How to survive a mass public (“active”) shooting – tips for avoiding the shooter’s sights and getting out alive
Random Mass Public Shootings
Despite what many believe, random mass public shootings are not uncommon occurrences. For instance, during six months in 2012, there were at least six random, mass shooting incidents (one in a drive by shooting spree killing 3 people, two in schools killing a total of 10 people, and three in public venues killing a total of 20 people). In October 2014, Harvard Research showed the rate of mass shootings has tripled since 2012. In the event that you are caught in or near a public shooting rampage, there are steps you can take to survive.
Many organizations have procedures in place that they are to follow if a shooting occurs. If practical and possible, you should understand and be familiar with the policy and procedures of the organization you are visiting. These “lockdown” procedures are almost always in place for schools. Most educational institution policies instruct students to stay away from doors and windows, lock the doors, and turn off the classroom lights.
Always be alert and conscientious about monitoring abnormal behavior. In many instances there were preliminary signs that the shooter was mentally ill and that they had contemplated a public mass shooting before committing the act. Often they had mentioned their “idea” to others beforehand. An individual who publicly mentions their desire to randomly kill or brings a weapon (or weapons) to a place where they are not allowed, should be reported to the authorities (police, supervisor, etc.) without hesitation.
In addition, be aware of anyone that does not “fit in”. Challenge people who do not have a name tag when they should or who are carrying suspicious packages. Profiling is often considered socially incorrect but everyone, including authorities, use profiling quite effectively to identify persons who stand out as “red flags”.
And of course, always be aware of your surroundings. The best survivalists will always scan an area when they first enter, making mental notes of hallways, narrow paths, and exits.
When you are near the shooter
If you are in the immediate area of the shooter, attempt to remain calm. Your first action should be to take cover behind the most solid, nearby object you can find.
Discretely find an exit
If there is an exit or window nearby, and you are reasonably sure you will not be noticed, exit the area immediately. If exiting an upper floor area, be prepared to brace yourself for a fall (roll when you hit the ground). Experts note that persons who discreetly remove themselves from the situation have the highest rates of survival. Make sure you are not seen by the shooter though. You do not want to draw attention to yourself in a mass public shooting situation.
Flee with a purposeful pattern of escape
If you do not see an exit or escape route, ask someone familiar with the area if there is a way out (or watch their actions) and then evaluate whether or not to take this route of escape. If an exit is identified, flee in a zig-zag manner or at an angle to the shooter’s forward position (i.e. do not fleet straight away from the shooter which makes you much easier to target).
Stay low, horizontal, and face down
If there is no exit and no cover, stay hidden, low, and horizontal. Lie flat on the floor, face down with your arms near your head (but not covering your head). The facedown position protects your internal organs and may trick the shooter into thinking you are already dead. The flat profile also presents a smaller target profile for the shooter and may even cause the shooter to overlook you entirely. A low profile is also less likely to be struck by stray bullets. Try to control your breathing. Shooters often shoot at the most excited persons and lying in a prone position while maintaining a slow, shallow breathing pattern may make the shooter think you are already dead.
Note that people in a survival (fight or flee) situation will stop at nothing to escape the situation and thus, the risk of being trampled by others is always present. If possible, lie close to a fixed, unmovable object that fleeing persons will have to avoid when making their escape attempt.
Remember, if the shooter is about to shoot you and you are already fleeing, run in a zig-zag pattern to make it more difficult for the shooter to hit you. The shooter may still shoot at you but you will not be an easy target.
Talk them down or take them down
If the shooter is about to shoot you at point blank range, *briefly* try talking to the shooter while complying to their demands (“passive compliance” is proven to be effective). Talking will typically not work with a mentally deranged shooter so do not spend too much time pleading for compassion. Although we may want to believe otherwise, it is highly unlikely that they will care. If you are certain you are about to be shot, shift into “attack mode”. Try throwing objects at the shooter to distract or disarm him. If there is a fairly sizable solid object nearby, you may hold it in front of you to deflect the shots or to shield yourself as you charge the shooter in an attempt to disarm him.
