If an armed gunman attacked today, would you survive?
The school shooting in Newtown, CT was just one of several recent assaults by armed gunmen upon unsuspecting citizens. We’ve now seen them in public settings, work settings, movie theaters and malls. A difficult review of who lives and who dies in these incidents has given us some lifesaving insight.
Being innocent, unsuspecting and unarmed, doesn’t mean that you have to be unprepared. Spree shooters want to kill as many easy targets as possible in the shortest amount of time. They don’t want to chase you and they don’t want to encounter resistance. Their terrible act will be over within about six minutes. As unpleasant and unpredictable as these things are, these basic similarities do provide some advantages to would-be victims.
Your survival is based upon three basic objectives: escape, evade or improvise. If you can’t escape, try to evade. If you can’t evade, it’s time to improvise.
Escape: Most spree shooting victims have been those who froze, chose poor hiding places or never saw their assailant coming. So starting today, whenever you enter a building pretend you’re on an airplane. Mark your exits and plan at least two escapes. Raise your eyes every so often to scan the crowd and revise your exits as you move. At the first sign of danger, make towards the closest exit of any kind. If need be, create your own exit by breaking a window etc. The point is, get moving! Don’t just drop to the ground and lie there.
Evade: If the exit is blocked and you can’t escape, it’s time to evade. Most spree shooting deaths occur at close range. Both distance and movement dramatically affect the accuracy of the shooter, so even if all you do is run, you’re greatly increasing your chances of survival. Put angles between you and your attacker and seek out bullet-proof barriers such as cinder-block walls. Become a hard-target. Buy yourself a moment of time or a few feet of distance. That may be all you need. The good guys are coming.
Improvise: If danger is close and you cannot escape or evade, you must improvise. Exploit your environment. Many buildings have dry-chem fire extinguishers mounted in highly visible places. These create thick clouds of highly unpleasant yellow dust and are as good as tear gas in close quarters. They can be used to create particulate barriers, to mask your escape or to stun your assailant. They can also be used as impact weapons. Know how to use them (youtube it).
Fire hoses can be used to defend stairwells or deter an attacker, particularly if the lights are off. Extension cords can tie doors closed from the inside. Properly positioned chairs and furniture can fortify a room. Mops and other long-handle tools can be used to defend a barricaded doorway etc.. Remember, the shooter only has a few minutes and he knows it. Make the most of your time and delay him for a few critical seconds. He’ll likely move on.
Stun and Run! If you can do nothing else, plan for a fight. Pick your moment and surprise them with a sudden attack. Throw cleaning liquid in their face. Find anything to throw or swing. Target their head, then their hands, then their groin. Deliver a solid blow then run around a corner, towards a barrier or through an exit.
As Newtown reminded us, no one is safe from the next spree shooting. And as history has proven, the next one is never far enough into the future. As you walk through your environment tomorrow ask yourself, “What would I do if it happened here, now?” It’s not silly to plan and even practice these things. Preparation is part of the winning mindset and that may be all you need to survive.
Timothy Shoemaker has received extensive training regarding active shooters, including incident debriefs and strategy sessions from several high profile national incidents. This brief post is formatted for general advice and should not be taken to conflict with any formalized school or work response plan.