Survive an Active Shooter


We live in an increasingly hostile world. Television and social media make us increasingly aware of the possibility of being caught in an active shooter situation. Unfortunately, as economic and political hardships increase, acts of violence and crime will also increase. Here are some things to know if you are in an active shooter scenario.

The first thing we have to do is to be highly aware of our surroundings. I make it a habit to recognize options regarding exit points or covering opportunities. Whether you find yourself in a retail store, a convenience store, a school, or even walking down the street, paying attention to detail might save your life. However, you should probably be looking out for a few things above and beyond the layout.

Over 200 active shooter incidents since 1966 have been profiled by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). These incidents and indicators may help provide some insight into who your enemy may be. So let’s look into who might be pulling the trigger before we get into what we can do about it.

The overwhelming majority of the shooters involved in these tragic situations are male. They range in age from 15 to 44, and nearly all incidents were carried out by a single shooter. It is essential to understand that an individual committed to getting a body count may not solely rely on firearms. With that in mind, it is important to note that the shooter may have more than one weapon if a body count is desired. Nearly 4 out of 10 attacks involved more than one weapon, typically resulting in 0-2 deaths or casualties. Often, the shooters knew at least one person regarding the target, be it a schoolmate, a fellow employee, etc.

No matter your situation, and regardless of the circumstance you find yourself in, there are only a few options to choose from when gunfire erupts. But before reacting responsibly, you need to stay calm and assess your situation and surroundings. I know this is much easier said than done, but if you can do this, and once you have taken in the reality of the situation, only then can you react in a way that can save your life or the lives of others.

Your three reaction options are leaving the area, hiding where you are or somewhere nearby, or taking action against the shooter. Your best option will vary depending on the first assessment. You may or may not be in a position to hide. You may or may not be in a position to run. And you may or may not be in a position to take action.

If you have the want and opportunity to run and feel safe enough to do so, then, by all means, get out of there. That shooter will be taken care of eventually, and if you are not in a position to do something about it, there is no need to die if you can leave. There is also no shame in it. This is especially true when you have information that needs to be shared with law enforcement or other first responders.

If you cannot run and are not in a position to take action, the next best thing is to hide. This could be under a desk or even in a closet. If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door as best you can. If you are already in a room, secure the door the best you can. The point is that you need to find somewhere to shelter in place and wait it out, or at least wait for a better opportunity to make a move or flee. Also, please turn your phone to silent with no vibration or turn it off altogether. An unexpected phone call or text could ruin your day. Finally, keep your breathing as calm as possible. The idea of shelter in place is that you are not found.

If you absolutely must move for any reason, stick to the walls and use desks, corners, fixtures, bushes, trees, rocks, stumps, cars, a ditch or ravine, or anything else as obstacles to hide behind or conceal yourself. Any of these may provide extra cover or concealment when moving. But remember, if you are going to move, these are temporary aids for a temporary position. It would be best to keep moving once you have decided to move because you are exposed. Understand that if you are moving, the shooter may be moving too.

This final option should be considered a last resort for most people because you may or may not know the full scale of what you are up against. However, you can attempt to take the active shooter down. If you do not have a firearm or some other kind of weapon, and if the shooter is at close range and cannot flee, the truth is that your chance of survival is STILL much greater if you try to incapacitate the shooter. However, the critical part of this option is the element of surprise. You need to secure the element of surprise if at all possible. If you have a weapon, you can deploy it as you have been trained and potentially reduce innocent death and casualty substantially. But I would like to stress once again that concealment, cover, and surprise should be a part of your plan no matter how you navigate this option.

Lastly, and regardless of the method or steps you choose to take, remember that once you have either left the scene, the threat has been reduced or eliminated, and only when you are safe to do so, call 911 and get help. Be prepared to provide a description and location of the shooter(s), types of weapons being used, and information regarding potential victims.

Let me reiterate that while a single person carries out most active shooter scenarios, every situation may be different. You should not let your guard down just because threat #1 has been dealt with. Stay vigilant.

Learn More! Check out my article titled “A Look Inside the Mind of an Active Shooter.


New York City Police Department, “Active Shooter Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation”