Get, and stay low. Surviving an active shooter encounter.
Podcast episode 072821
Published on July 28th, 2021
A pleasant Saturday afternoon with friends, when you decide to “hit the mall” in search of other friends and the latest video game at the game stop. After gathering your friends into the car you head over to the large mall on the other part of town. After arriving, you toll the parking lot in search of, and eventually find a space large enough to fit your truck. Your group unloads and, in an unorganized fashion find your way to the entrance where some more friends are waiting. Upon joining up you all head inside the mall. The mall is fairly busy, and people are moving around the mall casually in search of items, or devouring time. You find yourself waiting outside a store, in the main hall for a couple of your group investigate a sale in one of the stores. A loud pop sound reverberates through the crowded hall way, followed by screaming, and immediately the crowds begin to race to the exits. More distinct pops are heard with more screaming, the pops are getting closer. This is the nightmare we all have when entering large public spaces coming to fruition. There are several different options that we have when confronted with this type of scenario. As mass shootings continue to rise in numbers across the countries, learning some basic elements in personal security can increase your potential to remain safe in this type of situation. Getting and keeping yourself, and your family, safe in this type of encounter is critical to being prepared. Without question, the best mass shooting to encounter is one that you’re not a part of.
Bob from LA asks, “You speak a lot about surviving natural disasters, but what about the rise of man-made events?” Well Bob, you’re a winner this week, because we’re going to talk about one of the more common man-made events here today.
Susan from Oregon asks, “How can I we ensure our kids are safe when visiting the malls by themselves?” Great question Susan, and although mass shootings are on the rise, fatalities are only fractionally rising, which means many of these mass shootings are going for the effect, and not really the body count. In addition, we’ll discuss some of the warning signs that your teens can keep an eye out for when at the mall. Most importantly is being aware of their surroundings at all times.
Rodney from Texas says, “What about being caught in the crossfire between two rivals?” Absolutely Rodney, the quasi-good news there is that they are more interested in shooting each other, therefore your mission is to get out of the way. Not to fear, we’ll talk about that too.
Connie from New York says, “in some cases there is no escape, the bad guys are going to target you.” That’s true, however, by using some preparedness tips we can not put ourselves in a position that would make us an easy target. Again, slow the roll on fear and let’s talk about some ideas to be prepared.
Eddie from Boston points out, “do you think there should be more concern from being shot by a crazed gunman, or a security officer returning fire?” That’s a tough one Eddie, as many armed security officers do not receive enough weapon training to be in control during an event of this magnitude, and much less when the stress meter is peaking. We had a saying during some deployments, and that was “fire for effect” which was when we needed the bad guys stick their head up to return fire. Typically the shots for effect were close, but we would need visual confirmation to an exact point for further engagement. So, I think I’m going to go with both.
If I didn’t answer your questions, by all means, remind me and I’ll make sure we address that specific issue. Those were some great questions, and to their point, let’s talk about surviving an active shooter incident.
Greetings to all my friends (both new and old), to my wonderful family, my fellow Alaskans, and my fellow Americans, wherever you are. Welcome to the Alaska Outlaw podcast, I am the Alaska Outlaw, thank you so much for joining me today. In today’s episode I’d like to talk about being prepared for the inevitable, a mass shooting event, as they are becoming common place in today’s society. Hopefully giving an idea of how to react during those first critical minutes are absolutely elemental in the level of success we can hope for. Honestly, the best tool we have against being involved in one of these types of incidents is being prepared.
But, before we get after it today, I’d like to make sure that, for those of you who seek peace of mind and harmony with the world we find ourselves in today, or just need help in making sense of life, be sure to check out the Alaska Outlaw Forn-sidr podcast at http://forn-sidr.akoutlaw.com. After 30 years of spiritual searching and discovery, I have arrived home. Home to the ideology of of my ancestors. Home of a proud Germanic-Dane heritage. Some really good stuff for you there. Also, another second just to give a shout-out for our sponsors and affiliates:
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All right, so let’s honestly look at a couple of situations where we might run into this type of situation. Then, address the “preparedness” angle where we’ll look at some “red flags” to be cognizant of. Finally, we’ll outline some basic ideas to get low, move fast, and get out alive. Before we really go too deep, I really want to make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re not talking about this to garner fear, or force anyone to stay home behind locked doors. We’re not fear-mongering, we’re identifying where we need to be prepared, and what we can do.
