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Oct 02

Surviving An Active Shooter Incident

Surviving An Active Shooter Incident

The Department of Homeland Security defines an Active Shooter as

“an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm[s] and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

active shooterThe active shooter scenario is becoming increasingly more common. EVERY public assembly space including theatres, malls, schools, houses of worship, should immediately create, put in place and drill the response to this type of emergency. In NYC, the FDNY and NYPD have made it MANDATORY that all high-rise office buildings add an active shooter response to their emergency action plans. But in addition to hoping that the venue you happen to be in has an appropriate and effective plan to handle an active shooter, I have a few thoughts on the topic to share with you.

The first and perhaps most important step to survive this type of emergency as well as other is to prepare yourself mentally to response before the incident occurs. This is of extreme importance because under extreme stress you will suffer a degradation of cognitive ability. In simple terms, you will lose the ability to think clearly. You will also likely experience one or more of the most common psychological responses to fear or extreme emotional stress such as Tachypsychia, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and/or cognitive dissonance. These effects can be disorienting and extremely dangerous because they prevent you from responding in an appropriate manner. You need to mentally prepare yourself to respond BEFORE an incident happens. It has been proven that mental pre-planning or rehearsal in your mind, if an effective antidote to these effects. A simple example of what I am talking about is something we all can do when we take our family to the movies. Most people, wherever they are, will try an exit a location from the same point they entered, even during an emergency. For example, if there is a smoke or fire condition in a theatre and the audience must evacuate, most of your fellow theatre goers will try to leave by the main entrance through which they entered. Whenever I go to a movie with my kids I tell them to pay attention to the exits located on either side of the screen. I tell them to look at the route they would need to take to exit through either of those exits and imagine moving quickly along that route. “While everyone is trying to force their way out the front”, I tell them, “we will move toward either of the exits at the front”. I also remind them that they must assist others that cannot move quickly and to direct others toward the less crowded exits once they are safe.

Let’s discuss the active shooter scenario. Regardless of where the incident occurs there are only three possible responses to this type of threat. They are: Run. Hide. Fight.

  1. Run: If you have a clear and safe exit and are not responsible for someone who cannot run (someone elderly or an infant or child) then run. Running may also be a good choice regardless because it is hard to hit a moving target.
  2. Hide (and/or barricade): If the attacker cannot find you or cannot access the area in which you are holed up in (assuming you have proper cover), you cannot be harmed. If you seek cover make sure it is true cover not merely concealment. Concealment is something like an interior wall that may keep you from being seen but will not stop a bullet. Cover refers to some physical object that is between you and the threat that will stop a bullet or other projectiles like shrapnel such as a concrete or brick wall, a steel beam or behind the wheel well of a car.
  3. Fight: Attack the shooter; aggressively violently. Throw objects, use weapons. Take him off his feet; attack his eyes, throat and groin. Control the weapon. If you are armed (in NYC this is unlikely as our politicians have disarmed most law-abiding folks) and you can take a clear shot, shoot the attacker until he is down (be mindful that the attacker may be wearing body armor as James Holmes did during his massacre in Aurora, CO). There are so many cases where timely action by ordinary civilians has saved a lot of lives. CAVEAT: If you are carrying a weapon for self-defense you have the responsibility of being proficient. Train at the range and consider taking courses which simulate extreme stress and measure a shooter’s ability to react under pressure and exercise appropriate judgment under stress (we offer this type of training and it is enormously important).

Remember, simply taking a few moments to run through a couple “what if” scenarios may give you an edge in surviving an active shooter incident or other emergency. It will allow you to act while others freeze, unsure of what to do. Make doing this a habit wherever you go.

David Katz, a former senior Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Global Security Group, Inc. (GSG), a firm providing a number of protective, investigative, fire and life safety and specialized training services (http://globalsecuritygroup.com).  Mr. Katz was also a firearms and tactical instructor at the DEA/FBI Academy at Quantico, VA where he provided training to literally thousands of US federal agents, state and local police officers, specialized military units and their foreign counterparts.