Dare to Prepare: What to Do in An Active Shooter Situation

It seems that every time you turn on the news you are met with word of a violent attack that resulted in multiple casualties. These attacks take many forms, but frequently they are mass shootings.

By thinking about how we should respond in an active shooter situation, we’ll be prepared to take life-saving actions should we ever find ourselves in one.

When I think about disasters, this isn’t what initially comes to mind. I typically think of hurricanes, earthquakes, and even industrial accidents. However, mass shootings and similar incidents—whether perpetrated by terrorists or deranged individuals acting alone—have the potential to threaten life, limb, and community stability in the same way that a natural disaster or industrial accident can. Subsequently, as part of the straightforward look at disaster preparedness that I take each September during National Preparedness Month, today I’m going to share what each of us can do if we ever find ourselves in an active shooter situation. (Click here for links to the previous Dare to Prepare posts.)

I realize that this can be a difficult topic about which to think (it’s definitely a departure from the topics we’ve examined in the past), so I’m going to be as sensitive and practical as I can as I proceed. Please note that while this post specifically addresses active shooter situations, most of the concepts are also applicable to incidents where a perpetrator is wielding a weapon such as a knife.

How to respond in an active shooter situation

The following suggestions are a summary of the active shooter “triage” that is recommended by the Department of Homeland Security.

Whenever you are out and about, it is a good idea to practice situational awareness. This simply means being aware of your surroundings so you are able to perceive when something changes. Always take a good look around so you are aware of the two exits that are closest to you.

If an active shooter is in your vicinity, then do the following:

1. Evacuate (or run) – If an escape path is accessible, then attempt to evacuate the area.

  • Have an escape route/plan in mind.
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others follow.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Help others evacuate, if possible.
  • Call 911 when you are safe.
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Keep your hands visible and follow the instructions of any police officers.
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people.

2. Shelter-in-place (or hide) – If evacuation is not possible, then find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.

  • Get out of the active shooter’s view.
  • Avoid hiding places that trap you or restrict your options for movement.
  • If possible, prevent the active shooter from entering your hiding place by locking the door and blockading it with furniture.
  • Silence your cell phone and/or pager.
  • Turn off any sources of noise (i.e., radio, television).
  • Provide protection for yourself in case shots are fired in your direction by hiding behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks).
  • Remain quiet.

3. Protect yourself (or fight) – As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.

  • Act as aggressively as possible against him/her.
  • Throw items at the shooter.
  • Improvise weapons.
  • Yell and scream.
  • Commit to your actions.

Once police arrive

  • Put down any items in your hands.
  • Keep your hands visible.
  • Follow all instructions.
  • Avoid making quick movements towards officers.
  • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises.

RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.® video

Here is a DHS-funded video that reiterates the above recommendations. Please note that this video does portray gun violence, so you may want to view it when your young kiddos aren’t watching.

An alternative approach

Not everyone agrees with the recommendations set forth by the DHS. A growing number of individuals question the “run, hide, fight” hierarchy. Many of these suggest that “fight” shouldn’t be a strategy used as a last resort. They suggest that teaching citizens to run and hide makes them sitting ducks, so we should train them to fight instead. They contend that if a group of unarmed citizens were to take on a gunman by creating distractions (e.g., hollering, throwing objects) and attacking him with improvised weapons (e.g., chairs, fire extinguishers) that they could overpower him. Their belief is that though a few citizens may be injured or killed in this process, that the total number of lives lost would likely be reduced. Here is an article about the use of this approach in schools.

Final thoughts

I pray that none of us ever find ourselves in a situation where we have to decide how to respond to an active shooter. However, by taking time to think about how we should respond in such a situation, we’ll be less likely to freeze in fear and be more likely to take life-saving actions.

However we plan to respond, we should always keep the following in mind:

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” Proverbs 21:31

In other words, we can (and wisdom dictates that we should) prepare, but the outcome of each situation we face is ultimately in the Lord’s hands. Let’s seek His mercy and put our trust in Him.

Have you ever considered what actions you should take in an active shooter situation? Are you more likely to use the “run, hide, fight” approach or to be more aggressive about fighting? What have you taught your children about how to respond?






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