Mass shootings are a very real part of life in the United States. So unfortunately, it’s time for everyone to learn survival strategies that might save their lives if they’re caught in the middle of a mass shooting. Keep reading to learn how to react if you find yourself in a dreadful situation like this, including the No. 1 thing that might increase your chance of survival (page 8).
1. Run, hide, fight
Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, talked to Good Housekeeping about training to stay alive during a mass shooting. She said the best — and easiest thing — thing to remember is to either run, hide, or fight.
“Run, which means evacuate. Hide means find shelter. And in the worst-case scenario, if you have to fight, fight to save your life,” she said. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do Durkovich’s steps in order — it will depend on the environment. “You can’t always find an escape route, so it may require that you find a hiding place that is out of the visibility of the shooter,” she said.
Next: Be on the lookout.
2. If you see something, speak up
Durkovich told Good Housekeeping that we must remain aware about what others are doing, and if we see something that’s not right we must report it. She said, “As we go about our daily lives, the biggest mistake is not being aware enough of our surroundings to notice what might be out of the ordinary or not normal,” she said. “[It’s essential to report] suspicious activity if something does seem out of place rather than going into that facility.”
Next: Stay informed.
3. Ask questions, and know the plan
If you work at a school or have a child who goes to one, “meet with local law enforcement, school administrators, and even the PTA,” advised Durkovich. Ask what you — or parents — should do if a school goes into lockdown, and find out how you’ll be updated.
“Those are the types of things that schools need to have in place,” Durkovich told Good Housekeeping. “Plan for what you’re going to do with the kids and how you’re going to effectively manage your communication with parents and law enforcement.”
Next: Hide correctly if you can.
4. Hide behind something concrete
If you can possibly find something concrete to hide behind, do so. Don’t hide in bathroom stalls or under cabinets — bullets can easily penetrate them. “If I’m going to hide, I’m going to hide behind things that stop bullets like trees, structural pillars and big concrete planters,” Retired Navy Seal Clint Emerson told Good Housekeeping.
He also cautioned that if you happen to be behind a vehicle, hide on the engine end instead of the trunk end. According to Emerson, “Bullets can rip right through that trunk and still hit you, but the engine is going to stop it.”
Next: Another way to hide
5. If there’s nothing solid, at least hide out of sight
If you can’t find something solid and heavy to hide behind, concealing yourself might be your next best bet. For example, Emerson said if you’re in a room you should “always barricade the door for extra safety.”
“In a classroom, you should put filing cabinets on the same wall as the door. [Hopefully] what’s going to happen is the shooter is going to give it some effort for a couple of minutes, and then he’s going to say ‘forget it’ and move on,” Emerson said.
Next: Never lie on the floor.
6. Stay on your hands and knees
Whatever you do when you’re hiding, don’t put your vital organs against the floor, Emerson said. “Most bullets, when they ricochet, they follow the path of the floor,” he explained to Good Housekeeping. “If a bullet comes flying, I’d rather have my hands, knee or wrist hit. If you put your lungs, heart or head right against the ground, you might get a ricochet bullet passing through your body.”
Next: Stay away from this room.
7. Don’t run to the bathroom
Although it might seem like a good place to hide, you should avoid the bathroom, Emerson told Good Housekeeping. He recommended staying away from any boxed-in spaces, such as bathrooms or conference rooms.
“Anytime there’s a confined space, get out of there. [Public] bathrooms are horrible; they don’t usually have windows and there’s nothing in there that’s going to stop a bullet,” he said. Another Emerson tip: Stay clear of doorways.
Next: The No. 1 way to increase your chances of survival
8. Run in a zigzag
This might sound odd, but experts agree that running in a zigzag is the No. 1 way to increase your chances of surviving. Emerson told Good Housekeeping, “A moving target is far more difficult to shoot than a stationary one.”
