This post summarizes Andy Barker’s presentation titled “Active Shooter Response” from the August 6, 2014 Securing & Surviving The Active Shooter Epidemic Seminar. It is meant to convey his ideas and opinions without endorsement or criticism.
Shootings can occur anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. When they do, they will likely be over in 5–15 minutes—before law enforcement can intervene. So people on-site are the first line of defense; they must be ready to protect themselves. Would you be ready to take action to survive?
A Survival Mindset
For most people, an active shooter event will trigger panic. At a biological level, panic occurs when your thought processes go from the cerebral cortex—where critical thinking occurs—past the mid-brain—where basic emotions occur—down to the “old brain.” The old brain’s response to danger is to fight, to flee, or to freeze. Without critical thinking, any one of those decisions could be fatal.
A survival mindset can help you overcome the panic and take action to survive. It can pull your brain functioning out of the old brain and back up to where you can critically assess your surroundings and make decisions based on the circumstances around you. A survival mindset can become your protective shield during an active-shooter event.
There are three components to a survival mindset:
- Awareness: Staying alert to your surroundings is the first step to getting out of danger should it arise. But that awareness has to happen before danger occurs. Don’t bury your eyes in your phone or cover your ears with headphones. Keep your eyes up and pay particular attention to anything—or anyone—that seems out of place. And take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit.
- Preparation: Ask yourself “what if” questions. What if someone came into your building yelling and acting aggressively? How would you respond? What if you heard gunshots at work? Which exit would you run to? Where would you hide if you had to? If you look at your work environment through the lens of survival by asking these questions, you will be better equipped to develop effective response strategies.
- Rehearsal: Mentally and physically practicing an escape plan can prepare you for a survival mindset. This builds your confidence so you are more prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. Rehearsal also helps reduce your response time.
Run, Hide, Fight
For active shooter events, your escape plan should have three basic components: run, hide, and fight. Using your survival mindset, you should continuously assess the event to decide on the appropriate survival action. Should you run, hide, or fight?
Run – If you can, get out. Trust your gut feeling, move quickly, and do not wait for others to validate your decision. Once you are safely out of the building, call out to authorities using 911; don’t assume anyone else has.
Hide – If you can’t get out without being seen by the killer, hide out. Find a well-hidden and well-protected hiding place. Find a way to keep the killer out of your hiding place. Block the door with heavy furniture, turn off the lights, be completely silent, and turn off any noise-producing devices. And if you are hiding with others, spread out. Huddling in a group gives the killer a single target.
Fight – Your last resort is to fight back; try to take the killer out. Develop a plan of action while you hide if the killer were to enter the room. Work quietly together to develop the plan if you’re in a group. You must be prepared to do whatever it takes to neutralize the threat. Throw things, yell, use improvised weapons. Have the mindset that you have what it takes to survive.
Arm yourself with the mindset to survive. Situational awareness is critical to surviving an active shooter event. With awareness, preparation, and rehearsal you can prepare yourself to make the crucial decisions to run, hide, and/or fight.