Not so ironically, I was in the process of writing an entire piece on how Islamic terrorist cells were already operating inside the United States and then the events in California occurred. The Islamic terrorist attack pre-empted the article’s publishing and unfortunately proved the point I was making so I have since scrapped the article and instead decided to talk directly about preparing for and surviving an active shooter situation. The events in Paris, Colorado, and California are all examples of active shooter scenarios and mark a deadly change of tactics that now show a bias for soft targets in gun free zones. This knowledge alone will help you prepare yourself and your family to survive in the event you find yourself confronted and possibly trapped in the midst of an attack. To survive, consider these simple points.
Preparation is key to a successful outcome whether it be in war, a sports game, or a job interview. It is no different when it comes to self-preservation in the face of an active shooter. One must be mentally prepared to fight to the death. The first time you think about what you would do while at school or work or shopping when shots start ringing out should not be when it actually happens. Working through the problem sets in your head beforehand will enable you to act much more quickly and decisively under high stress, which is vital for survival. You should also constantly maintain a state of mild vigilance and never completely ignore your situational awareness. Take note of where exits are. Observe the people around you and their dispositions. Be aware enough to know if something doesn’t seem right or if it is out of place. If you get a gut feeling something isn’t right, exit immediately and leave the area.
Once it is clear something has gone very bad, immediately seek to develop situation, make a plan, and act. Don’t waste time trying to get a perfect picture of what is going on. Take a quick assessment of the situation and then move. Don’t try to justify what you “think” you are witnessing as a drill or “not really happening.” Accept that you are in a life and death situation and act accordingly. If you can exit, do so fast and get away from the area. If you can’t, get to a hard point (a safer place that provides protection from bullets and ideally can be secured from the inside). If prepared and able, move to a position of advantage where you can ambush the attacker(s). If nothing else, just don’t allow yourself to get cornered and move to a spot where you can better observe what is going on and then react accordingly. If the situation persists, it is likely you can get information from local news on your cell phone or even better, download a police scanner application and activate it to listen to local police traffic. Just remember, you don’t want the noise to give away your position so silencing ringers is a good plan. Also, document what you can for the police and first responders via cell phone video or memory. If you are unfortunate enough to have a close encounter with the attackers, note the specific details of attackers to include number, descriptions, locations, and types of weapons.
You should also be armed if at all possible. Training in advance is critical in this regard. Not only should you be physically fit, but have trained in hand-to-hand tactics and any weapon you may be carrying. Optimally, you will be carrying a concealed handgun and be very proficient with it. You might even have a go bag stashed at work with some extra tactical gear such as body armor, a knife, and some extra magazines. If you are unable to maintain proficiency and carry a concealed firearm then you should at least be very good with using the three most common improvised types of weapons such as a club (blunt trauma), a pointed weapon (penetrating trauma), or an edged weapon (combination). These would look a lot like an expandable baton, dagger, and sword or knife if professionally manufactured. However, they can be easily improvised from readily available materials. These could be anything from a broom stick and strong ink pen to a baseball bat, tire iron, broken bottle, belt with a buckle, kitchen knife, fireman’s axe, or even a sock full of change. Non-lethal weapons are not suitable for this type situation as an active shooter could easily fight through something like pepper spray and still kill you. Either way, if you are suddenly caught up in the midst of an attack, your best chance of survival will be to arm yourself so that you have a fighting chance as you make your way to help or an exit.
If at all possible, completely avoid the attack. Note the location of the gunshots and the direction people are fleeing from. Naturally, go away from the sound of gunshots and explosions. However, do not necessarily follow the pack out an exit. It may be a trap and instead it would be much smarter and safer to take another route and exit even if it is from a window or hole busted in a wall. Attackers have been known to funnel people into kill zones where the doors are locked and attackers are waiting with weapons to shoot down every last person. If you must engage with an attacker or find yourself cornered, set up a hasty ambush. Attempt to put actual cover between you and the attacker. By cover I mean something that will actually stop a bullet like concrete and steel and not just a desk or door. Also try to use an angle. Attackers will be hyped up on adrenaline and will not have good situational awareness. In fact, it is likely they will have tunnel vision and you can use this to your advantage. Offset your ambush position from their likely avenue of approach. Don’t hide in front of a door, but rather, set up behind or beside it. It is even better if you can get above them because people rarely look up. You can improve this position by having a covered escape route and setting up a distraction to draw their attention away from your position if only for a second. Remember, they will likely be shooting everything that even looks suspicious so maintain your offset and cover. Also, try to change the lighting. If it is well lit outside, darken your location. If it is dark outside, make them walk into the light. The time it takes for their eyes to adjust gives you the split second advantage if you are prepared to act. If you don’t have the ultimate hiding spot, you should be ready to fight and position yourself within hand-to-hand range to ambush your attacker as soon as they come around the corner, enter the room, etc. If you can assemble anyone else to help in your ambush you will be far better off. Either way, as the attacker enters “your” kill zone, hit them hard, fast, and repeatedly until they are no longer a threat. Take their weapons and either reset your ambush now with firearms or evacuate to your closest exit. You must take on the mindset of hunter and turn the tables on your attackers to make them the hunted.
If you cannot funnel your attackers into a close quarter’s ambush, set up your ambush so that you can assault them during a reload. As soon as you see an attacker have a malfunction or run out of ammo, you need to rapidly approach with stealth, speed, and violence. Use a club or combination weapon to dispatch the shooter as quickly as possible. If you can approach from behind do so and club them. Target the base of their skull for your strike. If your weapon is light weight like a broom stick, strike them across the side of the neck to disrupt blood flow and their nervous system. If you have a knife, thrust it in and up attacking the kidneys and diaphragm or stab down at an angle penetrating the soft pocket where the neck meets the shoulder and thrust and twist the knife toward the centerline of the attacker. Repeat as necessary. If you are unarmed, rush the attacker from behind and using a double leg take down motion, lift and launch them forward. The body’s natural reaction will be to brake their fall and release their weapon. Then proceed to beat the living hell out of the attacker (preferably with the help of others) while keeping them away from the weapon. If you gain control of their weapon, use it on them. If you cannot get it to fire (remember, you attacked when their gun was down), use it to club the attacker.
