What To Do In A Mass Shooting

  • Posted on: 16 March 2019
  • By: David Trammel

ID 80756797 © Björn Wylezich | Dreamstime.com

Given this week's shootings in New Zealand, I thought this would be a good first post on the subject of "Personal Security and Green Wizardry".

"Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst."

The clean term used by experts and officials is "active shooter", as opposed to what you or I would call it, "Some crazed nutjob is shooting up where I'm at!". While someone with a knife, ax or machete can still cause a lot of injuries, it is a person with a gun that is most dangerous, given a gun's ability to cause injury at a distance and multiple times quickly.

In either case, its going to be the actions you take in those first few minutes that keep you alive. Active shooter situations are usually over in a short time, with police arriving quickly and in force. In some cases a stand off or hostage situation develops. Be prepared to protect yourself for an extended time if need be

While each shooting, from the lone gunman in a corner convenience store to the full on mass shooting at a work place or school, is unique there are things they have in common and actions you can take to increase your chance of survival. Developing a mindset that you are aware of the World around you, isn't just a good Green Wizard skill to have but a good skill for every one to cultivate. Most of us will go through Life never needing to apply CPR to someone, and yet that fact doesn't stop millions of people from learning that Life saving technique. The same can be said about learning to survive a mass shooting

Let's look at those skills.


Before The Shooting Starts - Locations of Risk

Where you are and what is going on, are a huge factor in whether a shooting is going to occur.

While you can't live your Life in fear, avoiding any situation that has a remote chance of someone opening fire, you can and should be aware of your surroundings and the situation. Sitting at home alone and in front of your computer has a much lower risk than being in a crowded location like a shopping mall or musical event. Also some situations have an emotional context which can increase the risk. Political and religious events, around subjects that carry a high emotional context have fringe elements that may decide that the power of a mass shooting's statement is worth the possibility of life long incarceration or even death. Certain other places, such as schools, theaters, nightclubs and churches seem to be high on the list of danger.

This is not to say avoid these places, but to remember that they carry risks. While you might swim in your backyard pool with an open cut (not wise), doing so in the ocean carries the risk that the blood might attract something that considers you a light snack.

There is a second type of place where the risk of an active shooter is high. That is your workplace. Being fired is traumatic at the best of times, but if the person being fired has personal emotional issues or there is a perceived hostile environment, the fired individual may decide seeking revenge with a gun is worth it. Unlike the first area of risk we mentioned, where you won't know the individual who is the active shooter, in your workplace you should be familiar with your co-workers. And the office politics at your work. You should have an idea who is emotional and won't take a firing well, and who isn't. You should know when there is a hostile work environment or office bully and who is the one being harassed. You may not be able to do anything about the situation but that doesn't mean you close your eyes to the risk of it going badly. The individual seeking revenge might remember you were kind to them but they may not and decide you are a convenient target too.

There is a third area of risk, and that is places of likely criminal activity. Gas stations at night, fast food restaurants and places with large amounts of cash, like banks, have all been places where a criminal with a gun has appeared. Where in the first two types of locations you are a possible target, in this instance you are just a bystander. Unless you are an employee or manager, the criminal just wants no trouble from you. Appearing non-threatening is often your best response. While you may briefly think of the acclaim you'd get from being the hero, acting to stop the crime will more likely see you shoot.


Before The Shooting Starts - Situation Awareness

How many of us have heard jokes about people so engrossed with their cell phones that they walk into a lamp post? Its funny and sad at the same time.

Being aware of your environment on an active basis isn't just something to have in a risky situation. Every day people trip over clearly visible obstacles, bag their heads on low hanging hazards or injure themselves in other ways that in hindsight are seen as completely avoidable. Develop the habit of actually observing the World around you.

Here are some things to start doing now before trouble occurs.

  • Take A Moment to Pause - When entering a room, office or a situation, take a moment to pause before entering to quickly access the environment. Don't assume that what is behind that door will be the same situation you've encountered every other time you did. I once worked as a security guard at a local outdoor Mall. Along with shops and restaurants across the Plaza, it had a large office building. One of my jobs was to go to the top of that building to check the roof access, then come back down. It had an internal elevator but also a exterior glass walled one too that I liked to take down. One night as my supervisor and I were making the rounds, when that exterior elevator's door opened, it was not there. It had malfunctioned and was still on the ground floor. Either he or I, had we not paused before stepping forward could have fallen to our deaths.

    Not all people injured in an active shooter situation are there at the start. Some are people who enter the situation from outside or from another area of the building. The shooter will be focused on a hundred different things and they may not notice you. Especially if you are still. That brief window of opportunity may allow you to escape.

