What To Do in an “Active Shooter” Situation

Mark Mahaffey
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Mark Mahaffey

Mark is the President of Best Security Products, a leading systems integration company based in Escondito, CA with service throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.
Mark Mahaffey
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Recently the frequency of horrific acts of unexpected acts of violence against completely innocent people has dominated the news headlines and have put institutions that are prone to these attacks on edge. From schools, churches, night clubs, parks, workplaces to even outdoor concerts, there seems to be no safe place from these incidents from happening. We live in a free society where we enjoy liberties that most of the world envies, which is why it makes it  difficult to eradicate this problem. There are ways to reduce the frequency of these acts, because in most cases there were warning signs from these individuals that would indicate there was a problem that eventually would pose a danger to others. If there is anything we can do to prevent these events, it would be the cooperation of others to inform the proper authorities of these warning signs, and they should be encouraged to do so. There should be organized plans in place at institutions or workplaces for the communication with their employees, students, parishioners that if they see or hear something that is a warning of possible violence, that they know how to report it and to whom.  There needs to be an encouraging environment where people are comfortable reporting situations that seem out of place or out of the ordinary that may pose a risk to others.

If you find yourself in an “active shooter” situation or any unexpected act of violence there are ways to reduce your risks and save your life as well as those of others. There are three options that are listed in order of priority: Run, Hide, Fight. In any situation where things are ever changing you will have to depend on your own instincts and work with the information available at that time, and be flexible with your plan or action.

Run: is your first and best option if it is safe to do so because, research has shown the best method to reduce loss of life is to evacuate. Because the situation is “fluid” you will have to depend on your instincts, so have more than one escape route if possible in case the situation changes. Get out of the area as quickly and safely as possible, and don’t let anyone you come across as your evacuating go into the area of danger. Take as many people with you as possible as long as it is safe to do so and they are willing and compliant. Leave all personal items behind and watch for danger along the evacuation route. The shooter may be familiar with the evacuation routes and be waiting at exit points. Leave all your personal items, and keep your cell phone in your pocket and be sure to keep your hands free of any items and visible at all times so law enforcement can see that you are not hiding anything.

Hide: if you cannot get away safely then find a place to hide. Get out of the shooters view and stay very quiet. Silence your electronic devices and make sure they wont’ vibrate. Lock if possible, or block all the doors and turn off the lights and close the blinds. Do Not Hide in Groups , but spread out and out of sight of the door this will make it more difficult for the shooter. If possible  quietly formulate a plan in case the shooter breaches the room, because this is where a coordinated attack en masse will be the best chance for survival. (see more in Fight). Try to communicate silently with law enforcement by text messaging or by putting a sign in an exterior window so they know where you are. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all clear, but as stated you need to rely on your instincts as the situation dictates.

Fight: is your last resort and to be used when you are in immediate danger. Remember that anything and everything can be used as a weapon in this type of situation. If possible attack en masse and commit to your actions and act aggressively to stop the shooter by any means necessary. Ambushing the shooter with chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, can distract the shooter long enough for you to overpower him.

How to Help First Responders

Law enforcement have only one objective when first coming on the scene and that is to stop the shooter. It is a tremendously stressful and chaotic time with emotions and adrenaline at its peak, so do not carry anything that could be construed as a weapon or triggering device. Purses, bags, backpacks, any personal items should be left behind or able to fit into your pocket so that your hands are empty so as to not confuse law enforcement as seeing you as a threat. One common mistake in evacuations is people running towards law enforcement, seeing them as ‘saviors” during violent situations. This puts in stressful positions because they have to make split second decisions to determine whether they are threats or civilians just trying to escape.

What Can We Do ?

The most important thing employers, schools, churches, or any institution that is at risk is to take a proactive approach. Have a plan in place, communicate that plan, and train the assigned people on its implementation and what to do if the unimaginable happens. There also needs to be an environment where people feel comfortable reporting unusual behavior and circumstances. This may not stop the violence altogether, but it will possibly reduce the frequency and provide those that depend on a safe environment the peace of mind knowing you have put forethought and plans in place that may just save their lives.

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