First up, know this: The final official reports are not in yet from the recent attack at Ohio State University. Even so, there is still a lot this incident can teach us.
It is clear from the media coverage that this, like other mass-casualty events, was confusing. The initial reporting that this was an active shooter did not help anything — except to reinforce that at the scene of an incident, you have to make your own judgments based on your training and experience. Don’t take the word of others and don’t blindly follow just because someone has “an idea.” Think, people. Think.
Apparently someone, maybe the attacker, pulled the fire alarm. Then, as people evacuated the building, the attacker drove a car into a crowd, jumped out and started slashing people with a large knife. That attacker was shot by a university police officer.
Let’s take a step back and think about this. The first lesson is to not just blindly evacuate a building when you hear a fire alarm. Put some thought into your actions. Firefighters reading this may berate me, but I’m going to say a fire alarm is not grounds for automatic action. When you hear a fire alarm, you should, even if you actually see smoke or flames, take some time to assess the situation and plan your actions. Perhaps someone may have pulled the alarm or started a fire in order to get you outside to make attacking you easier.
Once you get outside, don’t mill around in an area devoid of cover. Just because you have exited the building does not mean you are perfectly safe. All the same rules of situational awareness still apply; in fact, those rules become even more important because you are now involved in an emergency situation, to wit, the evacuation of a building that could be on fire. Seek out and use cover. Be alert for any other potentially suspicious activity and be prepared to take action.
This is not advice that just comes out of this one incident. This is something you should be thinking about all the time. Anyone could decide to drive a car into a crowd of people at any time. You should always try to position yourself with a good field of view toward potential danger areas. Know your escape routes. If you see a car going too fast for conditions or driving erratically, put your plan into action immediately. Don’t stand around thinking, “Wow. That’s odd. Look at how fast that guy is driving down a street crowded with people. I wonder what’s up.” MOVE!
If you want specifics, the corners of buildings are very handy. Let’s just say the fire alarm sounds and you, dutifully, head outside. Move toward a corner of a nearby building. That way, if shooting starts or someone starts driving erratically, you can quickly step around the corner away from the danger. Large stone planters and big trees are also pretty good cover elements to be aware of when an alarm sounds.
Now let’s talk about the second part of this event: the follow-on attack after the initial alarm. In the action at Ohio State, the attacker exited the vehicle and began slashing and stabbing victims at random. This is pretty clearly action that justifies responding with deadly force. If you are armed, you should engage the subject immediately. Stop the threat. Then call 911 and consider administering aid to the wounded. But remember, there may be more than one attacker. Be ready.
I should not have to remind people of this, but these attacks will continue. You must protect yourself because you can only protect others if you protect yourself first. So, think ahead. You don’t pick the day. The day picks you.