So, let’s first work at defining the situations where this type of event has a higher probability of occurring. The obvious first up is the malls of America. Most modern malls don’t have protection against the carrying of a weapon into the facility, therefore we are going to have to be cognizant of behaviors and demeanors. Carrying concealed is a little more complicated in the summer than it is in the winter, in addition, knowing the expected resistance from the other patrons can have a substantial effect as to the possibilities. So, our number one location is going to be malls, however, I don’t want you to get hung up on feeling safer in any of these venues because of this list. The next one is going to be nightclubs. Now, the difference with nightclubs is that they rarely, if-ever have armed guards, so more onus is placed on the patrons to quash the attack before it’s fully carried out. In both these cases, the gunman is hoping to commit “suicide by cop”, therefore understanding their desired outcome should impress upon you the need to act swiftly.
Now, the second scenario is an active shooter situation that developed where your preparedness won’t be invoked, instead you’ll be in a pure response mode. This type of engagement typically starts outside of your purview, and now you’re responding to an active threat. We’ll talk later how we’re going to respond, but suffice to say, keeping your wits about you gives you the best chance for success. It’s critical to keep thinking as clearly as possible throughout the whole engagement, as, even the shooter is emotionally “high”, and therefore unable to think clearly.
Ultimately any large venue with a substantial number of people should invoke a level of trepidation in the prepared. Any time you need to be in a crowded venue, put your damn phone away and pay attention to what going on around you. After-all it’s your life. This understanding shouldn’t concern you in grocery stores, or other small businesses, however, I need to stress the difference between fear, and prepared. Now, I’ve covered the major, or most common, but these types of events can happen anywhere. The critical element of survival is being prepared.
Excellent, so let’s talk about the preparedness part. Remember, we’re not afraid, so keep emotion out of it. Emotions will cloud our thinking, remember the epinephrine? That stuff is going to flood the brain and paralyze us, so we need to do our absolute best, to walk through the event in a step-by-step kind of way. We’ll focus on each part of the event, by the numbers.
- By paying attention to the entrance to this store we note that a man has just entered the store wearing an open trench coat. Nothing against trench coats, but it’s July. The second red flag is that it’s open. We also note that his eyes are darting around, sizing up the resistance before the event occurs. Their actions may seem a little suspicious, and they most likely won’t make eye contact until step two. We have a couple options, and they are diabolically opposed. Option A would have us draw close to the individual, somewhat behind him if possible. We want to be within 8 - 10 feet if possible. Option B would have us move toward an exit, or another location, without seeming to panic.
- The weapon is brandished. At this point of the engagement we have a couple options we’ll talk about during the solutions here in a few minutes, suffice to say, the event is underway. Ok, the gun is out, go time. If we followed Option A, tackling the suspect from behind, hopefully capturing the weapon beneath him. Hold on for dear life. Be careful here, as he has a death wish, he may attempt to commit suicide for both of you. Using Option B, dial 911 and keep it on speaker phone, possibly saying in a calm voice, “we have an active shooter at the mall”.
- The first target is acquired and engaged. This is critical for you to see (if possible). If the shooters first engagement is a fatality, you will need to know this. This sets the tone for the rest of the event. If the first shot is a wound, this means the shooter is not 100% committed to this and some more options appear.
- The shooters movements. Another critical data point to obtain if possible. If the shooter begins to move to engage other targets, his gait should be noted. In addition, attempt to note where his eyes are focused. If he seems to be tunnel visioned on a particular location, this could indicate that he is focuses on something, or someone particular. It also means that he’s not going to have any focus for what’s happening behind him.