Emerson also said you should run to something that could shield you from bullets — such as a concrete pillar or a science lab sink counter — as you zigzag your way out of harm. “If there is no cover, run in a zigzag motion as fast as you can to the first right-hand turn and get yourself out of sight,” Emerson said. “That makes it very difficult for the shooter to be accurate.”
Next: Rise up.
9. Use the fight option
If you can’t run or hide, you can fight. You’re taking a big chance, but as Emerson says, “This is probably one of the worst scenarios that you could ever imagine, so you’ve really got nothing to lose.”
And you might not lose. “It’s [probably] the bad guy’s first time to come through those doors and take people’s lives,” Emerson told Good Housekeeping. “He’s nervous, he’s not an experienced shooter. The reality is, with some confidence and knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time, you actually have more of an advantage, especially if you’re within striking distance.”
Emerson said if you fight, fight in a group. “Point out a few people and say, ‘Hey, when he comes through the door I’m going to go for the weapon, you go for the head and you go for the hips.’ It takes one person to make a move, and that gives everyone else the courage to help,” he said.
Next: A weapon you might not have thought about
10. Find a weapon
If you end up having to fight for your life, look for a weapon — they’re all around you. “Fire extinguishers are everywhere,” Emerson said. “You can hit somebody over the head with it, spray their face or put chemicals in their eyes. A lot of commercial buildings have fire hoses in the fire stairwells. You can grab one and turn the pressure on full and knock a bad guy down or create distractions.”
Next: Another way to hide
11. Try to keep calm
Because the scene of a mass shooting is pure chaos, one of the best things you can do to preserve your life is to try to stay calm. If you — and the people around you — remain cool, you won’t draw attention from the shooter.
“Calm is just as contagious as panic,” Emerson told Good Housekeeping. “If you panic, others will panic. You need calm, you need calculation and you need to work as a team. There’s always something you can be doing to increase your security, safety and lifespan when you’re in this type of situation.”
Next: Don’t ever do this when the police arrive.
12. What to do when the police arrive
When the police arrive on the scene, according to University of Miami Health System, make sure you put down anything you might have in your hands — and keep your hands visible. Never make fast movements toward police officers, and follow all instructions to the letter. As you evacuate the premises, don’t ask police officers for help or directions. Just leave the building from the direction the police entered.
Next: Practice makes perfect.
13. Practice situational awareness
Security professional Nick Pere Perez and his girlfriend survived the Las Vegas concert shooting in October 2017. He attributed their survival to his situational awareness. Perez told The Washington Post they were 30 feet from the stage when gunfire ripped through the crowd.
“After the second burst of gunfire, I knew it wasn’t firecrackers,” Perez said. “I knew we were under attack.” Perez knew that because he “… saw a police car racing down Las Vegas Boulevard, toward the hotel. I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and sprinted in the opposite direction to the exit I remembered from the venue’s layout on the festival app.” The moral of this story is whenever you go to a new location, familiarize with it the best you can. And make sure you check where the exits are.
Next: Silence is golden.
14. Turn off your cellphone
Law enforcement veteran John Bruner told ABC News that once you’re either hidden or you’ve run, you need to turn off your cellphone. Next, he said, “Use a landline, and call 9-1-1 and, whispering, let them know what floor you’re on and what you’re seeing and hearing.”
“If you’re calling from a landline, and something happens and you drop the phone, [the address] is going to pop up in your dispatch center,” Bruner said. “If you call on your cellphone, that information isn’t going to pop up on their computer screens. So that may buy an extra 15 seconds if they can say, Hey, we have an unknown problem at whatever this address is.”
Next: Don’t stand still
15. Always keep moving
According to the Huffington Post, you should never assume loud explosions are fireworks. Pay attention — and start moving away if you don’t see the “fireworks.” Security expert Steve Kardian shared a tip about being in a mass shooting situation. “Start moving, don’t wait,” Kardian said. “Every second you wait, that is additional shots that are fired, those are additional injuries and people that could be killed. Start moving right away.” In addition, Kardian said not to run where everyone else is going because the shooter will likely focus on large groups.
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