How To Survive An Active Shooter Incident In A Store, A Club, A Restaurant, Or A Concert
I have often noted that a handful of armed terrorists with rifles, a few hundred rounds of ammunition each and old-fashioned Molotov cocktails could enter Macy’s on 34th Street on a busy shopping day like Christmas or “Black Friday” and execute an attack that would result in hundreds of casualties. A single shooter – armed with a rifle and handgun – was able to force his way into the Pulse nightclub containing 300 patrons in Orlando and kill 49 and wound 53 before finally being killed by police. He was shot as he exited a hole in the wall made by a police Bearcat. Had he decided to remain inside and shoot people as they tried to flee the toll might have been higher. This blog addresses what could have been done to prevent – or at least mitigate – the loss of life and number of injured persons.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has conducted a review of 160 shootings that occurred between the years 2000 and 2013. A number of critical takeaways from that analysis lead to a general strategy that can be employed to increase your chances of surviving an Active Shooter incident. Will these options guarantee you will survive? Unfortunately not, but they do improve your odds of surviving an active shooter incident.
For many years the generally accepted mantra when faced with an Active Shooter is “Run, Hide or Fight”. New York City has refined the concept to “ABC” or “Avoid, Barricade or Confront”. There are excellent reasons for the change in terminology. The first reason is a general dislike of the term “Hide”. Hiding is passive and most often does not work. Have people survived by hiding in the past? Yes they have, but even more have been found and murdered where they hid. Barricading yourself in is a more demonstrably successful strategy. The other reason for the use of “ABC” is more practical. In office buildings and other venues in New York City occupants are taught the basic response of Avoid, Barricade and Confront and are in the process of being trained to implement these protocols upon the first indication of gunfire. It is extremely unlikely that a building Fire Safety / Emergency Action Plan Director could ever direct each building occupant what to do for their own personal safety during such a volatile type of emergency. At best he or she will make a general announcement via the building public address system stating that there is an Active Shooter in the building (location will be given if known) and to immediately implement the “ABC” response. That certainly is a more effective and professional communication over a PA system than stating — as a recent government notice to occupants at a naval base — to immediately “Run, Hide or Fight”.
Which option is best? If given a choice, Avoidance is always your best chance to survive. If you have a clear way out, take it and run. Encourage others with you to do the same but leave regardless if they refuse. A few issues, however, should be noted. Whenever you go into a public assembly space like a restaurant, theater or club, immediately ascertain the location of all exits, including emergency exits or kitchens. Do this every time, NO EXCEPTIONS. Never walk into a place you don’t know how to get out of. (Note to venue owners/managers: You are legally and morally bound to keep those exits free, clear and OPEN. How many times have we heard of lives lost because a venue owner chained an exit closed to keep people from sneaking in without paying the cover or sneaking out without paying the bill? You block an exit and someone dies, you are going to prison.) Once you clear the exit, keep running and get as far away as possible. DO NOT BLOCK THE EXIT. I have heard individuals that had escaped the Pulse Nightclub say they blocked the door because they feared the shooter was going to come after them. They heard pounding and screaming and still held the door closed against those trying to escape with their lives. They were quoted as saying “I hope no one got hurt because of what we did”. There is no doubt that lives were lost because of their action.
Another important point is to make sure you are running AWAY from the threat. I recently read an article quoting a retired tactical officer giving tips on surviving a shooter. One of his tips was to “run away from the sound of gunfire”. While the principal is true the ability to do so is not always that easy. The direction of the source of a sound is often difficult to determine. Have you ever had the experience sitting in a car at a red light and hearing the sound of approaching sirens? You try to identify where it is coming from. Is it approaching you or coming from the rear, left or right? Often it is difficult to tell. The same is true with respect to gunfire. Sounds bounce all over the building and are tough to pin-point. Often it is better to choose a direction to run based upon intelligence or visual reference; once you can locate a safe way out, take it and run.
In the event you cannot escape the next best option is Barricade yourself somewhere safe. Lock the door if possible and move furniture against the door in order to deny entry. This response is a lot easier in an office building with multiple rooms than in a restaurant or nightclub. However, even a club may have office space or a basement or other area of refuge. Again, each time you enter any establishment, simply look around and get a sense of the surroundings. Awareness of the venue to some extent is always to your benefit.
What can you do if you can neither avoid the shooter nor find a place to barricade yourself in? The only option you have is to attack the shooter. Imagine for a moment if, during the first few moments of the attack in the Pulse Club, the shooter had been barraged with a volley of beer bottles thrown with extreme force by his intended victims? All it takes is one person to grab his rifle and force it downward. Other patrons knock him to the floor and attack with extreme violence. Do what is necessary to terminate the threat to your life. Improvise weapons, throw chairs, punch, kick, stab and strike until the shooter is no longer a threat. In 13% of 160 attacks reviewed by the FBI, the incident was ended when unarmed, would-be victims took the shooter down. That combat mindset must be drilled into our collective consciousness. The police department was heroic in this case but could not prevent the incident from happening. We are all ultimately responsible for our own safety and we may well have to fight for it.
David Katz is a former senior special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration and was a firearms and tactical instructor at the DEA/FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He is currently the CEO of Global Security Group, Inc.
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