- Many of the mass shootings have resulted in either suicide by cop, or a public suicide. Therefore when the shooters targets have all escaped, or his intended victim has been attacked, many have turned the weapon on themselves.
By taking each micro-event as its own microcosm in its own scene, we can be better able to keep the emotion of panic (or fear) out of the situation. By keeping our faculties about us, we can make decisions, and take actions, that better set us up for successful.
We’ve talked about probable situations where an attack is more possible, and we covered some basic concepts of our preparedness for these types of events. Finally, let’s look at some possible solutions. To fully consider our solutions, we must make some clear statements to clarify some critical keys here. Firstly and foremost, success is defined as being alive when the event concludes, chances are you may be hurt, but you’ll be alive. Secondly, my assumption is that you are not concealed carrying during the execution of this event. These two dramatically change our response, and our chances of survival (if we use the preparedness tips above).
With all that said, let’s talk about some action steps we can use BEFORE the event occurs. Again, our mission, and best chances for success, is based on being prepared. Again, we’ve said before, but let’s start with some preparedness steps;
- Put down your phone and note your surroundings. Most of the population seem to wander aimlessly around with their faces buried in their phone. A saying in the Marine Corps Recon groups is “see everything, admire nothing”. This saying is a reminder that we should focus on single things, instead making notes about the whole environment. I can’t stress this enough. In addition, you will want to note any and all entrances/exits as you move around in the environment, ensuring that you can get out quickly if necessary.
- Note anything that seems out of the ordinary. As you move around the crowded venue, take note of anything that looks out of place. A person entering the mall from the 80 degree weather outside wearing a full length trench coat, or carrying an item that looks like a sleeping bag, might be a good indicator that something bad is about to happen. Sweaty faces with darting eyes is another give away, which might be leading to another incident.
- Listen to your “gut”. In some cases people have told me that the “spidey senses” get all tickled, thereby noting that something is about to happen. A really good indicator is that you just “feel” that something is weird, or just “off”. Listen to those voices.
Essentially, we have two primary options to use if we’ve caught the situation before it actually occurs:
- Engage the shooter. This doesn’t have to be tackling, or assaulting, but engage in conversation. By engaging the potential shooter in conversation, you may reduce or eliminate the threat completely. In addition, by engaging in conversation, you could give the area its best tool, time and space. By having a friend contact authorities, if you can stall the event long enough for the police to arrive, you would have saved lives, including the shooter.
- Escape the area. It could be time to exit the facility, finish your shopping trip a little earlier than planned. Where the best scenario is reaching out to law enforcement allowing them to potentially prevent the threat all together. Get out of that area safely. Look for other ways out. Employee entrances, emergency exits, through a window, whatever it takes to get out. Again, by having EMS on the phone via the 911 system we can reduce the number of injuries.
If you are attempting to remain, if you can’t engage the potential suspect, getting into a position out of the line of sight. Preferably in a position behind the shooter. What you want to ensure is that you don’t pin yourself in. By possibly hiding in an alcove with no way out. So, when you’re ducking for coverage, be aware of what you’re walking into.
We know (from other episodes) that our brain will be inundated with high-powered chemicals created by the “fight or flight” that is going to overwhelm us when this event is identified. I can’t stress enough the value of remaining calm. I will also say it is going to be damn-near impossible to do that. By keeping our steps clearly laid out, and sticking to them, we can navigate this type of incident.
- Identify the threat.
- Commit to our first act (identify the criteria matrix as to first action step (example below))
- Less than 10 feet away, pre-event, engage in conversation.
- Less than 10 feet away, in-event, rush shooter? Or throw hot coffee at face of shooter, then rush?
- More than 10 feet away, pre-event, exit environment, contact authorities.
