In light of the events of the last week, I felt compelled to talk about Active Shooter Response. Ironically, I teach in-person classes for groups & businesses on this, and yet have never written about it. Well, let’s do that now.
The first and biggest step you can do to prepare yourself for an active shooter is BUY A FIRST AID KIT. You know I advocate it as a vital piece of preparedness kit, and it’s literally the biggest lifesaver you can have.
Understand that during an Active Shooter, law enforcement will NOT be stopping to treat your wounds and medics will NOT be entering the scene. I listened to the audio from yesterday’s shooting, and even the shot officer laid on the ground, in the line of fire, for an hour, while the other officers engaged the suspect (or suspects, depending on who you listen to) in a running gun battle.
YOU are the only person who can save you. If you are shot, the first thing you need to do is to treat your own gunshot. A First Aid Kit in your car doesn’t help you in this case. You need a small, portable “blow-out” kit that you can carry with you. It needs some type of trauma dressing, duct tape, and a tourniquet at a bare minimum.
My personal favorite is a Solatac PTK, available at www.solatac.com. It has a SWAT-T Tourniquet/Pressure Dressing, an ABD pad, gauze, Celox hemostatic agent, Kerlex gauze for wound packing to stop bleeding, medical tape, Gorilla Tape, and gloves. It comes in a resealable plastic pouch and it fits in a cargo pocket or your purse/bag. I generally carry one in my left cargo pocket, as does everyone I work with. If you work with others, you should all carry your aid kit in the same place, so that your team-mates can treat your wounds with your kit.
Immediately get a first aid kit and carry it with you EVERYWHERE, even if you never do anything else preparedness related.
When I teach classes, I use the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run/Hide/Fight” protocol, which we’re going to cover briefly here, although it’s not exactly what I personally would do. We’ll talk about that in the end.
My personal philosophy comes from the Ultimate Tactical Handbook:
Rescue those being led away to death;
Hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
Let’s talk about Run/Hide/Fight first.
Awareness is first. Be aware that no one went into the grocery store, planning on a criminal attack happening. That sounds silly, but people every day decide not to carry a first aid kit, or a knife, or a gun, saying “well, I’m not planning on anything happening”. Here’s an actual conversation I once had:
Her: Why do you have a tourniquet in your laptop bag?
Me: In case I get shot. What’s your plan in case you get shot?
Her: I don’t plan on getting shot.
Me: No one ever PLANS on getting shot.
Whenever you approach a business, glance inside before entering, and then look around again, as soon as you enter. Take a second to analyze the scene – Note who is where, listen for sounds, look for emergency exit signs.
This sounds overly simplistic – but look to see if any one is laying on the ground. In the video yesterday, the live-streamer was surprised to notice a body practically at his feet, and then had to have someone point out a second one, despite it laying in the middle of an open floor. I know, it sounds silly, but your mind has a normalcy bias, and you need to train it to look for anomalies or it will miss them.
Let me say this again: LOOK FOR EMERGENCY EXITS. You may need to run out one on no notice and if you haven’t identified them, you’ll default to the door you came in. In the Aurora shooting, many victims walked past emergency exits to go out the door they came in, where the shooter was standing.
This analysis helps us with the first leg of the Run/Hide/Fight paradigm. If you haven’t identified all possible exits, you can’t effectively run. Running towards the shooter is a bad idea, yet we see people do it all the time. Why? Because of normalcy bias and a failure to look around. They run out the exit they alway use. Break that mental training with visualization and awareness.
When in doubt, run away from the sound of the gunfire, but don’t run blindly. Consider the US military chant “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down”, to time your running bounds. Identify where your are running to, make a short run, stop behind cover, and re-assess. You may start moving in one direction, then realize that there is no way out that way or that the shooter has moved.
Learn to identify the difference between COVER and CONCEALMENT. Concealment will hide you from the observation of the shooter, cover will actually stop bullets. Almost nothing that you encounter inside a house or a business will act as cover.
Think in three dimensions as well. There may be an exit on a higher floor, or a lower floor. A good hiding place may be in those locations as well.
If you can’t run out of a location, find a good hiding spot. This should be a place that has only one door, and possibly a window for a secondary escape route. Once you are hidden with the door secured, first make sure your phone is on SILENT, and then call 911 to report your location.
Many people think “I don’t want to call 911 and tie up the lines and people are probably already letting them know what’s happening”. While that is all true, consider what will happen if the police come into that room during an armed battle and see people hiding. Call 911, report the location and what you are wearing, then WAIT. It will take the police a long time to clear the building and they will get to you when they can.
If you can’t run, and the shooter finds where you are hiding, you have a choice to make…You can fight, or you can die. Fight means using what ever is at your disposal to attack the shooter. Notice I didn’t say resist or defend yourself. That’s intentional.
We need to get away from the concept that an Active Shooter should be handled like any other crime; it’s really not the same. It’s combat. The person generally doesn’t have a goal other than killing, so treat it as such. If a person is moving through a building, randomly killing people, no court in this nation is going to hold you accountable if you shoot him without warning or without giving him a chance to kill you first.
If you have a firearm, use it, without warning. If you have a knife, a pipe, or a fire extinguisher, use it. Make no mistake, in an Active Shooter situation, you are fighting for your life.
Go out and get some type of empty hand self-defense training as a last resort. In addition to the skills, it develops self-confidence and a fighting spirit. Stick fighting training is good for training in the use of improvised weapons.
Develop the mindset that not only will you “survive”, but that you will win. Surviving covers a wide range of possible endings, winning only one. Study after study has proven that mindset is the most important factor in survival.
Visualize potential Active Shooter scenarios that you could possibly face. Your mind will search its internal database of past experience when confronted with an emergency, and it doesn’t know the difference between something you’ve actually done or something you’ve visualized.
What if I’m with my family? Then you need to take care of and ensure the safety of your entire family. Your approach may need an adjustment. Children may not be able to move as fast or as securely as you, and they may not be able to open some doors. Understand also that in these situations, children aren’t the best hiders, because they will likely be crying or screaming.
Personally, I know that waiting for police to resolve the situation always leads to more casualties, so I’d advance to contact and try to resolve the situation myself. I may die in the attempt, but I personally couldn’t live with myself if I allowed to people to be killed when I had the ability to take action.
Greater love has no one than this:
To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
That seems like some good advice.
In that regard, don’t stop to treat the other wounded unless the police have already arrived. There is no medicine in a gunfight, and if you are too busy treating the wounded, the shooter may just decide to shoot you. Maintain your own first aid kit unless you are wounded.
Using yesterday’s case, if I was there while the police were engaging the suspect, I would have helped by trying to treat the wounded officer or other wounded victims. Some surely died from blood loss due to the length of the incident. In my car, I always carry a larger first aid kit, that would allow me to treat a few wounded, and any responding medical units would appreciate the help. You can certainly at least slap pressure dressings on active bleeds as a stop-gap measure.
Once, while assisting at the scene of a multiple vehicle accident that happened in front of us, I remember the first medics running up to where I was treating a bad bleed. The medics looked at what I was doing and said “Can you hold that situation down while we check on everyone else?” They were happy for the help.
Make the decision right now that you will NOT be a victim of circumstances and rely on others to protect you. Be aware, buy an aid kit, and always be ready.
Preparedness is the key to survival.
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