  • Locate the Exits and Safety Equipment - This goes double if the area is one you are in all the time. Always have two ways out of any place you are in. Not just a active shooter, but natural disaster like earthquakes can happen unexpectedly. Fires can break out very quickly. Don't be trapped. Look for not-so visible exits too. Public places like grocery stores and restaurants have employee only sections, which also have exits. Back of the kitchens or loading docks can provide you a way to escape unseen.

    Speaking of fires and other more common emergencies, do you know where the nearest fire extinguisher in your place of employment is? Do you know how to use it? Do you have one at home? Two years ago, my air conditioner went out. It was very hot out, so I went into my basement to sleep. I have an old futon couch down there. One night as I was dozing off, I realized that should a fire break out upstairs, I was screwed. I'd have to climb the stairs probably into a very dangerous environment. Next day I bought a fire extinguisher. Not one of those small kitchen fire ones either, this is a larger rechargeable unit, that I keep right now, next to my bed as I sleep.

    Besides exits, take note of rooms that can be secured in the case you can't escape and you should need to hide. Also note what rooms have furniture and equipment you can use to barricade the door. A locked door is good, but a unlocked door covered by a huge heavy desk might be safer. Be aware of what the walls are made of too. Most indoor walls are two thin layers of drywall and not much protection. Look for rooms with walls of concrete brick.

  • Take Note of Unusual Noises or Activity - The first indication that there is a problem will probably be something out of the ordinary. A sudden loud noise or unusual activity, could give you a few moments to react and escape. Our natural inclination when faced with something usual is surprisingly to do nothing. Our brains are conditioned to assume things will happen as they have happened before. We also tend to "follow the herd", doing what others are doing. Keep in mind, you are on your own.

    Don't rush towards a situation until you know what you are getting yourself into. By the same token, if you are the first person to see something, speak up. Inform someone else of what you see. It may be tempting to pull the fire alarm as a way to alert others. DON'T. Doing so just adds another layer of chaos to a dangerous situation. And some people will think its a drill and won't take it seriously. Instead, begin yelling loudly "GUN" or "GUNMAN".

  • Share Your Plan - The recent shooting in New Zealand, offer you a opportunity to discuss what you and your co-workers, or you and your friends and family, would do in the event of an active shooter. Just like you should talk to your family about what to do in a home fire, how each person would escape and where you would meet once exiting, so too should your workplace have plans on how to deal with emergencies. Don't forget people with special needs, like the handicapped.

    You should also discuss with your family, what you would do if you are not home but in a public place and an active shooting happens. Do you flee or do you hide? If paired, who watches front and who watches rear? If you have children, who handles them and who watches for threats? What happens if one of you is hit? It may seem cold but if one of you is injured and can't escape on their own, the other person's best chance to survive and come back after may be to abandon the injured person. The injured person should then play dead to not attract attention. A body on the ground not moving, is often less of a target for a active shooter, than a person holding an injured one. Its a sick fact but often the shooter is looking to cause the most emotional damage, and shooting the uninjured person too may do that in their minds. Talk about the possibility before it happens.

Further Reading: The OODA Loop — Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.


When The Shooting Starts - "Run, Hide, Fight"

There is never going to be one universal rule for what to do in an active shooter situation, each one will be unique, but experts have come up with a good general rule; "Run, Hide, Fight."

  • RUN - At the first awareness of a active shooter situation, escape as quickly and safely as you can. You should know where the exits are, use them if the path will not take you in the gunman's direction. Don't forget non-normal exits like windows. Stay low and out of sight if possible. Run in a zigzag or from cover to cover if you think you may be seen. Not all things will provide you protection. Cubicle dividers won't stop bullets. Most indoor walls are just two layers of drywall and no protection either.

    Don't stop to get your belongings. Help others escape if possible but get out regardless of whether others agree to follow. Its harsh but don't stop and help injured people unless they can move themselves.

    Be aware that there may be police outside rushing in. Exit the building with your hands visible. Listen for commands to halt or fall to the ground. Obey immediately. Police officers don't know if you are a victim or the shooter and have only moments to make a decision. Don't escape one shooter to end up being injured by another. Don't try and explain or shout information, but wait to be asked. You may want to be helpful but that officer has other immediate concerns. Unless you have been seriously injured, then in a calm voice keep repeating "I've been shot". And don't protest if the officer is too forceful. The truth is very few police officers ever encounter a active shooter situation and while they have training, they are probably as scared as you are. Cooperate as much as possible. You may be handcuffed or asked to sit with your hands on your head. This is for your safety as well as the officer's.

