Surviving Mass Shootings

The horrific tragedies of mass shootings have haunted the nation with grief and anger at the senseless, preventable violence. Because of the high number of casualties coupled with media coverage, mass shootings often make headlines all over the nation. As of writing this post, there has been over 240 mass shootings in the United States in 2022 alone. Mass shootings are seldom random with reports showing that mass shootings are often:

  • Perpetuated by someone who displayed prior warning signs
  • Intermingled by acts of domestic violence
  • Far deadlier when they involve assault weapons and high-capacity magazines

Discussing the attacks can be a difficult conversation. However, we can’t avoid preparing ourselves for the off chance that we find ourselves in an active shooter situation.

“You must be an active participant in your own survival” – James Hamilton

Be an Active Participant in Your Own Survival

Depending on your surrounding, there are a number of actions you can take to protect yourself. In the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, a gunman entered the second floor of Morris Hall during his killing spree that left 32 students and faculty members dead.

One lesson from this tragedy was what took place in Room 205 of Morris Hall. Students barricaded the door with tables and desks when they heard gunshots ringing through the hall. Because of the barricade, every student in the classroom survived despite the gunman’s efforts of shooting into the room. In another classroom, students who jumped out the second story window were able to escape the shooter whereas those who were inside were gunned down. Finally, in another room, students who hid under their desks were left as easy targets for the gunman when he walked down each row. During an active shooter event, we can take actions that may improve the changes of survival.

Take Time to Prepare an Emergency Action Plan

When you’re out in public, ask yourself: If there’s an attack, what will I do? Before settling into a spot in public, take a quick moment to survey your surroundings to look for potential exit routes, hiding spots, and analyze venue or building layouts before heading to an event. At concert venues or theaters, choose seats near an exit or an escape route. At restaurants, sit with your back against a wall and face the entrance. This will allow you to be aware of an potential dangers that may enter the building. If escape isn’t an option, consider moving to a room or area where you can barricade yourself. If the attacker breaches the room, be prepared to defend yourself with an improvised weapon.

Practice Situational Awareness

When arriving at a new location, take a moment to consider your action plan and let your senses absorb the environment you’re in. Take in information from your surrounding for things that may be considered normal. For example, yelling may be normal at a concert or outdoor event, but abnormal in a restaurant setting. Use your senses to gauge the sounds, scents, views, etc. If something abnormal enters the environment or something changes, it could indicate that someone -or something- is dangerous.

Get Out of the Kill Zone

When one of the teachers at Columbine High School noticed that shots were being fired, she ran to the library to call 911. At the same time, she instructed students in the library to hide beneath their tables. When the gunman entered the library, it became a kill zone and those caught sitting under the tables began to die. If you’re caught in a kill zone, don’t stay down for long. Move out of the kill zone as soon as possible when it’s safe to do so. Hiding under a desk offers little protection and provides a shooter with a static target. Targets moving through a kill zone are hard to hit and those exiting and moving away from a kill zone are even harder to kill. Whatever you do, don’t remain static and an easy target. When evacuating the kill zone, try to take others with you.

How to Respond When Law Enforcement Arrives

Law enforcement’s purpose is to stop the active shooters as soon as possible and may not stop to help injured individuals along the way. Officers will proceed directly to the area in which shots were last heard. The U. S Department of Homeland Security advises for victims to do the following:

  • Remain calm and follow officers’ instructions
  • Put down any items in your hand
  • Immediately raise hands and spread fingers
  • Keep hands visible at all times
  • Avoid making quick movements towards officers such as holding onto them for safety
  • Avoid pointing, screaming, and/or yelling
  • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises

Information to Provide to Police Officers or to 911 Operators

  • Location of the active shooter
  • Number of shooters, if more than one
  • Physical description of shooter
  • Number and type of weapons held by shooter
  • Number of potential victims at the location

Training Staff for an Active Shooter Situation

To best prepare your staff, create an emergency action plan and conduct training exercises. Create an emergency action plan with input from several stakeholders including your human resources manager, training departments, facility owners, your property managers, and local law enforcement. All staff members should be trained on the following:

  • A method for reporting fires and other emergencies
  • An evacuation policy and procedure
  • Emergency escape procedure and route assignments
  • Contact information and responsibilities of individuals
  • Information concerning about the local area hospitals

The most effective way to train your staff to respond to an active shooter situation is to periodically hold drills. All participants should be trained in the following:

  • Recognizing the sound of gunshots
  • Reacting quickly when gunshots are heard and/or when a shooting is witnessed
    • Evacuating the area
    • Hiding out
    • Acting against the shooter as a last resort
  • Calling 911
  • Reacting when law enforcements arrive
  • Adopting the survival mindset during times of crisis

After the Shooting

When individuals have reached a safe spot, law enforcement will likely keep people in that area under the situation is under control. The Department of Emergency Management asks that you do not leave until law enforcement authorities have said its OK to do so. If possible, survivors of active shooter situations should seek out mental healthy professionals for assistance.

What survival in an active shooter situation boils down to is preparedness. Being aware of your environment, gauging the situation, and reacting can play vital roles in your survival and the survival of those around you.