At this point it is absolutely necessary I point out what will now be by far your biggest danger. The danger you now face as an armed civilian is that the police and first responders will mistake you for one of the shooters and kill you. This danger is critically high even for police and has been a subject of constant discussion. My recommendation is once you are armed, to hard point and call the police. Give them your location, description, and make sure they know and put out to responding units that you are armed and inside. At this point they may direct you to come out or hold your position. Either way, it would be best to engineer the situation so that you do not have a chance encounter with a cop or SWAT team. If you are able to shoot your way through the attackers and stop the attack, convey this and wait for the cops to come in while talking directly with them on the phone. You may also want to put your weapon down near you once the threat is taken care of to further diminish the chances of accidentally being shot by a cop, but still retaining the weapon in case another attacker emerges. If you must exit, do so cautiously and methodically. DO NOT just burst out of the building with a weapon. This will most likely lead to bad things. Instead, if you made it this far safely and can see police on scene, then try to call out to a cop and let them know your situation. They may have you put the weapon down and walk out with your hands up. If you can’t see any police and the threat is still active, consider holstering your pistol or slinging the weapon and slowly exiting with your hands in the air. If you see any police, expect to be disarmed at gun point until things can be sorted out. Remember, no fast movements. A very dangerous natural reaction in these types of scenarios is for someone armed to spin quickly with their gun in the direction they hear a command. For example, if a cop sees you he may yell to you to freeze. Even though the command is simple, your natural and likely immediate reaction is to turn to see who is being addressed. This “furtive” movement will often be enough for a cop to shoot you if he doesn’t know who you are and sees that you have a gun. Cops also are trained to look for badges and “police” sashes. I don’t know anything about this particular site, but their advertised product is exactly what I am talking about: http://shop.dsmsafety.com/Law-Enforcement_c2.htm. If you are going to draw a gun or take up a weapon in the fight during an active shooter situation, consider having with you and placing on a sash similar to the one advertised in the link above. This at least will give a cop a moment of pause before he or she pulls the trigger and has been shown in numerous law enforcement training scenarios to prevent “blue on blue” shootings.
If you are captured as a hostage, don’t piss off your attackers any worse. If they want you to say something or sign something, do it. Don’t do it well, do it slow, and don’t make it easy for them, but do it. These types of attackers are not bound by laws and will kill you in a blink if you don’t comply. You must recognize that this isn’t a situation of state sponsored detention where resistance to demands is warranted or beneficial. Further, you need to humanize yourself by having them use your name, letting them know about your family, and making yourself not just a face, but a person. If you are injured ask for help. If you need water ask for it. If they refuse, at least try to treat yourself. This may be applying a tourniquet or pressure bandage to stop massive bleeding from a wound on you or a fellow hostage. Either way, a hostage taker is less likely to kill you first if they have a human connection with you. Also essential is that you listen and observe everything. Try to identify our captor’s motives and whether they are going to just kill you or try to ransom you. Most likely if it is an Islamic terrorist attack, they are going to try to kill everyone so you should prepare to seize the first good chance to attack them and or escape. If you have your phone, pass any information to authorities. If nothing else, just leave your phone on and keep it hidden so authorities can listen to the open line. Eventually, you will be searched by your attackers and any phones will be confiscated so get what information out you can. If you know your phone is about to be seized, try to leave it connected and place it in a hidden location so authorities can continue to listen in even after you have been searched. Note the number and location of the hostages as well as the number and location of the attackers and how they are armed. If you can pass descriptions of the attackers, their motives, and even names being used that is also very beneficial to the police. If it appears the attackers have explosive devices, absolutely pass this information. All of this information is critical for the hostage rescue team and will aid in your rescue and survival. Finally, if it is imminent the attackers are going to start killing hostages, try to get this information out to the police. This is a critical go/no-go criteria for launching a rescue operation and/or making your escape attempt. Let the police know if possible and what you plan to do. Remember, the attackers are going to kill you so it is better to go down fighting than to all die life sheep. In the interim, you should constantly be preparing escape plans. Locate your escape route, coordinate with other hostages if possible, prepare improvised weapons, and try to get out of any restraints. Also, design or be prepared to take advantage of distractions to launch your escape attempt. If a rescue operation is launched before you can escape, stay down and take cover. DO NOT grab a weapon and try to help because you will probably be mistakenly shot as a hostage. Just stay low and behind cover. However, if an attacker is going to kill you, yes, defend yourself and pray the rescue team is good enough to figure it out. Also, expect to be held at gunpoint and searched until the rescuers can sort out who is who. Once the rescue team secures the room, you will need to follow directions and move quickly to safety where you can expect to be further detained and questioned.
This article is by no means the definitive work on surviving an active shooter style terrorist attack. However, it is designed to give you critical information you need to know to properly act and survive such an attack. For those of you interested in higher level training and consulting, I still provide one-on-one, team, and corporate training/consulting on surviving such an event, which if interested, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Active Shooter Training/Consulting.” Outside of formal training though, you can still do a lot to protect your life and the lives of those around you by simply preparing your mind and body ahead of time. This includes getting proficient with a firearm and carrying it with you. Ultimately, you can stack the odds in your favor by preparing now.
By Guiles Hendrik
December 5, 2015