Friday, April 18, 2014

Decisive Action: The Key to Surviving a Mass Shooting

The prevalence of mass shooting reports in the media ensures that anxiety about this type of violence lingers in our minds more than we may even realize. While it’s important to grieve the loss of life and remember the victims and their loved ones, worrying that a mass shooting will happen in our workplace, church, school, movie theatre or mall serves no purpose. The sheer magnitude of these incidents is hard for any of us to wrap our minds around and the possibility of being involved in a mass shooting evokes a unique feeling of helplessness. After all, how do you protect yourself from an active shooter who is armed with dangerous weapons, obsessed with violence and has nothing to lose?  

You take action. You find a way, because your alternative is death and action or inaction may decide your fate. Incidents of mass violence are not times for being passive or following the crowd. What YOU do counts!

After reviewing the dynamics of modern mass shootings, the US Department of Homeland Security has released a report advising citizens to run, hide or fight.


The second you hear gunshots or become aware a shooter is in the area and you have an escape route, you should run. Don’t think about it or second guess what you heard. Don’t wait to find out what everyone else is going to do or call 911. Don’t gather your belongings. Get out!

Even if the shooter is close, every inch of distance you put between you and him makes it more difficult for him to shoot you. Running in an erratic or zigzag pattern can also make it more difficult for a shooter to keep you in his sights.

Remember, you will have adrenaline on your side, so run as fast as you can and break through any obstacles that get in your way.


If you don’t have time to run or can’t find an escape route, the next best option is to find concealment and the best option is to find cover. Concealment is anything that prevents the gunman from seeing you and cover is anything that will stop a bullet. If you can find something that serves both purposes, you increase your safety exponentially. Things like darkness, interior walls, bushes, curtains and desks may conceal you but they won’t stop a bullet. In fact, very few things will stop a bullet, but anything you do to slow it or deflect it may be beneficial. To find cover, look for things that are large and dense like brick walls, concrete, steel and engine blocks in vehicles. But keep in mind, high caliber weapons may even be able to penetrate these.

The ideal location is behind a locked or barricaded door. In review of these incidents, investigators found that mass killers rarely make an effort to breach a locked door, they just move on to the next room.

One you are well hidden, make the area as dark as possible and silence any source of noise (cell phones, radios, talking, crying, etc.) that may draw attention to your location. If you are in a hiding place with other people, make everyone spreads out as much as possible to buy time and force the shooter to find each person rather than shooting at a huddled mass of people.

If you have a cell phone and can do it quietly, you may choose to call 911 at this point. Try your best to calmly give your location and the nature of the incident. Your first words can be as simple as, “I’m at the North Valley mall. Someone is shooting.” Then you can give more information if it’s safe or leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what’s happening.


If you are unable to run or hide, the last resort is to fight for your life. Whether you work alone or as a group, you have to commit to your survival. Use surprise to your advantage, act aggressively and take advantage of any real or improvised weapons (chairs, fire extinguishers, tools, etc.) to disarm and incapacitate the shooter.


Once you are out of imminent danger call 911, do what you can to prevent other individuals from entering the area where the active shooter may be and tend to those who are injured.

Whether you have chosen to run, hide or fight, it’s important to act appropriately when the police arrive. The first officers on scene are not there to evacuate or tend to the injured. They will be focused on locating and neutralizing the shooter so they will treat everyone as a potential threat. Running to the officers or pointing or yelling can distract them or cause them to mistake you for a threat. Just do your best to stay calm, keep your hands visible and follow every instruction they give.

As with any other form of violence, action is more effective than inaction. Every second counts. Make a choice to run, hide or fight and do it.

The City of Houston Office of Public Safety and The Department of Homeland Security have produced a short video on the run, hide or fight concept. You can view it

Listen to several discussions about this topic Pamela Hill's Voice America Radio Show: Fear is Negotiable Business Survival Skills 101.

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