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Although the odds of being involved in an active shooter situation are low, such occurrences have become more common over the past 15 years, according to FBI statistics. Data also shows that more than 60 percent of active shooter incidents are over within five minutes. Knowing exactly what to do during this time could mean the difference between life and death for you and others.

Let’s say you think you hear the sound of gunfire. First, if it sounds like gunfire, it is gunfire until proven otherwise. People can die when they try to confirm the crisis is real. So what should you do next? The following provides proven lifesaving strategies for an active shooter situation.

Your Three Basic Responses

Playing dead or freezing can get you killed. Be prepared to act, not react, so you can move with purpose. Active shooter situations can change quickly. You have only a few basic responses to choose from: run, lockdown/barricade, and fight. The best response plan enables you to change actions as the incident evolves.

Running = Strategically Creating Distance

Simply put, you run to flee the area and safely create distance between yourself and the shooter. Always run away from the sound of gunfire. If possible, retreat at 90 degree angles from the shooter by moving into perpendicular rooms, hallways, and doorways.

If you are in an open space with the shooter, use any large steel/concrete structure as cover that could stop the bullets. You may need to resort to concealment – e.g., drywall, bushes, hollow core doors – to protect you from the shooter’s view. You are, however, still vulnerable to the bullets.

Once you’ve evacuated the immediate area, scatter from others and run until you are safe. Call 911 and be prepared to provide exact details about your location and the nature of your call.

Beyond Hiding: Lockdown/Barricade

If you hear gunshots and can’t get out of the building, simply hiding under furniture will not protect you. You need to immediately lockdown or barricade the entry point to your space by using moveable large, heavy objects such as tables, desks, and filing cabinets. Keep the following points in mind once the space is locked-down or barricaded:

  • Look for a secondary exit. Break a window and evacuate if you are able.
  • Turn off the lights, silence cell phones, and keep calm and quiet.
  • Don’t huddle together.
  • One person should assume the “defend your room” position by standing against the wall, two to three feet from the knob side of the door, and be ready to use an improvised weapon.

Fight to Stay Alive

The shooting could quickly move to your area. If no other option is available, find a distraction object to throw at the shooter’s face. When he flinches, it’s time to act once again, either running to evacuate, getting to a safer space, or attacking the shooter.

If engaging the shooter, find anything to use as a weapon — a stapler, extinguisher, laptop, your elbow, etc. Identify and attack trauma-susceptible targets such as the eyes, groin, knees, collarbone, abdomen, and neck/throat area. If possible, attack with numbers. One person should attempt to control the weapon arm to get it pointed in a safe direction. Another should go for the trauma-susceptible targets. Attack until the shooter is completely disabled.

When the weapon is disengaged from the shooter, remove it far away from him. But also remember this: Do not have the weapon in your hand as you exit the building or when law enforcement enters the building. That could lead to deadly consequences. When law enforcement enters the area, follow their orders and allow them to take command of the situation.

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