Home Survival 12 Tips for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation

12 Tips for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation

by Paul-Martin Foss

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, more people are becoming aware of the dangers that accompany an active shooter scenario. Any public place can become a target of a madman, which is why it’s important to be prepared in the event of an active shooter scenario. Advice on reacting to an active shooter has generally been: “Run, Hide, Fight.” But there are things you can do beforehand too, to make sure that you’re prepared. Here are some tips that can help you to be ready should such an unfortunate situation occur.

Before an Active Shooter Situation

1. Remain Situationally Aware

If things don’t look right, don’t be afraid to leave. If you notice suspicious characters hanging around, or something just doesn’t feel right, there’s no sense in staying around a potentially dangerous situation. This advice holds not just for crowded public areas, but other situations as well, like gas stations, convenience stores, or any other place that might attract robbers. Anyone who has seen The Bourne Identity remembers the rest area scene where Jason Bourne describes his situational awareness of his surroundings. Not everyone will get quite to that level of observation, but some can.

Familiarize yourself with Col. Cooper’s Color Code: Conditions White, Yellow, Orange, and Red. We see Condition White all the time, from women jogging down the street with headphones in their ears, oblivious to everything around them, to pedestrians walking out in front of cars, to people with their heads buried in their smartphones. Condition White can get you killed in more ways than one.

Condition Yellow is relaxed but alert. You don’t expect danger but you’re prepared to deal with it. Condition Yellow should be the minimum level you’re at throughout the day.

Condition Orange means that something has triggered your senses. You’re scanning for threats and focusing on them, preparing to react instantly if something happens.

Condition Red is when you run or fight. Whatever brought you to Condition Orange has escalated and now you’re responding to it immediately and aggressively.

2. Know Where the Exits Are

As Robert De Niro’s character says in Ronin, “I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of.” This is good advice for other situations besides active shooter events too. In the event of a fire in a restaurant or movie theater, do you know where the exits are? Do you know where they lead? Have you communicated to your family where to meet up should you become separated? Never go anywhere you don’t know how to get out of.

3. Stay Near an Exit If You Can

This is good advice for any situation. If you need to beat a hasty retreat because something has gone wrong, it helps to be near an exit. Whether it’s an airplane, a restaurant, or a music festival, exits will form natural choke points, making it difficult for those furthest away from the exits to exit once something dangerous happens. Those who get out first stand the best chance of survival.

4. Dress Properly

As motorcyclists say, “Dress for the crash, not for the ride.” Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and warm enough clothing. Carry everything you need to get back home on your person. If you end up in an active shooter situation, you may not be able to make it back to your car for several days, and you’ll be dependent on just the clothes on your back and the items in your pockets to get back home safely.


5. Move Quickly

This is where being situationally aware comes into play. When the shooting starts you’ll need to rely on instinct rather than thinking. If you’re prepared for a dangerous situation and have thought about how you’ll get away, you can react immediately. Standing around to assess the situation could get you killed.

6. Leave Your Stuff Behind

Don’t try to pick up your purse, your bags, or anything else that will slow you down. In an active shooter situation, seconds can be the difference between life and death. Possessions are irreplaceable, your life is not. Don’t waste time trying to save your stuff, get out of there and away from the shooter as fast as possible.

7. Keep Going as Far as You Can

Get as far away from danger as fast as possible. If you have to stop, only do so to reassess the situation and figure out the best place to go. In the event of a mass shooting, or a disaster such as 9/11 in which buildings are collapsing, you may have to walk home, so be prepared for that.


8. Find Cover

You may not be able to run away from an active shooter, particularly if it’s a workplace or school situation. In that case, close and lock doors and bolster them with desks or something heavy if possible.

Know the difference between cover and concealment. You can hide behind a large poster, but that won’t protect you from a bullet or knife. Concealment may hide you but it is not cover. Cover is something that will effectively provide a safe place to hide and protection from attack.

9. Don’t Make Noise

You need to stay calm. Don’t cry, scream, or whimper. Call 911 if you have to, but don’t talk if the shooter is nearby, that could just draw him to you. Don’t call loved ones, don’t stream on Facebook Live, don’t do anything that could draw the shooter’s attention to you and those around you.


10. Carry a Gun If Possible

If you live in an area that allows you to carry guns, and you work for an employer who understands that concealed carry can be a lifesaver, there’s no reason not to carry a gun. It’s better to have a gun and not need than to need it and not have it. Just be careful once police get involved, because if you pull a gun they may mistake you for the shooter.

If you can’t carry a gun, carry a knife, or a flashlight with a strike bezel, or a heavy duty pen. You can also try to improvise to create both offensive and defensive weapons from readily available office materials. Sharp scissors can be used to stab, and a tightly rolled-up magazine or newspaper can be used as a club or to defend against a knife attack.

11. Attack, Attack, Attack

If the shooter is coming your way and fighting is your only choice, attack relentlessly. Most active shooters aren’t expecting resistance. They very often stop shooting when confronted with someone else who is armed. If you aren’t armed, or you’re using improvised weapons, attack ferociously. That will derail the shooter’s plans, leaving him temporarily unsure of what to do and how to proceed with his attack. That forces him to think rather than to act instinctually. He may very likely not know how to react to being attacked and give himself up, or put up only weak resistance.

One of the best times to attack an active shooter is during magazine changes or if you can see or hear that his gun has jammed. Most active shooters aren’t trained or competitive shooters, so they don’t know how to perform rapid magazine changes or clear malfunctions. You may have several seconds in which to counterattack and stop the shooter from doing any more damage.

12. Work With Others If Possible

No one wants to get shot, and getting people to rise up and attack someone who is trying to kill them is difficult. Still, if there are others around you who are willing to do something, try to get them involved. Many people will react to an active shooter with fear, and their timidity may cause them not to want to engage the shooter. Others may be pissed off, and that anger can be harnessed to get them to counter the shooter. A decent number of angry would-be victims intent on stopping the shooter could be very effective at ending an active shooter’s rampage if the conditions are right.

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