    If there are no police yet, call 911. Don't assume someone else has. Once the 911 operator answers give your location followed by the situation in a short description. Giving the location first allows the operator to immediately enter the information as they listen to the rest. As you do, take cover behind something. The next person exiting could be another victim but it may also be the shooter. Once you have done so, try and stop people from entering the building. Stay vigilant, the police are about to arrive and again, they will not know who you are.

  • HIDE - If you can't escape, then find someplace that will deny the shooter access to you. Don't just hide and hope you won't be found. Look for a room you can lock from the inside. If no lock, then use anything you can to barricade the door, making it harder for the shooter to enter. If you can, find a way to stay hidden and still see the shooter's location. If they have moved on past you, and you are sure of it, you may be able to then escape.

    If you can, quickly call 911. Inform the operator of your location and situation, then stop talking. Leave the phone on, but set it down so the operator can continue to listen. If you are not on the line with the 911 operator, turn your phone to silence, that is not even vibrate. Your family will try and call you as soon as they hear of the situation, especially if they know you work there. The shooter may be alerted when that comical ringtone you have for your spouse blares out loudly. Don't let it be the last thing you remember.

    Turn off the lights and any equipment that is making noise like a television or radio. Hide behind something heavy and stay low. Don't lay down though, its hard to react quickly. Crouch instead and stay alert. Shooters often fire at torso level at movement or sound. If they do fire into your room, stay quiet. The shooter may not know you are in there and is just firing at random to flush people out.

    Don't try and spread the news on social media. Don't try and text your family to let them know you are ok. Wait until the situation is over. Don't try and give out information either. The shooter may be listening to the News as well, and reporters don't have a good track record of self censorship in a crisis. The Local News broadcasting "that there are people hold up on the second floor even now", could lead the shooter directly to you. You're 20 minutes of Fame will come after. Be like a mouse and stay silent.

    Wait for the police but be aware shooters sometimes call out they are the police to flush out people. Or they yell for help like they are a victim. If you have any doubts, stay hidden. Unless someone is seriously injured, let the police come to you.

  • FIGHT - When you can not escape, and are unable to hide, then as a last resort, you must Fight Back.

    Its unfortunate but the Myth of the Gun, holds that someone with one can not be taken on by someone who does not. Except in those Hollywood moments where the hero is a master of unarmed combat or has special skills. That isn't true. Yes, having a firearm greatly magnifies your lethality but you are only as good as your training and most people who choose to commit mass shootings are neither well trained nor particularly skilled at what it takes to commit violence like the military does. It takes concentrated practice to be able to hit moving targets in a high stress situation. That works to your advantage. The shooter will probably miss you on their first shot, especially if you surprise them.

    Use that advantage.

    The shooter had surprise on their side in their first few moments, as they entered the area, but once everyone realizes what is going on, the playing field becomes more level. Most mass shooters expect that because they have a gun, all others will do as they say, hide or cower in fear. They won't expect people to fight back.


    Once you make up your mind that your only option is to fight back, go into that fight with the overwhelming commitment to end the threat. You will be fighting at a close range that can off set the advantage being armed has. This isn't a situation of half measures. Don't fight fair and don't hold back. Attack with violence and aggression. Hit the shooter with anything you can, then keep hitting them. Don't stop even if the shooter seems defeated. If they move, they are still a threat. This person came into your space to kill innocent people, and at that point has. Tell yourself it's you or the shooter, and its damned well going to be YOU!

    Remember, a gun can only be shoot in one direction. Go for the gun. Control the weapon and you render the shooter's advantage null. If you can't get it away, then seek to hold it in place so it can't be used while others inflict as much damage on the shooter as they can. Go for the barrel and try to control which way it is pointed. If it is a semi-automatic pistol, grab the slide hard. Prevent it from cycling fully and it will jam the pistol, preventing a follow up shot.

    Use distractions in that first second. Someone too small to physically attack the shooter can provide a misdirection by throwing something that will make a loud noise and attract the shooter's attention away from where the attack is going to come from. Attack the shooter from behind, attack them from more than one angle. Team up with others. Remember, people follow. Be courageous, be assertive. The more people who attack together the less people who will be injured and the quicker the situation will be over.

    Give yourself the advantage by using everything you can as a weapon. Chairs, tables, even a hot pot of coffee thrown at the shooter's face will help. Don't forget the fire extinguishers. Sprayed in the shooters face, it will blind them or at least provide cover for your attack.

    People have survived even multiple gun shoot wounds and lived. Be prepared to be injured and draw strength from the pain. GET PISSED OFF!


Special Situation - If You Are Armed Too

Missouri where I live, allows concealed carry of a firearm by any adult who does not have a prior felony conviction or history of mental illness. This does not require a license. It used too, but in September of 2016, the Legislation passed a bill which would allow people to carry without a license or training. As a lifelong gun owner, and political Libertarian, I'm not sure I agree with the move to a more lax control on who carries a gun in public.

Let me say, that I have occasionally carried a firearm in public concealed. Perhaps a dozen times in the last two years. I don't carry regularly but my sister does. She works in a bit rougher part of town than I, and as a single woman I guess finds it reassuring to have the ability to defend herself if need be. She at least, regularly goes with me to the gun range to practice and surprised me with how quickly she became proficient with her gun. If she has to ever use it, I feel she will at least not shoot wildly off target. Of course, practice on the range doesn't equal accuracy in a high stress situation.

Let's discuss the special situation where where both you and the active shooter are armed.

  • The Obvious Advantages - Bringing a second firearm into an active shooter situation has advantages and disadvantage. The obvious advantage is that you have the ability to end the situation quickly. Firing from surprise and at close ranges at a person bent on causing the most casualties, can end the attack before it takes more lives. This isn't a case where chivalry is desirable. No honorable shoot outs at the OK Corral. Shoot the bastard from behind and put him down like a bad dog. And no mercy either, don't shoot to disarm or just wound. If you are shooting a person in the middle of a public attack, aim to kill them. You will probably be at a disadvantage in fire power. Most concealed carry weapons are light and of limited ammo capacity. An active shooter will no doubt be as armed as they can be. You will need to end it quick and with as few shots fired as possible.

  • The Many Disadvantages - While there is the fire power disadvantage mentioned, there are also several others of huge importance.

    • First, you will be introducing another firearm to a chaotic situation. You know you are a good guy, but will others? In an office shooting, the people around you, know you and recognize that you are there to protect them. Leaving aside the fact most places of work expressly forbid employees from having personal firearms there. In a public active shooter situation, you won't have that advantage. Everyone around you will see someone armed, when there are people being shot. You could find yourself attacked by the very people you want to protect.

    • Second, how do you know that the person you see with a gun, is the active shooter and not another concerned citizen trying to defend the innocent? The person you fire on to end the threat may well be uninvolved in the situation and trying to help, just like you. This will certainly open you up to legal and civil charges, when you are wrong.

    • Third, police have no way of knowing either. They will arrive on the scene and do what ever it takes to end the situation. If you are caught in the exchange, even mistakenly, you may find yourself shot by the good guys. You may not even see the officers. You could be so focused on the threat before you, you may miss the threat behind you. Police will not hesitate to shoot first, in such situations, and ask questions afterwards.

Your decision on whether you draw out your concealed firearm and defend yourself, must weigh the advantages and disadvantage.

My suggestions are, keep your firearm hidden until you absolutely have to use it. Don't display it. Be ready to pocket it and walk away without anyone knowing you had it. Use it only in clear defense when you can absolutely identify the active shooter. Once you do, hide it and walk away. If you are confronted by the police, spread your hands, drop the gun and freeze. Obey their commands. If they are near but not yet around you, lay down on the ground and push the firearm away from you. Put your hands behind your head. If you had to fire, expect to be taken into custody, probably pretty roughly. You'll heal and have the chance to explain things at the Police Station.

Above all, don't let yourself be shot by mistake.


Immediately After The Shooting - Help the Wounded

In the chaos of the first few minutes after an active shooting situations, there are several things you can do.

  1. Check yourself for injures. - In a highly stress filled situation its easy to completely over look both minor and sometimes major injures. Take a moment to check yourself first. Be prepared to freak out too. What just happened will hit you hard. You may shake and even vomit. Its normal. By the same token, you may have no reaction at all.

  2. Take the Lead - People will be looking for leadership and guidance. If you can, step up and fill the gap.

  3. Check the people around you out for injures - Collect the survivors and have them first check themselves, then those around them for injures. Pair the uninjured with the injured before the first responders arrive. Turn unconscious injured on their sides and keep someone there to watch over them. An internal injury may not be apparent. Put pressure on any large wounds and cover them with cloth or bandages to try and slow the bleeding. Paramedics and ambulances will be there but usually only after the police have secured the area. It will help them tremendously to know who is most injured and needs assistance now and who can wait.

  4. Begin Contacting Relatives - See who has cell phones on them, and get them to contact their family. Ask them to keep it short. Find out who doesn't have cell phones and arrange that they too can contact and reassure their own family. Exchange contact info among the group. You have now all gone through a common experience that will bond you probably for Life. There may come a time where the only person you feel understands what you went through is some one else who shared the experience.


After The Shooting

Understand that your Life has been altered in so many ways. Some are predicable and some unforeseen. Either way, don't try and do it yourself. Seek professional advice and counseling if you need to.

Further Reading: Active Shooter Preparedness - Department of Homeland Security