How to Survive an Active Shooter Situation

Before you read this article, you may want to watch this video that shows just how easy it is to hide a rifle, a handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition without ever being detected. Warning: it’s frightening, and you WILL want to read on. Click here to watch.

In light of so many recent horrific events that involved mass killings (and this frightening video), when my community offered a 3-hour workshop titled “Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Situation,” I knew I should take it. After all, I live just three miles from where the Orlando mass shooting took place just a couple of months ago, and I travel throughout the world, having been in Istanbul’s airport, the promenade in Nice, malls in Munich, I frequent movie theaters and more places likely to be targets. There’s very little we can do to predict where the next one will take place (and sadly, it WILL take place again), so the more we can equip ourselves with knowledge and skill, the better. Let me share with you what I learned at this workshop in hope that it will help you and your loved ones as well.

What we were taught this weekend was nothing ground breaking, revealing or even anything more than common sense. But an important thing to remember is that we need to remind ourselves and practice these things ALL THE TIME. One of the keys to surviving something like this, is to not hesitate in making decisions and to take action quickly. Thankfully, since we personally don’t encounter these frequently (and hopefully never at all), our brains and bodies are not accustomed to taking those quick actions – so we have to remind ourselves and practice… over and over and over again. It can’t be stressed enough that our survival likely will depend on the quick judgments and muscle memory that only comes with practice. Have I mentioned practice enough times? I don’t think so…PRACTICE!

Two of the most important things we can do to survive an active shooting situation (or any disaster) are both physical preparation and mental preparation. This was a workshop geared towards gun owners (don’t worry, if you’re not a gun owner, we get back to that in a moment). The presenter stressed that, as a gun owner, we need to practice at the range a MINIMUM of two times per month with the gun we carry. I belong to a woman’s shooting group that meets once per month at the range and also go to my local range’s Ladies Day, which charges only $5. If you Google your city and “gun range ladies day” or even just call around, I’ll bet you’ll find some great opportunities. During these range sessions, it’s important to always practice the basic fundamentals of marksmanship (stance, sight alignment, trigger control, etc.) but also be sure to practice one-hand shooting and using your non-dominant hand, as you never know what position you’ll be in during an active shooter situation. I also highly recommend taking more tactical training workshops, where you get to practice shooting from positions other than standing, such as prone, crouching or kneeling. It’s also important to practice drawing your carry weapon from its holster or your purse (depending on how you carry), because let’s face it – most of us NEVER do this. However, this can be a highly dangerous practice activity (which is why most ranges don’t allow it), so it’s strongly recommended that you practice at home with your gun unloaded and magazine removed. Do this… minimum twice per month, so it becomes embedded in your muscle memory and, when the need arises, you don’t even have to think about it or fumble around. Another great practice opportunity we discussed is paintball or laser tag. This activity, while fun, lets you experience the adrenaline rush, physical exertion and tactical maneuvers that one may experience in a live shooter scenario.

Now onto the mental preparations. This is true for everyone, whether you carry a gun or not. Our presenter felt that this was actually more critical than the physical preparations, especially in mass killing situations. It’s all about putting yourself in realistic scenarios of where you’d be and how you’d respond in an active shooting situation. It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself and to know your limitations beforehand. The value of knowing your limitations is that you can train to overcome them or at the very least deal with them, so they don’t become a hindrance.

Believe it or not, in an active shooter situation your best tool may not be a gun, no matter how skilled you are at shooting it. Your most important tool may very well be your mindset. You need to train your brain to fight Mother Nature. Your brain doesn’t want chaos, so it does everything it can to normalize a situation, including slowing down when things get scary. This is why people who have experienced disasters or frightening situations report things moving in slow motion and their bodies and brains physically freezing up. We also have to keep in mind that, as humans, we’re social beings, and our brains naturally want to do what everyone else is doing (otherwise known as “group think”). People will actually ignore unlocked or even open doors as escape routes, because they see people cowering in the corner, and their brain is stuck on the feeling there is safety in numbers or other people must know better. But this isn’t always the case.

