The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 left 20 children and six adults dead. The week prior, on December 11, 2012, an active shooter at Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Oregon killed two and wounded one, before taking his own life. On August 5, 2012 a shooter killed six and wounded four during an attack on a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. On July 20, 2012 a shooter in Aurora, Colorado killed 12 and injured 58 when he began shooting movie goers at a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” In the past five years there have been at least 16 active shooter events beginning with the attack at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 which killed 32 people and wounded 17, and ending with Sandy Hook Elementary School just a couple weeks ago.
Each of these events, and others like them, received extensive coverage in the news media as reporters scrambled to provide the public with the latest breaking news as it happened. Following each of these events pundits debated the reasons that these shooting had occurred, while politicians used these events to champion the next round of legislation calling for gun control, increased police in our communities, greater security in our schools, or some other action they believed was necessary to address these violent criminal acts.
It is important to understand however that while these active shooter events “are extensively covered in the news media, the information available in news reports is not necessarily complete, accurate, or balanced. News coverage is inherently hasty and often relies on sources who themselves have incomplete or inaccurate information.” Similarly, Drs. Booth, Van Hasselt, and Vecchi writing in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin stated:
“Incidents, such as the recent ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois University, [and now of course Sandy Hook Elementary School] produce horrifying, enduring images. Members of the mass media publicize and inadvertently glorify these events to capture the attention of viewers and readers. Unfortunately, many of the portrayals have led to faulty assumptions and stereotypes of the school violence perpetrator.”
We should not rely on the news media as our sole source of information as we try to understand active shooters; and we certainly cannot rely on the claims of politically motivated groups and individuals to provide us with accurate, unbiased information. Still, given the possibility of finding ourselves confronted by an active shooter it is important to understand how to protect ourselves from this type of crime, in the same way that we consider safeguards against other criminal activity.
Active shooter incidents occurring in our community or seen on the news may leave some individuals feeling vulnerable and wondering how to respond should they find themselves in a similar situation. “Research has shown that many [active shooter] situations are over in minutes and law enforcement may not arrive in time. As a result, [individuals] have to become stakeholders in their own safety and security and develop a survival mind-set comprised of awareness, preparation, and rehearsal.”
To aid in the development of that survival mind-set the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers three, free, on-line courses that help individuals to understand active shooters and workplace violence. These courses are: IS-907 – Active Shooter: What You Can Do, IS-106.12 – Workplace Violence Awareness Training, & IS-906 – Workplace Security Awareness. Additionally, the City of Houston, Texas has prepared an active shooter awareness video, providing information about how to respond if you find yourself caught in an active shooter situation. The six minute video may be watched and downloaded from YouTube. A similar video is also available from the Center for Personal Protection and Safety. The Department of Homeland Security has made available on-line “Active Shooter: How To Respond”, a booklet that discusses how to recognize, prepare for, and respond to an active shooter situation.
The Department of Homeland Security offers the following tips for coping with an active shooter situation:
– Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers
– Take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit
– If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door
– If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door
– As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down. When the shooter is at close range and you cannot see, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her.
– Call 911 when it is safe to do so!
The recommended response to an active shooter situation consists of three specific actions: Run, Hide, Fight. In an active shooter situation where you are able to make it to an exit without putting yourself in the line of fire from the active shooter: Run – get out of the building and away from the shooter. In a situation where the active shooter is between you and the exit, or when you don’t know where the active shooter is: Hide – lock yourself in a room, barricade the door, and stay low and quiet so that the active shooter cannot get to you. Finally, if confronted by an active shooter, where you can neither run nor hide, your only remaining option is to Fight. Obviously you have a much greater chance of surviving your fight with an active shooter, as well as saving those around you, if you are yourself armed with a firearm. However, being armed is not always possible, and even if you are lawfully carrying a firearm, fighting the active shooter is the very last thing you should do. Still, given the option of being shot by the active shooter or making an attempt to incapacitate him before he shoots you, fight with everything you have. The life you save may be your own.
According to Spivey and Sporleder, the odds of being involved in an active shooter event are similar to the odds of being struck by lightning. But, we must remember that lightning does strike. By taking some time to review the training listed in this article, and by taking some time to think about what you would do in this type of situation you greatly improve your odds of surviving an active shooter event.