It’s a sad day when so many high-profile shootings happen in such a short period of time that you can’t keep up with them. But we have come to that point in America.
Two days ago an employee at the UPS facility in San Francisco killed several fellow employees before taking his own life.
On the other end of the country, a lone shooter engaged several people at a congressional baseball practice.
I’m sure you’re well aware of the details, so I’ll leave them out for now. I also don’t want to get drug into the politics of the situation. Today I want to talk about actions to take during a shooting.
The U.S. Army – Firefight(1) by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod | Public Domain
As a former Infantryman, reacting to shots fired is second nature. From day one it’s pressed into our muscle memory. We have to learn to react instinctively and not wait to think about the situation.
As a soldier, that was expected. What is really sad is that the average American now needs to learn these skills. Even if you’re not able to rehearse these reactions, it’s important that you know them. So here are the steps you should take if you are ever in an active shooter situation.
The goal here is to make yourself the smallest target possible. Most shootings in America are not committed by professional marksmen. Get yourself as low to the ground as possible to reduce your chances of being hit.
If you are able to determine the direction the shooting is coming from, you may take this a step further. But don’t wait to determine the direction. Get low to the ground immediately.
If or when you determine the position of the shooter, you can determine which direction to face. Generally speaking, you will want to lie down with your feet in the direction of the shooter. This allows your feet and legs to cover your vital organs. Be sure to keep your feet and knees together. The femoral artery is not a place you want to get hit.
If you are armed and believe that you may be able to take action, then (and only then) you should lay down in the direction of the aggressor.
Do not confuse cover with concealment. Cover is anything that will actually stop a bullet. Contrary to what you might see on TV, this does not include car doors or filing cabinets. Understand that bullets can rip right through most household and office items.
Look for things like concrete walls or trees that are at least as big around as you are. If you are using a car, make sure to put something like the engine between you and the shooter. The engine is the only portion of most cars that will provide valuable cover.
Move to this position by either crawling or sprinting.
Settle for concealment if you must
Cover can be hard to find at times. As I look around my office, there is nothing that will stop a bullet except the bathroom wall. Even the bathroom is not a good position because the door will not stop anything. In these cases, concealment may be the only option. This means that the threat cannot see you, and therefore can’t aim directly at you. It does not mean you can’t be hit.
Again, move to this position by either crawling or sprinting. Remember that concealment is not a protective barrier. The only way for this to be effective is to get to this position without the shooter noticing.
Collect your thoughts and call for help
Take a deep breath if you must, but make sure you can effectively communicate your situation. Call police or other security to give them as much information as you have. Location is obviously critical and the more specific you can be the better. Be prepared to inform response personnel which floor you’re on, or what entrance is nearest. Try to imagine that you’re explaining how to reach that point to someone who’s never been where you are. It can be easy to give reference points that are only known to people who have experience in that area. The coffee room is not a recognizable point for response teams entering a building for the first time. A better direction might be “on the left-hand side if you enter through the back door”.
Also, give as much detail as you can about the shooter(s). How many are there? What is he/are they wearing? Are they shooting rapidly or targeting individuals? Any additional information you can provide may impact the effectiveness and timeliness of a response.
Remember, law enforcement agencies are not going to send their men and women into a complete unknown. If you can provide details that they may otherwise have to research, they will get in to help much faster.
For those who are armed…
Don’t risk your own life unnecessarily. You are hopefully trained and capable of engaging the threat accurately. The last thing you want is to injure an innocent person with a stray round. Seek good cover to reduce the risk of being hit yourself, and look for the right opportunity to engage the aggressor.
Staying as low as possible will also reduce the risk of hitting the wrong target. It is much easier to identify an innocent bystander between you and the target. Knowing what is behind the target is often very difficult. By staying low and aiming for the chest, you significantly reduce the risk of hitting someone who is crouching behind the target using a desk or other object as concealment.