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What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation

It’s a sad fact of life in the 21st century that active shootings have become a regular occurrence in the United States. In other parts of the world, terrorist groups are using active shootings to, well, terrorize. While the media focuses on the firestorm of political debate these events cyclically create, I’ve rarely seen them discuss what people are actually supposed to do in these situations.

According to the FBI, active shootings in public places are becoming increasingly common. Which means it would serve everyone to understand how to respond if they ever find themselves in the line of fire. Spy Secrets That Can S... Jason Hanson Best Price: $4.57 Buy New $17.77 (as of 09:57 UTC - Details)

Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of military, tactical, and law enforcement professionals who’ve spent their careers training and dealing with violent individuals: U.S. marshals, SWAT officers, and special forces operators. And I’ve asked them all this same question: What’s an average joe civilian like me supposed to do when faced with a gunman who’s indiscriminately firing on people?

They’ve all answered the same way.

In today’s article, I share expert-backed advice on how best to react if you ever find yourself in a situation with an active shooter. Learning how to survive a shooting is much like learning how to survive an airplane crash: such an event is statistically unlikely to happen to you, and simple chance may make you a victim before you’re able to take any volitional action. But if there are things you can do to increase your odds of survival even slightly, you ought to know and practice them.

Something to Keep in Mind: You’re Probably On Your Own

In a study done by the FBI in 2014, it was discovered that most active shootings end in 2 minutes or less. That’s not enough time for law enforcement to arrive. So when you start hearing gunshots in places you shouldn’t be hearing gunshots, understand that you don’t have very much time to think about what you should do.

That’s why…

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When any sort of emergency situation strikes, be it an active shooter or even a fire, the natural response for most people, surprisingly enough, is not to do anything. We highlighted several of the reasons for this passivity in our article about why most people freeze up in emergency situations. For example, the “normalcy bias” causes victims to act like everything is fine even though things are far from it. Our brain is predisposed to assume that things will carry on in a predictable way. When the pattern is broken, it takes a long time for the brain to process this aberration. This is why many people who witness traumatic events report that it felt surreal, like they were watching a movie and it wasn’t really happening. They also often say that at first they thought the gunshots were fireworks or a car backfiring or a book falling — things that would fit better in their usual paradigm of daily life.

Another bias that keeps us from taking action is our natural tendency to follow the crowd. If we see that everyone else is cowering in fear or locked up by inertia, then our natural tendency is to act the same.

The way you overcome these inclinations towards passivity is deciding exactly what you’ll do in the event of a shooting — before one ever happens. You’ve got to have a plan.

I know it seems morbid, but you really should visualize what you would do in various situations were an active shooter to suddenly intrude upon the scene. What would your plan be if you were in the office and heard shots coming from the floor beneath you? Would you have time to run? If so, where would you go? If you heard the shots just down the hallway and there’s no place to run or hide, what would be your next step? Visualize your plan in as much detail as possible.

Left of Bang: How the ... Riley, Jason Buy New $1.99 (as of 01:45 UTC - Details) In an active shooter situation, seconds matter. You don’t have time to figure out what you’re going to do when a guy starts spraying a building full of gunfire. By having a general preconceived plan, you give yourself a head start. This all goes back to our article on the OODA Loop. Remember, in any conflict there are multiple loops going on. It’s your loop versus the shooter’s, and the first to complete their respective decision-making cycle usually wins the fight.

OODA Loops can begin way before an actual encounter starts. By coming up with a plan of what you would do in an active shooter situation before one ever happens, you’re already engaged in the second step: Orienting. Should you encounter a shooter, you can act immediately because you’ve already begun the cycle and already have a plan in place. Remember, ABO: Always Be Orienting.

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