It's a shocking and sad state of affairs, but the likelihood that families will encounter an active shooter situation in their lifetime is becoming higher as time passes. Mass shootings are a part of everyday life in America, and it might be time for parents to sit down and discuss the best way to react should the unimaginable happen while their family is nearby. How do you create an action plan for your family for a shooter or other emergency? Here's a guide to help families get started.
There were 372 mass shooting in the United States in 2015, and 64 school shootings in the same year, according to reporting from the BBC. In total, 13,286 people were killed with guns in America in 2015. And, from 2001 to 2011, an average of 517 people are killed each year by terrorism in the U.S. excluding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The facts are in. More and more people are being exposed to violence in public places in our country, and taking steps to teach your family how to react no matter where they are if a life-threatening emergency arises could save their lives.
Prepare By Having A Conversation About Threats
The Aspen Risk Management Group wrote that it's crucial for parents to teach their family to accept responsibility for their own safety by constantly assessing "what ifs?" Parents should get their family into the habit of scanning their surroundings for potential dangers and then potential escape routes away from those dangers.
The first step is having a conversation about what the threat can potentially look like and how to recognize when an emergency is happening. According to the Washington Post, life-and-death, in situations like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, can depend on how you react in the first few minutes of an emergency event.
Recognize The Sound Of Gunshots
Would members of your family easily recognize the difference between the sounds of gunfire versus a door slam or similar loud noise? Those few seconds when gun shots ring out, and how quickly people can react, are important and potentially life saving, according to the Department Of Homeland Security's booklet on how to respond to an active shooter. Recognizing a threat early and running away quickly is the best response to any danger.
In addition to quickly scouting potential exits, it's also good to get into the habit of scanning your surroundings for people who seem nervous or out of place. The Aspen Risk Management Group wrote that "erratic or abnormal behavior" is the biggest warning sign someone might be a threat. Is someone wearing a thick coat in winter? Are they sweating like crazy in the middle of January? Are they asking unusually detailed questions or being evasive? All of these are examples of potentially suspicious behavior, according to DHS.
DHS also said it's important to be able to "adopt a survival mindset" in an emergency. That means remaining calm and assessing what's going on including: the location of the threat, potential escape paths, hiding spots, and what you can do if you are forced to confront the shooter. Those are the aspects of a "survival mindset" as detailed by the Wright State University Dayton Campus Police Guide to an active shooter situation.
Run, Hide, Or Fight?
Once you've established there is an emergency, potentially life threatening situation happening, you have three choices: run, hide, or confront the shooter or threat.
Running is often the best immediate option once you notice a threat. It's a good habit to scan for at least two exits to the outside whenever you enter a building, but it's particularly important at work, school, or any other place you frequent. If an emergency situation breaks out, quickly and calmly escape to the outside of the building, avoiding dead ends or bathrooms with no escape routes. according to DHS. Just drop your belongings and run. Running away from an active shooter in a zig-zag pattern will make you harder to shoot in an active shooter situation, as demonstrated in the video above from Jim Wagner, a self-defense expert.
It's important to help others get out too, if possible, but DHS warns not to stay back and spend precious time trying to convince others to escape with you.
While DHS endorses hiding if escape isn't an option, Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she prefers the stance of "deny" as opposed to "hide" in an emergency shooter situation. "Hide is a passive action," she told the Washington Post. "As opposed to 'deny', where I try to keep you from getting to me."
But hiding or denying access to you is a skill too. First, don't just hide under a desk or in a closet, get behind a locked door. J. Pete Blair, an author and rapid response training expert, told the Washington Post his organization isn't aware of a single incident of a shooter getting through a locked door to cause harm.
In addition to locking a door between you and a shooter or other threat, barricade the door with heavy furniture or anything else you can find that will make it harder for someone to reach you. While you're hiding, it's important to remain quiet. Remember to switch off cell phone ringers and notifications and keep quiet to avoid tipping off a threat to your location. If the shooter is close and calling 911 would reveal your location, DHS recommends you call 911 and leave the line open so the operator can listen in and hopefully ascertain the threat.
Blair warns against "playing dead" according to the Post, because he says often a shooter will continue to fire at people who are already down.
DHS says as a means of last resort and "only when your life is in imminent danger" should you attempt to fight. The DHS guide recommends acting aggressively, throwing things and trying to find some sort of object to use as a weapon, screaming and yelling, and, once you've made the decision to fight, "committing to your actions."
Police response time to an emergency like an active shooter is about three minutes on average, according to the Washington Post, and during those minutes, it can be necessary to fight. Aspen Risk Management Group estimates emergencies like shootings can last about 15 minutes. But Blair told the Post that pulling out a gun of your own and trying to engage a shooter is a bad idea, because once police do arrive, if you're holding a weapon, you can easily be mistaken for a gunman on a rampage.
What To Do When Law Enforcement Arrives
Once police arrive on the scene of an emergency, drop anything in your hands and put them above your head, so law enforcement can quickly determine you are not the threat. The University of Florida's guidance for those in the middle of an active shooter or other emergency are to stay calm and quiet, do not grab or talk to the police and know they are most concerned with engaging the threat, so wounded might go unassisted until police are sure the danger is under control.
By using a few of these tips, parents can help prepare their families for a potentially life-threatening situation, increasing the chances that their loved ones can get away safely.