Three Steps to Survive an Active-Shooter Attack

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The following is an excerpt from Three Steps to Survive an Active-Shooter Attack by Dave Young.

When seconds count and decisions can mean the difference between life and death, it’s not the time to be questioning whether you’re doing the right thing.

I’m Dave Young, and I’m the founder and director of ARMA Training, a police training and certification company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We provide professional training to law enforcement, corrections, military and security companies worldwide.

Several agencies and organizations have developed differing programs for responding to an Active-Shooter Attack (ASA). While they all have the same goal of increasing survivability, they each go about it in a different way.

I believe it’s most helpful to examine the true beginning of an attack — to talk about what will likely happen and tell you exactly what to do (and how to do it) to increase your chances of survival.

From the Top on Active Shooters

Identifying an active shooter starts with understanding the dynamics of how such an attack occurs. What identifies an at-risk person? What common traits does a particular individual share with all of the other active-shooter perpetrators currently on file with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as listed in its Uniform Crime Report? Learning exactly how active-shooter attacks occur is the first step in preparing to stop one.

We’ve found that almost all active-shooter attacks start with a level of unresolved conflict. Even though spontaneous, unplanned rapid mass murders could happen at any time, if you have a plan in place to address and respond to a pre-planned ASA, you can use that same plan — making adjustments depending on the specific circumstances you observe or experience — to respond to a spontaneous ASA.

We have also identified a significant amount of misleading information on reported response times and actual on-scene times. Most statistics, for example, support the fact that attacks like these are over before law enforcement arrives — yet some programs instruct innocents to wait at their locations. This is problematic because hiding and waiting for help is contradictory to what every instinct and every available fact tell us to do. Still, some academics choose theory over reality. They feel more comfortable telling others to wait for help rather than to step up and take action that is designed and field-proven to save lives.

Do Something About an Active Shooter!

Factual statistics show that more ASAs have been stopped by the perpetrators taking their own lives or the physical intervention of non-law enforcement individuals than by law enforcement showing up in time to end the attacks.

All American cops, deputies, troopers and officers will drop everything in their hands to respond to an active-shooter attack, even though they know it will more than likely be over before they arrive. As a lawman, I cannot tell you how terrifying that feeling is, knowing you are the help your citizens are waiting for but that the murderer will more than likely run his course before you arrive.

Taking immediate action when these attacks occur is the only way to increase your survivability and save the lives of those around you. There are so many unknown factors when you hear the first shot. You don’t know what the attacker’s plan is, how many attackers there are or what their locations are. You don’t know whether there are any explosives planted in the immediate area, and you don’t know whether fires or other booby traps are set. That’s just a few of the unknowns you’re going to have to mitigate, and you’ll have to do so quickly.

We want to assume there is only one shooter, and we certainly hope he’s a bad shot. Regardless of how skilled a shooter he is, a moving target is harder to hit than one who’s hiding under a desk or in a closet. An even harder target is one who hunts back. Keep in mind the following three “Ps” for dealing with an ASA:

Stage 1: Prevention

The best way to prevent active-shooter attacks is by teaching staff and co-workers to identify, manage and resolve conflicts before they escalate. They should institute protocols to assist in working through situations that — on the surface — might seem unimportant but, if not managed properly, could have life-altering results.

Stage 2: Preparation

A Risk and Threat Assessment, conducted by qualified professionals, is essential for any school or business. This means a physical, on-site assessment from professionals who have survived, responded to and trained others to survive attacks like the kind you’re working to prevent.

I spoke to one organization whose members were told to hide in various locations in their facility in hopes any attack would be over quickly. If that’s the plan, you must consider what qualifies one place as better than another — and you must consider it before you’re looking for a place to hide. If you cannot escape, any place you select to hide should allow you to see danger approaching, defend yourself and then escape. If a spot doesn’t allow you to do all three of these things, then the only thing you’ll accomplish by hiding there is to select where you’ll be killed. This is one of the main reasons why Risk and Threat Assessments are vital before you start initiating a plan.

Gray blueprints floorplans overlapping themselves in transparent layers

Choosing where to hide could be nothing more than choosing where to be trapped and potentially killed.

Stage 3: Practice

With what you learn from your assessment, develop a field-proven, tactically sound plan. This means reality-based, not concept-based. If your plan is only a theory, the only reality you will experience is death.

After you have your plan, you need to practice your plan. You need to break through the myth that preparing for danger will scare your employees and customers. It’s quite the opposite actually. It will encourage them to choose you over others.

Home-Invasion Scenarios to Think About

Picture this: There have been break-ins and a few home invasions in your neighborhood during social gatherings. There are two simultaneous dinner parties on your block to which you’ve been invited. You absolutely, positively must attend one of the functions. Which of the described is the smarter choice?

House No. 1

The first house has a pool and a large yard and is serving steak of choice and sides of which you could only dream. However, the residents of this particular home do not prepare or practice a family-action plan.

House No. 2

The second house also has a pool and the same-sized yard as House No. 1 and is serving the same food as House No. 1. The residents of this particular home, though, have prepared and practiced their family-action plan and are ready to respond to an attack.

The logical choice is obviously House No. 2. So why do so many people still pick House No. 1? Honestly, it’s because they are hopeful and praying … but hope and prayers are for people who are unprepared. Take the time to prepare and give yourself the best possible chance of survival.

Act Now

There are plenty of subsequent stages we could add, but if you fail to properly implement the first three, there won’t be any need to worry about more. The time to prepare is before disaster strikes.

If you find your location under attack, escape should be your primary concern. You must always know how to get out of wherever you are, and you must know exactly where to go after you’ve escaped. If you cannot escape the immediate area, you will need to barricade and defend — not barricade or defend. You have to train yourself to be your own first responder. You owe it to yourself to learn more about what we do and how we do it. There are no guarantees in life, but one thing we know for sure is that if you hide during an active-shooter attack, you are guaranteed to lower your survivability.

Remember, being safe means you’re ready for action!