up a weapon and open fire aimlessly at a crowd, not caring for the value that each person holds in this world.

It’s gut-wrenching and unexplainable what people will do in the name of hate.

This blog is not going to analyze the psychology behind an active shooter’s mind, but we’ll discuss how you can stay alert and get to safety in case your life is ever at the hands of a gunman.

I should note that preparing for this type of event, as horrifying as it is to think about, will probably be the thing that saves you. Most shootings only last a couple of minutes, if that. By the time police arrive to the scene, the shots are already over. Learning situational awareness and how to respond in a matter of seconds takes practice.

Are mass shootings on the rise?

There is a lot of conflicting opinion on whether there are more mass shootings now that there were before. For one, there is no set definition on what constitutes a mass shooting.

For instance, some define it as three or more fatal injuries, while others define it as four or more fatal and nonfatal injuries. Due to this variation, some sources may label an event as a mass shooting, when it really should have been classified a homicide. [Regardless of the label, however, the crime is equally disturbing.] 

With the rise of technology, news also spreads much faster. Perhaps your concern is that you’re hearing more cases of gun violence than ever before. While this could be true, it’s also true that we didn’t have access to instant news 10 or more years ago. Thanks to social media, people are able to post incidents as soon as they happen- whereas a decade ago that was impossible.

It’s sad to think that as advanced as our society has become, that we should have to prepare for an active shooter. But the truth is that this type of senseless crime can occur to anyone, at any place, and at any time. We should be alert and ready to act and respond if we’re ever caught in the midst of such a situation.

How to recognize the signs of potential violence

  • If you see something suspicious, alert local authorities immediately. Situational awareness is vital. If something looks "off" about the way a person is behaving, keep your eye on them and alert security or another person.

  • Recognize the sound of gunshots and (learn to react quickly). Know that gunfire might sound artificial, like a popping sound. Even if it sounds fake, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • Always assume there is more than one shooter and more than one weapon. Stay vigilant while running to safety.

  • Be aware of indications of violence wherever you’re at (whether that is the workplace or elsewhere).

  • Coworkers, or classmates, that experience explosive outbursts of anger or rage. That talk negatively about the workplace or homelife, speaking about wanting to end their life, talk of financial problems, or previous incidents of violence. Talking about violent crimes, firearms or other dangerous weapons.

  • Attend an active shooter training. This will help train you to respond quickly and safely if there’s a shooting at a place of worship, workplace, or school.

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The safest place to be during a shooting

The moment you hear gunshots being fired you can expect mass chaos. People will to start run in all directions, others might be on the ground, you may lose sight of loved ones, and your adrenaline will be pumping like never before.

This very moment is critical for your survival. You must make the best decision possible to save your life. Because every person’s situation will be slightly different, you will need to determine what to do to get to safety.

Experts agree that you should do three things in the event of an active shooter: 

1. Run

2. Hide

3. Fight

Your priority should be to RUN to safety, HIDE from the shooter, or FIGHT to incapacitate them.

Essentially, you will have seconds to decide which course of action to take and then fully commit to your decision.

Your chances of survival increase when you attempt to do them in that specific order. Although fighting is considered a last resort (and I agree that it should be), I also don't endorse a victim mentality. If the circumstances allow you to attack the perpetrator, by all means, do it.

These are a few additional tips on how you should respond if you find yourself in any of the following locations.

If you are outdoors:

  • Remain calm.
  • Evacuate. Take note of an escape route and run to safety as fast as possible.
  • Help others escape if you can, but if they fail to comply, don’t wait for them. I know it sounds harsh, but in a matter of life and death, you should be choosing life.
  • Leave your belongings behind. Things are things and they can be recovered later on. Your life is by far more precious.
  • Warn people from entering the area where the shooter is at. When shots are heard, people will run in all directions. If you know the shooter is behind you, alert people so they can get to a safe area.
  • If evacuating is not an option, find a place to hide out of the shooter’s view. Consider there may be stray bullets flying in all directions, so try to find a makeshift shield, whether it is a piece of metal, a bench or a table.
  • Call 911. Even if you’re unable to speak, leave the line open so a dispatcher can listen to what’s going on.