- More than 10 feet away, in-event, seek cover, contact authorities
All right so, either you weren’t in a position to see the suspect enter the facility, or you weren’t paying attention, however, shots fired. Your primary mission now is survive, and part of that mission is to get reinforcements on their way. A quick dial of 911 on the cell phone, with a clear concise “we’re at the (whatever the name is) mall, there’s a shooter”, then leaving the phone in call, stuff it in your pocket and move to the next step of your plan. Again, the key is to try to stay calm, regardless of how far the shooter is away from you. Your first action should be to get low. Now, when I say get low, I don’t mean on your belly, I mean in a very low crouch. You still need to be able to move, however don’t make yourself a larger target than necessary, make the target as small as you can. Move to cover, when possible.
Cover is defined as anything substantial that you can put between your self and the shooter that could stop the bullets, or make you invisible to the shooter. Ideally, both.
However you’ll want to see the shooters movements, if possible. But don’t stick the top of your head out of the cover to look, instead look around for a reflection off a window or billboard even shadows on the floor, and certainly keep your ears focused on movements. The gun shots will get louder as the suspect moves toward you, as well, the masses of screaming people fleeing should give you ample notification how close the suspect is to your position. Keep the cover between you and the shooter at all times.
Now if you should find yourself in a more open area, without cover you have several options.
Firstly, calmly and deliberately check around you for heavy objects to throw at the shooter, you are trying to hurt or distract him. However, try not to expose yourself too much when launching your projectiles, you’ll want to make sure you are close enough before initially engaging. Try not to miss. Anything is fair game here, either as a projectile to disarm, a distraction to draw attention, or an obstacle to clear, the idea of hurling things at the shooter creates, if nothing else, uncertainty in their plan, breaking their plan up and causing a loss of momentum for them.
Secondly, in open areas movement is our greatest ally. A moving target is much more challenging to hit. Low crouch and move in a zig zag pattern through the open area to cover. Constantly keep your torso and head moving, back and forth, up and down, anything. Again, you trying to make yourself less of a target. If you are going to run away, do not run in a straight line, zig-zag or diagonally, anything to make it a more difficult shot. Make your movements sporadic, and try to make them us unpredictable as possible. Try to seek out any type of cover as much as possible.
Thirdly, if you need to face the suspect, do so sideways. You will make a smaller target from the side than you will head on, or turning your back. Remember, you are trying to make yourself a more challenging shot, when you are moving from position to position, run like he’s standing right next to you. You will want to essentially “run for your life”, as fast as your two legs can go.
Ok, so you’ve done all those things and you find yourself struck by a projectile. In many cases the impact of the round hitting your body is going to knock you off your feet. I’m not going to lie, it’s really going to hurt. But, as you hit the floor after being struck, play dead. Don’t move. Most of these shooters are doing this for effect, so they are going to try and get other targets, as they consider you are done for. You are going to cry, as I said it really hurts. But, the second shot won’t come if the suspect thinks you’re done, they are going to move on to other targets. Stifle your cry (as best you can) until you can hear the shooter engaging other targets and moving away from your position. As soon as the shooter has moved far enough away, or is otherwise distracted, make a mad dash for the exit and seek medical care, if you can.
Clear heads will save the day here, so try really hard to not get “caught up in the moment”, and continue to focus on your next objective. The more you can keep panic, and emotion out of the situation, the better chance you have of getting out alive. There are tons of resources available in most locations that can provide the “Learn to Return” type of training when it comes to actually taking physical actions during this type of event. In addition, many school districts throughout the country have implemented the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) training for active shooter incidents. This type of training is available for all levels of students, as well as the general public. Check your local area for an organization that provides the training and attend. Again, its not an exercise in gaining fear, it needs to become a need to be prepared
As always my friends, I am honored and humbled that you have chosen to spend this time listening to me. I deeply appreciate each and every one of you. As this epidemic continues its attempt at fracturing society, I offer you a promise. The promise that, if you get and stay prepared, not give into emotion, you will increase your chances dramatically of giving your loved ones that squeeze that you’ll start thinking about when this type of event occurs. Remember to be strong, be safe, and keep your head on a swivel… Peace.