It has happened in schools, movie theaters, grocery stores, malls and fast food restaurants, terrifying innocent victims and creating devastatingly sad headlines. As scary as it is to think about facing an active shooter situation, it’s important to know how you’d react if you come face-to-face with a crazed gunman. Although you may think you know just what you’d do, you should also consider what law enforcement professionals suggest as your best strategies to improve your survival odds and give you the best chance of getting away from the threat.
Can you prepare?
Although no one can anticipate an active shooter situation, you can prepare yourself for a quick exit no matter where you are. We checked out the Nonprofit Coordination Committee of New York’s publication called “Disaster Planning, Emergency Preparedness & Business Continuity” and found some great tips on preparing for this type of scenario. If you go to the same office or school building every day, memorize the location of exits and know where elevators and stairwells are. Even if you go to a location you have never visited before, you should still make yourself aware of the exits. If you visit a basketball arena, for example, check for exits as you enter, and then also take note of all the available aisles and doors once you find your seat. Even if you’re in an enclosed space like a subway car, you can take note of the nearest emergency exits and where the glass-breaking materials are, such as an axe in a fire bay (the axe can also be used for self-defense).
When possible, escape
If you are in a situation where a shooter enters an open area such as an office lobby and begins randomly taking aim, your best bet is to escape. “A moving target is difficult to hit, even for a trained marksman,” says Sergeant Kelly Peel of the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department. “Running may be a good option.” Even if you’re in an enclosed area like a train car, you’re still better off escaping than fighting the assailant in most circumstances. “Running is probably the best option,” Peel says. “The individual will need to assess their ability to reason or fight.”
Leave it to the police
Police departments are specially trained to deal with active shooter situations, sometimes facing years of education and practice sessions to determine exactly what to do to take down a shooter. Therefore, it’s very risky for the average civilian to try and be a hero by going after the assailant. In most cases, you are better off escaping immediately and leaving the takedown to the professionals.
Surviving stress: how to deal with post traumatic stress disorder
He squeezed into the elevator among the other occupants and pressed his floor number. But, instead of going up, the elevator suddenly and forcefully went into a free-fall to the basement. Fortunately, there were only minor physical injuries. Unfortunately, he suffered a psychological injury. “I thought I was done with the elevator crash,” my patient explained, “but it sure isn’t done with me.”
What is PTSD?
My patient reported all the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Very much like the name suggests, PTSD refers to a severe stress reaction to a very traumatic event that happened in the past. The traumatic event could be surviving a natural disaster (like a tornado or flood), a physical or sexual assault, a terrorist attack, witnessing or experiencing a life-threatening or very serious accident or being in combat or in a war zone. It is now recognized that even those in helping professions—such as EMTs and other first responders—may develop PTSD from their
own ongoing exposure to the victims of traumatic events. A very common symptom of PTSD involves flashbacks of the events. My patient had frequent nightmares and daydreams about the elevator crash. Another symptom is heightened arousal. This means the person is on “high alert” at all times. The person can never seem to relax. He or she has problems falling or staying asleep. The person may always seem on guard anticipating another traumatic event even when there is no reason to be concerned.
Avoidance is another symptom. The person with PTSD will avoid situations, places or experiences that are similar or that remind them in some way of the traumatic event. For example, my patient would rather walk up 15 flights of stairs than risk getting on another elevator. The final major symptom of PTSD is related to negative thinking. Those who suffer PTSD typically have faulty thinking about themselves and the traumatic event. These negative thoughts produce strong emotions, including depression, guilt and anxiety.
The negative thoughts often involve self-blame. My patient often said “It’s my own fault. I never should have gotten on the elevator. I should have known that was going to happen.” Of course there was no way he could or should have known the elevator would crash, but he still blamed himself. Another set of negative thoughts often has to do with anticipating that the traumatic event will happen again. For example, my patient thought that the next elevator he entered would also crash. People with PTSD often take what is possible and behave as if it is probable.
What Can Be Done?
These negative thoughts are faulty and illogical but are nonetheless believed by the person. A trained mental health provider knows how to both express empathy and challenge these negative beliefs. If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, don’t give up hope; remember, help is available.
ACTIVE SHOOTERS typically have no pattern or method when selecting victims, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), so there is no way to predict when or where you’ll be if these instances occur. But you can prepare for your reaction with a series of classes that the DHS offers via its website at www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness, including the following:
• An Active Shooter: What You Can Do online training course
• A 90-minute webinar to help you develop a response plan
• An Active Shooter Booklet, Poster, and Pocket Card that can help you recognize an active shooter situation and create an emergency action plan
• The Options for Consideration Active Shooter Training Video