If you’re in a school:

School teachers and university professors are trained on lock-down protocols to protect themselves and their students in the event of an active shooter. Follow the instructions given to you over the intercom/ loudspeaker or by your professor. These are just some basic guidelines.

  • Remain calm. Panic spreads like wildfire and makes people act irrationally. Maintaining a calm classroom will ensure people follow through with the protocol in a timely and effective manner.
  • If you're in the hallway, go inside a classroom and follow school protocol.
  • Do not pull the fire alarm, since that will only cause people to try to evacuate through the hallway, and potentially increasing the amount of victims.
  • Stay inside the classroom.
  • Lock the door and block it with heavy furniture, such as a desk.
  • Shut the window, lower the blinds, and turn off the lights.
  • Silence your mobile devices and take them off “vibrate” mode.
  • Move away from the windows.
  • Take cover under a desk, shielding object, or duck at floor level but stay on your hands and knees. If you lay on the floor, your chances of getting hit by stray bullets are much higher because when a bullet hits the floor, it will follow the path of the floor.
  • Do not hide in groups. The shooter will be more likely to go after crowds.
  • Stay put until authorities give the “all clear”

If you’re at work or in an office building:

  • Remain calm.
  • Locate the two nearest exits and exit through one of them if you can. The second exit serves as a backup option so you’re mentally prepared in that moment. 
  • If you’re in a hallway and can evacuate through a main door, do so. If not, take refuge inside the nearest office (or bathroom- try to avoid confined places, but take cover in there if you have no other shielding options).
  • Do not pull the fire alarm. This will encourage others to leave their office like a routine evacuation and making them an easier target.
  • Lock the office door and block it with a heavy piece of furniture to prevent the shooter from getting inside.
  • Evacuate the building through a window, if possible, and only if the coast looks clear. Depending on where you are in the building, it might be safest to stay put. You never know if there’s a another gunman waiting to open fire outside. Go with your gut feeling.
  • If you stay inside the office, shut the window and close the blinds to prevent the shooter from looking through the window. Turn off the lights in the room.
  • Move away from the window.
  • Take cover and hide. You want to stay out of the shooter’s view, but you also need to protect yourself from stray bullets. A heavy piece of furniture, metal door or filing cabinet might be able to shield you.
  • Do not hide in groups.
  • Silence your phone. Take it off “vibrate” mode.
  • Contact police immediately, either through call or text. If you’re unable to talk, leave the line connected so the dispatcher can at least hear what’s going on.
  • Stay put until authorities give the “all clear”.

If you’re in a mall or theater:

  • Remain as calm as possible.
  • Survey your surroundings for the safest place to evacuate to.
  • If you’re inside an individual store, stay in there and get in the back room (store employees should be directing you there). Security should be locking the doors at the front of the store to prevent the shooter further entry.
  • If you’re in the food court or a common area, take note of the two nearest exits and run towards one of them. Look for non-obvious exits, such as those found in kitchens and stockrooms. Move as fast as possible. If a store employee is waving you in, take cover inside their store- you never know if there’s another shooter nearby.
  • If you're at the movies, observe anomalies, such as a person walking in through the "exit only" door. Being aware of your surroundings gives you a better chance of planning your escape and getting to safety.
  • Stay put until authorities give the “all clear”.

If you’re in a hospital or healthcare facility:

  • Hospital employees have to train and perform drills in order to prepare themselves for an active shooter. In such an event, they are taught to secure the areas where a life-saving patient care is in progress. They must close entry to the areas they’re at and move the patients to a secure area, even if they have to stop performing non-critical care.
  • For non-hospital employees, the first thing you should do is survey your surroundings for a safe escape route.
  • Evacuate and try to help others evacuate if you can. Do whatever you can to get to safety.
  • If evacuation is not an option, get inside a room and lock the door. Block the entry by pushing heavy furniture in front of it.
  • Find a place to hide and shelter yourself from stray bullets.
  • Silence your cell phone and keep it off of “vibrate” mode too. Turn off the TV, radio, and any other sources of noise.
  • Try to remain as calm and quiet as possible.
  • Wait until authorities arrive and give the “all clear” signal before attempting to get out of your hiding place.

    If you’re in a place of worship:

    Many places of worship have protocols and trained staff to respond in the event of a shooting. If you attend a specific congregation frequently, ask them what protocols they have for this type of an emergency. 

    • If you see someone with a gun, yell "gun" and duck under the pews.
    • Remain calm.
    • Focus your attention on the two nearest exits where you can evacuate safely. Locate a non-obvious exit, such as one through the front of the sanctuary.
    • If you cannot evacuate, look for a safe place to take cover from flying bullets and hide from the shooter’s sight.
    • If you're in the children's room, lock it down immediately. Place heavy furniture in front of the door to make it difficult for the shooter to get inside. Try to keep the kids as calm as possible.
    • Ushers and/ or security guards should be locking down the main entrances and if possible, attempting to disarm the shooter.
    • If you know where the silent police alarm is located in the building, attempt to get to it and pull the alarm.

    If you’re in a restaurant or nightclub:

    • Remain calm.
    • Take note of the two nearest exits you can use to evacuate. Use less obvious exits, such as the back door of the kitchen.
    • If evacuating is not an option, find a place to take cover.
    • Restaurant employees should direct others to the staff room, or any safe room for that matter, where the door can be locked from the inside.
    • If you’re in a hiding spot, remain quiet and silence your phone.
    • If your last resort option is to fight the shooter, use whatever makeshift weapons you can find in the kitchen. A pot (better yet if it contains hot liquid), a sharp knife, or ceramic dish.

    If you’re in a parking lot:

    • Stay inside your car.
    • Duck low as you can go. Cover yourself with a sweater or blanket if you have something handy.
    • Stay as still as possible, because any movement can be enough for the shooter to take notice.
    • Silence your phone and be quiet.
    • Don’t bring any attention to yourself (or to your car). If the active shooter is in the parking lot, you’ll want to as disguised as possible among the other empty cars.

    If the shooter is nearby:

    • Remain as quiet as possible
    • Silence your phone. Make sure it doesn’t vibrate either.
    • Last resort, you may have to aggressively fight the shooter. But remember, only if your life is in imminent danger, should you fight the shooter to save yourself.
    • Don’t attempt to fight the shooter on your own. If you’re by yourself, attach them with an improvised weapon, such as a pair of scissors, a water hose, a fire extinguisher, or a chair.
    • If you’re with two or more people, coordinate to ambush the shooter and gain control of the weapon. Everyone should attack at the same time so that the shooter doesn’t get the upper hand.
    • Throwing objects at the shooter might help to distract and possibly disarm them.
    • When your life is dependent on a bullet, you should do whatever you can to incapacitate the perpetrator and commit to your plan. You should mentally prepare to cause lethal injury to the perpetrator, and in doing so, you may be saving the life of an innocent person.
    • Never follow or go in search of a shooter in order to take them down- that’s the job of emergency professionals.

    Babies and young children:

    It's a parent's duty to protect their children. That is why we need to prepare for situations such as these- although we cannot be in control of the moment, being mentally prepared will allow you to act proactively rather than irrationally.