How do we train against this? Be aware of your environment at all times. It’s called “situational awareness,” and it’s important to know what’s normal for that particular situation so you can differentiate when something isn’t quite right. If everyone is sitting around in shorts, sipping coffee with friends, or walking quickly past, but all of a sudden someone comes in alone, wearing a dark long-sleeve hoodie and baggy jeans, and nervously pacing back and forth, we need to recognize something isn’t right about this picture. Or if you’re at an airport in the unloading zone, and everyone is dropping someone off with luggage and giving hugs, but you notice one person pulls up alone in a car and gets out and starts walking away, something isn’t right about that situation. If you look closely at the beginning of the video above, you’ll notice he’s very nervous, and there is a bulge at the top of his shirt that doesn’t look right… this could be your very first (or only) clue to prepare to get out. As you’re scouting a room or environment, start thinking about your strategy – what will you do if something terrible happens. I live with an Israeli, and he has literally grown up and continues to live in a state of high alert that a terrorist may strike at any moment. He has taught me that everywhere we go, whether it’s a restaurant, a mall, a movie theater, to look around and make note of possible exits (or makeshift exits), and anything that can be used as a weapon or obstacle, such as throwing down a bookshelf behind me as a blockade when trying to escape. Some call this “Avoid, Deny, Defend” and others call it “Run, Hide, Fight.” Whatever you call it, you need to know your environment, so you can plan your strategy.

If you can run, RUN – and don’t hesitate for a second, even if others around you aren’t running yet (remember the dangers of group think). Know where the closest exit is at all times. Make note of where windows are and what can be used to break the glass (a chair, for example) in an emergency. Warn others as you’re running, but get out as fast as you can and as tempting as it may be, DO NOT stop to render aid to others. You’re not to be a hero in these situations, you are to stay alive for your family and loved ones that need you.

If you can’t run any farther, hide. If you hear something outside the room, and you can’t get out to safety (or don’t know where it’s safe), lock the door of the room you’re in. Be aware of which direction the doors opens, and if the door doesn’t have a lock, barricade it with a chair or table or anything else you can find. If there are double doors, tie the knobs together with a belt or scarf or anything else. Do anything you can to keep someone from getting in. Mass killers generally want to kill, they do not want to play hide and seek. So they will look for easy targets, and if you make it difficult to get into where you are, they are likely to move on. Turn off the lights and turn off your cell phone ringer, so you can’t be heard. But dial 9-1-1. If you think the killer is near, don’t say a word to the dispatcher – the dispatcher will likely hear there is a problem and/or will make note that multiple calls are coming in from the same location. But never assume someone else has called 9-1-1, as you may be the only one to remember or thinking straight.

Lastly, if you can no longer hide, you must prepare to fight. Look around the room or in your bag for any objects available that you can use to defend yourself. Even if it’s not a gun, it may be a knife, scissors, fire extinguisher, coffee pot, a chair, even a pen. This may need coordination with other people around you, but remember regardless you must be aggressive and ready to fight for your life: go for the eyes, the throat, the groin of the attacker, whatever it takes. If you do have a firearm, place yourself in a position to defend yourself, even if that means cracking a closet door open just enough to poke through the barrel of your gun. If you’re unarmed, try best to place yourself in a position of advantage. You want to see the threat before the threat sees you. Maybe it’s on top of a cabinet (the killer likely won’t be looking up in the air when he enters a room) or around a corner that isn’t obvious.

When you’re fortunate enough to make it until law enforcement arrives, drop any weapons and be sure to follow their commands (don’t worry, they will always be wearing a uniform and have a badge). Show your empty hands and keep them in plain sight, because at this point they won’t know who is a good guy from a bad guy, and sudden moves will scare them.

Sadly, we can no longer walk through life thinking it’s not going to happen to us. We have to prepare for the fight and be confident we can overcome. If you’re positive you CAN fight for your life, you are MUCH more likely to win and stay alive.  Sometimes it’s all about attitude.  The most important thing I hope you take away from this post is to have a plan and practice your plan… over and over and over again. Make sure all of your family members are aware of your plan and make sure they know how you will react and how they will be expected to react. Make sure you have a plan of action for your work place as well – and even if your employer won’t implement one, be sure to have your own.

Good luck, and may we all stay vigilant and safe. Read this post again from time to time as a reminder and for that practice I said was so important.  Feel free to share this blog post with friends and family, and stay tuned to Shoots N Giggles for more information (and tools) on staying safe.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

July 29, 2016 at 12:13 am

I think this is a great must read for men women and children to learn. I go out too many times and see people in malls, movies etc.. all paying attention to their phones and various technology tools we use today never looking up to see what’s going on around them. It’s a shame to see people even walking across a busy street with their faces so embedded in their phones texting or in a public area chasing Pokemon. I hope that everyone reads this and decides to practice the above and teach their children the same awareness of their surroundings and knowing what to do in an emergency crisis. Even if it’s not an emergency and you are just dropping kids off at a mall, park or movie, we all need to teach them to be aware of strangers and suspicious people and not just be focused on our phones, games, and tablets. I believe implementing this in every household will save lives.

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October 5, 2017 at 7:04 pm

[…] offices, dining room tables and well, just about everywhere. I’ve also covered in past blog posts how to survive an active shooting situation, or at least how to increase your chances of survival. But as we saw in the Las Vegas massacre, […]

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