What to do in an active shooter situation
Living in America, you’ve probably heard some version of that. If you work in an office or manufacturing setting, you may have even practiced it when Gary from Human Resources shot at you with a Nerf gun. If you have kids, they’ve told you about their school’s soft lockdowns and hard lockdowns. And over the past few years, America’s experts on active shooters – law enforcement – have adapted to teach everyone the same thing if they encounter an active shooter; run, hide, fight. Run, remove yourself and your loved ones from the situation. Drop everything that will slow you down. Get moving and get moving fast. If you can’t run, then hide. And once hidden, fortify the position as best as you can. If the shooter still finds you, then fight. Fight like your life depends on it, as it surely does.
Why Teach Run, Hide, Fight
So why did we start teaching everyone to run, hide, and fight? It’s a good question, and you probably won’t like the answer. Law enforcement isn’t going to save you in an active shooter situation. You are on your own.
Don’t get me wrong; we’re coming as fast as we can. And we have drastically changed our tactics over time. We’ll do everything we can to save you, including facing off with a shooter. The problem is we can’t go any faster.
Active Shooter Response
My law enforcement career began in 1998, before April 20th 1999, when two kids entered Columbine High School and murdered twelve students and a teacher. And I remember watching the continuous news coverage and wondering what I would have done in that situation. I stood in my one-bedroom apartment, watching the kids running in line with their hands up toward the SWAT guys like everyone else. But I kept thinking about what I would’ve done in that same situation. I wondered if I would have been brave enough to go in and face the shooters. The hard truth is that the school resource officer and initial responding deputies did it right. They reacted exactly how we were trained at the time; to contain the situation and wait for a tactical team. The more I thought about it, I realized I probably would’ve done exactly what they did. I would have sat on the perimeter and waited for the cool SWAT guys to come and clean the mess up. That’s how I was trained, as well.
Coming to that realization led me down other paths in my career. After switching departments, I eventually spent 8 years on a part-time SWAT team. And I began studying active shooter events. In some ways, I’ve become fascinated with them. I’ve read books, articles, and every after-action report I can handle. And after all that research, I’ve come to a few conclusions. Law Enforcement can’t go any faster. It’s on the citizens who are unlucky enough to find themselves in one of these situations. And their best course of action is to, run, hide, and fight.
Active Shooter Response Training
While they did it right at Columbine, and I truly believe they did base on the training at the time, we as a law enforcement community, saw that we needed to change. Sometime around 2000, we began training for active shooters at a patrol officer level. Those first training modules differed from department to department, but, they all resembled forming a team of four or five officers, then moving toward the threat with three hundred sixty degree’s coverage. Where I worked, we had a point man, right guard, left guard, and rear guard. The team leader would move with a marker and draw an arrow on the floor, signaling to the next team which way we went. We moved with handguns, and nobody brought a first aid kit.
That didn’t stop any active shooters
Then we realized that we needed rifles. We couldn’t go up against a shoulder-fired rifle with a handgun. It just wasn’t feasible. So we started issuing and training with long guns.
Yep, that didn’t work out, either.
Then someone realized that a backpack could hold a bunch of stuff. So we made what we called go-bags—backpacks with extra ammunition and first aid kits.
We still weren’t stopping active shooters.
So we stopped waiting for a four or five-man team and started training with the first two officers on the scene. Two guys with AR-15s and backpacks were full of extra ammo, tourniquets, pressure dressings, and chest seals, and we started adding water and protein bars. We believed that by having the first two guys run into the building with all that equipment, surely we would be stopping these shooters before they could inflict too many causalities.
Then, we decided as a community that a single officer will have to go in. We armed him with a rifle, he had his backpack ready, and his backup was right behind him. Right now, the trunk of my work vehicle has an AR-15 with a red dot sight, a ceramic-plated vest to go over my soft body armor with two extra rifle magazines, and a first aid kit with two tourniquets, a chest seal, and pressure dressings.
And I probably still won’t be able to stop an active shooter unless I stumble on him when he’s getting ready in the school’s parking lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do everything I can humanly do if there is an active shooter in the county I work in tomorrow. The problem is, I don’t know if it’ll be enough.
The Pulse Night Club shooter exchanged gunfire with an officer working security as he entered the club, and there was a SWAT Team Leader on the scene within 10 minutes. The shooter still killed forty-nine people.
The first 911 call came to Newtown Police at 9:35 am. The first Newtown Police Officer arrived at 9:39 am. The shooter killed twenty kids and six adults before he killed himself.
Run, Hide, Fight…
So where does that leave us? Or, more importantly, where does that leave you?
It’s time to run, hide, and then fight. Law enforcement has evolved so much over the past twenty years, specifically on this topic. And I don’t see how we can move or react any faster. That is a sad and hard truth. We will do anything and everything we can to stop an active shooter (with a few unfortunate exceptions). And unfortunately, I believe it won’t be enough.
The only people that can stop these incidents are you. If you can run, you need to remove yourself from the incident. Drop whatever will ever slow you down and get your ass moving. Run like your life depends on it.
If you can’t run, then hide. But more than that, hide behind a barricaded door. And by barricaded, I mean anything that will slow the shooter down. His purpose is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. He won’t want to spend time trying to get past the six chairs, a mop bucket, a desk, and a file drawer you stacked up against the door.
And lastly, fight. Anything that can be picked up and thrown can be a weapon. It’ll be instinctive for a shooter to duck if something is thrown at them. If they are dodging something, they aren’t looking down the sight of their weapon. And if that doesn’t work, fight like you are about to die and you don’t want to. We all have the DNA of our ancestors that had to fight off God knows what when we moved as hunters and gatherers in small groups. Find that violence inside of you, and release it on the shooter.
I’d rather go out swinging than sit at my desk waiting for my turn to be shot.
Some of that may come off as a little morbid. And it should. But these are the times that we live in. The argument for why these shootings happen is for people way smarter than me. But until they stop, we need to do three things. We need to run. We need to hide. Then we need to fight.