    • As a parent, you need to be in tune with your gut feeling. There are times when you walk into a place and you immediately know something isn't right. This is the time to walk away. Rather than being stubborn and brushing those feelings away, your intuition or discernment, might be giving you a warning so you can flee.
    • Practice evacuation drills with your kids. I know this might sound silly but when you're in public, you really don't have control over what can happen. When you have seconds to flee from a shooter, for instance, you can't just leave your kids behind. Practice picking them up (all of them) and running a few meters to a safe location. Depending on how many kids you have, you may have to pick some up and pull the others. These drills will have you prepared to act immediately, in case anything should happen.
    • Make sure to practice situational awareness with your little ones, teaching them to keep their eyes open and observe the world around them.
    • Stay off your phone as much as possible when you're out and about.
    • In the event of a shooter, grab your kids and leave your belongings behind.
    • Get as far away as possible from the shooter, however you're able to do it. Some experts suggest running in a zig zag pattern, assuming that the shooter doesn't have the best aim.
    • If running away is not an option, ind a place to take cover and hide from the shooter's view. You can crouch behind cars, large furniture, etc.
    • Try to keep your children calm by embracing them. Protect them by positioning yourself in front of them.
    • Don't lay on the ground. If you have to duck, protect your vital organs (and your childrens') by kneeling or getting on all fours.

    Persons with disabilities:

    The "run, hide, fight" idea sounds dandy for those who can get up and move, but what about those who can't?

    According to the CDC, an approximate 61 million adults in the United States have a disability- that's 1 in 4 people (or 25% of our population).

    Of that 25%, nearly half of them (13.7%  to be exact) have mobility issues.

    If mobility is a problem, then "run, hide, and fight" is no longer an effective mantra. What can be done instead?

    Some recommendations are to:

    • Develop a buddy system with another person, whether that is a co-worker if they're at work, or family/ friend if they're at church or the mall.
    • Evacuate with another person, if possible.
    • Otherwise, determine what tools you have within reach to provide some type of protection against the bullets and concealment from the attacker.
    • If you're close enough to the shooter, fight for your life. Use a cane, crutches, or whatever you have on you to fight them off.
    • This might not be an option for everyone (depending on your location and the security of the place) but if you can, keep pepper spray with you. Using pepper spray on an attacker could be the very thing that saves you, especially if you have mobility issues. Obviously, pepper spray should never be sprayed liberally, so make sure you know how to use it properly beforehand.
    • If you are hard of hearing, be sure to establish cues with your family and co-workers ahead of time so they can signal you if shots are heard.

    If you call 911:

    If you have the chance to call 911, do it. Do not assume that some else has already done it.

    • If you can talk, notify dispatch of the following:
      • The location of the shooter
      • How many shooters there are, if more than one
      • Physical description of the shooter(s)
      • What kind of weapons are being used
      • An approximate number of the amount of victims
    • If you cannot talk, leave the line open so dispatch can hear what's going on.

    Once law enforcement arrives:

    • Keep hands visible, and empty. Open your fingers so the police knows you’re not the threat.
    • Follow the instructions given to you by the officers.
    • Don’t make quick movements that will alert a police officer.
    • Don’t touch or attempt to hold on to an officer.
    • Avoid screaming, pointing, or yelling

    How to reconnect with loved ones

    Getting in touch with your family after any emergency is almost never a smooth process. Prior to any emergency, establish a reconnection plan, including how you will communicate your well-being to others, and a safe location where all of you can meet.

    Note that when there are too many people are using their devices in close proximity, it might be nearly impossible to call out because the phone lines are saturated.

    I wrote an entire blog dedicated to communication methods during and after an emergency. You can check it out here.

    Helpful preparedness resources

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made a video that discusses the fundamental principles of establishing an Emergency Action Plan during an active shooter scenario. If you have an hour and a half, I highly recommend you watch it. You can find that video here.

    The DHS has these additional resources on Active Shooter Preparedness.

    Finally, they have provided the public with a pocket-sized information card that highlights the immediate things you should do while there’s a mass shooting. It would be beneficial to have a printed copy (or copies) and study the information with your family.

    The Washington Post created this minute-long video on what to do if a gunman opens fire inside of a building. Even though it’s not nearly as comprehensive, it shows the most important protocols.

    I hope that this posts helps you prepare for a mass-shooting type of event.

    Having a mindset that "it will never happen to me" is detrimental. Being prepared is prudent.

    Preparedness doesn't mean we need to live in constant fear and skepticism. Instead, it helps us put into action the best practices to survive situations that we're not in control of.

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