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What Should You Do in an Active-Shooter Event?


As a federal prosecutor in New York, I saw far too much gun violence.

In 2016, ABC News reported on a sobering fact: active shooter incidents continue to rise in America. According to the FBI, there were 20 active shooter incidents in both 2014 and 2015, which was “more than any two-year average in the past 16 years, and nearly six times as many as the period between 2000 and 2001….”

That means that whether we want to think about it or not, any one of us may find ourselves caught up in this type of dangerous incident at some point in our lives.

The recent Florida shooting was a sobering reminder. It’s frightening to imagine, but should you be unlucky enough to experience it, your best defense is knowledge. The more you know about what to do, the more likely you’ll be to survive.

What is an Active-Shooter Event?

According to the FBI, an active shooter “is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Recent active-shooter events include:

  • The recent Florida school shooting, which killed 17.
  • The Las Vegas attack, which killed over 50 people.
  • The Virginia Tech massacre, which killed over 30 people.
  • The Orlando nightclub shooting, which killed 49 people.
  • The terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, which killed 14.
  • The assault at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, which killed 7.

All of these events received national attention, but there have been others that most people didn’t hear about.

In October 2016, for example, a 53-year-old shooter started shooting inside his former place of employment—FreightCar America in Roanoke, Virginia. He killed one person and wounded three before he committed suicide.

 What to Do During an Active-Shooter Event

In response to the rise in active-shooter events, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have created resources that help give us some guidance on what we should do if we end up involved.

1) Be Aware of Exits and Run

The first thing is to always remain aware of your surroundings, wherever you are. Make sure you know where the nearest exits are, as the first thing you have to determine in an active-shooter event is whether to run or to hide. If you can get away, you should. Don’t worry about your belongings or equipment or any other physical items—just get yourself out of the area as fast as you can.

2) Hide Wherever You Can

If you can’t get out, you’ll need to hide, which is another reason why being aware of what’s around you is so helpful. Find an office or another type of room, get inside and close and lock the door. Turn off all lights and electronic devices, close windows and shades, and barricade the door. Further, hide under large objects like desks and other machinery or along the walls. If you’re outside, try to find protection behind a brick wall or group of trees.

3) Fight If Necessary

Law enforcement recommends that you fight only as a last resort—when you can’t run or hide. This holds true in most situations unless you are directly confronted by the shooter. In that case, turning and running could be the wrong decision.

If you must fight, use whatever you have with you or around you to defend yourself—chairs, scissors, fire extinguishers, pens, books, and more can serve as weapons in a pinch. (Another reason to be aware of what’s around you.)

Department of Homeland Security Offers a Training Course

Of course, we can’t predict how we will respond in a frightening situation like this. Many people naturally freeze and are unable to take immediate action. Try to prepare yourself for this, so you can take action as soon as possible.

The Department of Homeland Security offers an online training course that you may want to look into. They also have a handy pocket card that you can print out and keep with you at all times.

In general, the FBI recommends you remember these three steps:

  1. Run
  2. Hide
  3. Fight

When the first responders arrive, keep your hands up and visible until law enforcement gives you further instructions.

It’s not an easy thing to think about, being faced with an active shooter, but your best defense is to be as prepared as you can.

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