Let’s say you are minding your own business in public or at work and it becomes the worst case scenario- a person is seeking to shoot to kill members of the public. Your heart is racing. Your mind is full of thoughts. Pray? Run? Hide? Shoot back? Attack? What do you do?
Here are a few tips if you encounter someone with a firearm and a desire to use it on you or around you.
Several law enforcement organizations have put out instructions. The FBI says, “Run. Hide. Fight.” They also have a Spanish version of instructions, which says to- Corra. Escóndase. Pelee. The Department of Homeland Security tells you to- “Evacuate, Hide Out or Take Action.”
(1) Before you run, hide or fight, you must first- THINK.
Preparation starts right now. You may not have time to think on the scene and hopefully it never happens in the first place. The body’s “fight or flight” system or your adrenaline may take over at that moment and shut down much opportunity to be calm and think, but preparedness starts long before then.
Anyone can say “make wise decisions,” but these shootings seem to not discriminate and happen when you least expect them- in classrooms, movie theaters, Christmas parties, while getting gas or driving your car. You should generally know whether you are the type to run from, or towards, danger. Some have more bravery and some have more to lose. Some become paralyzed by fear and some make incredible decisions in the face of it. Know generally which one you are ahead of time.
In the moment, you need to immediately process things like… how far away is the threat, how familiar are you with where you are and the way out, how much time you have and whether you are armed or not. Do not wait for others to evaluate or validate your decision. Act with purpose.
(2) RUN, ESCAPE or EVACUATE.
The FBI, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies who weigh in on this have first recommended getting out safely as the first option. Can you get to a safer location or escape? If the answer is yes, go.
We add that you should leave behind any belongings, clothing which would make you more visible or slow you down and any other items which you can retrieve later. Try not to have anything in your hands so as to not confuse any responding officers you encounter. Of course, fleeing depends on how close to the shooter you are. Escaping or evacuating certainly is always the best option if you can do so safely and not get shot in the back trying to escape.
Once you are out of the dangerous area, call 911 if you can do so safely and try to prevent others from walking into the danger zone if you are able to do so.
(3) HIDE, PLAY DEAD or BARRICADE
If you cannot escape, try and put cover over or around you. Look for places which offer the ability to hide, puts barriers between you and the shooter and find areas which potentially allow movement elsewhere. The ideal hiding place should be out of plain sight and out of the shooter’s view. You also want to have some barrier around you which may stop bullets but is not a dead-end.
Additional considerations are to lock all incoming doors if possible, turn off any lights you can (as long as this won’t be noticed by the shooter), block any entrances with objects and keep quiet, including silencing any phones, etc.
If the shooter is in the immediate vicinity, other victims have survived by laying still and essentially playing dead. Even if shot, even if you think you can beg for mercy, the shooter is often making decisions which are not based on compassion, consideration or forethought and they are also usually making split-second decisions. If you are still when the shooter walks by, he may walk right past you. Your still body may be all they need to move on. We say this with the forewarning that every situation and shooter is different.
(4) FIGHT or TAKE ACTION
Todd Beamer’s last words were “Let”s roll!” -a totemic call to action- before he and other airplane passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 attacked those who hijacked the plane on 9/11, causing it to crash before its mission of terror was completed.
When life is in imminent danger some choose to respond with fighting back while others have no other choice but to fight back as their back is against the wall and “fight” is the only option.
If you have time to plan, do so with a small group. Stick to that plan to take out the shooter. Use anything you can find as weapons, have some throw things at the shooter’s head and others swarm. Total cooperation and commitment are critical.
If you are armed, are you trained? Will you create cross-fire or make matters worse? Can you effectively take down the shooter? These scenes are chaotic. Sometimes “gun free.”
(5) RESPONDING to OFFICERS
You may encounter police who don’t know you were a victim or escapee, so keep your hands visible and free of items. When asked, try and relay the story to them as calmly as possible. Avoid pointing, screaming or yelling.
Know the first officers you may encounter may be looking for the shooter, so they may not be able to help you immediately. You shouldn’t blow their cover or reveal their location. They also may be looking upon you with scrutiny, as they don’t know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are at all times.
If you are carrying a concealed weapon, let the officers know. Do not pull it out unless asked to do so, as you could be confused for the shooter.
Provide the last known location of the shooter, number of shooters and what weapons they have, a physical description of the shooter and information about victims.
(6) POST INCIDENT Considerations
Medical- Get medical help immediately, including psychological help or counseling. You have been through a severely traumatic incident and need to take care of yourself. We have seen victims ignore it and regret these decisions later, as the Post Traumatic Stress (“PTSD”) and emotional impact is significant. Many victims recount horrible memories, sights and sounds years later.
Media- Media wants to tell the story immediately. You do not want to release information too soon, as it could jeopardize the investigation, put incorrect information out there and/or you could put yourself in harm’s way by friend or co-conspirators of the shooter. We recommend staying silent and contacting legal counsel. CNN once spent all night talking about a person as a mass shooter who was completely innocent because of bad reporting.
Lawyers- If injured or if you had a loved one harmed or killed, you may have a legal case. We have handled these cases and have recovered for victims. Contact a lawyer for help. We consult with families all over the country.
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