If you are within arm’s reach of the shooter, you may be able to disarm him. If the shooter is using a rifle, grab the barrel and turn it away from you while striking the assailant with your other hand or kicking them with your feet. As the assailant instinctively pulls the weapon’s barrel away from you, follow their movement to put them off balance and attempt to grab the butt end of the rifle while moving quickly towards them. With both ends secured in your hands, you can use the weapon as leverage as you knee or kick the assailant in the body. If the weapon is a pistol, try to quickly grab it from the top. With many pistol models, grabbing the weapon from the top will prevent the firing action from completing as you attempt to wrench the weapon from the shooter’s hand.
Understand that most random shooters will have multiple weapons on hand. If you disarm the shooter, you must still evaluate the situation and follow the above-mentioned survival attempts as the shooter rearms themselves.
If safe from the shooter, attempt to help others around you. Control bleeding quickly.
When you are not near the shooter but hear the shots
Location: not in the immediate area
If you are not in the immediate area but hear shots being fired, get away from the area as quickly as possible. It seems counter to common sense but often a sense of wonder or shock occurs which causes people to freeze in place, often watching (or shooting video) as the shooting unfolds. Do not stay around to watch but rather, put as much distance between you and the shooter as possible. The further you are from the area, the more difficult it is for the shooter to obtain a mark on you (and the less likely you’ll be hit by a random shot). If you are aware of the shooter’s position, flee away from the shooter with a purpose (e.g. zig-zag escape route – see “Flee with a purposeful patter” above). If you are unaware of the shooter’s position, try to deduce the shooter’s vantage point – often a high point with good visibility. Check this article for details on sniper tactics and avoidance.
After you have put sufficient distance between you and the shooter, call emergency services and report the incident.
Location: inside the building
If you are in a separate room, turn off the lights and if possible, lock or barricade the door with heavy objects (inward moving doors are ideal for blockades). Try to discretely cover any windows or other openings so the shooter cannot see into the room. Move away from the door. In some instances, the shooters have chosen to simply shoot through the door rather than enter the room. If there are other people in the room with you, tell them to spread apart (people tend to huddle together during a crisis). If there is a phone in the room, call the police and leave the phone off the hook while you seek cover inside the room or escape through an exit or window.
If you are shot
Gunshot wounds are survivable. If you have been shot, commit to yourself that you will survive and begin taking the necessary actions to ensure survival. Firstly, seek medical assistance immediately. Try to stay calm and concentrate on slowing down your breathing. This will decrease the bleeding and help prevent shock. Do not examine the wound too much (this can lead to panic). Cover the wound and apply direct pressure. If the wound is a sucking chest wound, you can use a credit card or other hard, flat object to cover the area. If there are persons nearby to assist, ask them to help apply pressure to the wound. Seek some sort of body covering to help retain body heat.
What to expect following a public shoot-out
Following a public shoot-out, wait for help to arrive. If you are hiding, be cautious about exposing yourself to the police. In some instances, the shooters have impersonated the police in an attempt to trick the victims into exposing themselves. Have the person clearly identify themselves as the police.
When the police arrive, they will most likely treat everyone as a suspect. Tension will be high. Do not approach them – let them come to you. Keep your hands visible at all times. Listen for their instructions and follow them quickly with no argument or conversation.
Note that emergency services are trained to understand the situation before entering it. Do not be surprised if emergency personnel stay some distance from the area and approach slowly, in a controlled and cautious manner, rather than rushing in to assist the injured.
If the shooting is still going on, stay calm and remain at a safe distance away from the situation. Police (God bless them) are also taught to bypass what they first encounter and go straight towards the sound of gunfire so do not be surprised if they pass you up on their way to the danger zone.
The five stages of an active shooter
There are typically five stages of an active shooter (the best time to stop the shooter is in stages one through three). They are:
- Fantasy stage: The shooter daydreams of shooting and fantasizes about news coverage resulting from his “heroics”. He idolizes other shooters and may post his fantasies on the Internet.
- Planning stage: The shooter begins to decide who, what, when, where, and how, likely putting his plans in writing. He may discuss his plan with others and seek an accomplice.
- Preparation stage: The shooter will begin to stockpile weapons and explosives while training with the weapons. He will likely begin surveillance of the target.
- Approach stage: The shooter has made his plans and has decided to act. He is making his way towards the target. He may call people he knows that could be in the target area and suggest the avoid the area.
- Implementation stage: The shooters opens fire. Once he begins his attack, he will continue to kill and injure until he runs out of victims or ammunition. He will often commit suicide, ending his rampage.