December 9, 2015

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What You Should Do in an Active Shooter Situation

Your chances of encountering a shooting are small, but be prepared with expert advice. 

In the 1960s, when the U.S. feared nuclear destruction, the civil defense directive was “Duck and cover.” In case of fire, we all remember learning to “Stop. Drop. Roll.” In the wake of yet another mass shooting and widespread public anxiety, the plan is: “Run. Hide. Fight.”

“Run. Hide. Fight.” was coined and trademarked by the Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, which produced a video that instructs citizens how to handle an active shooting situation. The video was released on the heels of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12. Since then, the English version — it’s also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese — has been viewed almost 4 million times.

Let’s be clear: Your chances of encountering an active shooting situation are minuscule. Grant Duwe, PhD, author of Mass Murder in the United States: A History, calculates that the risk is about the same as being struck by lightning, he told the Daily News.

Still, recent mass shootings in Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino have us on edge. Nothing calms nerves and stems panic better than preparation, experts say.

“In life-and-death situations like a terrorist shooting, one should plan, practice, and visualize how one would react,” Eric Zillmer, professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia and editor of Military Psychology, tells Yahoo Health. “The idea is to make one’s response more automatic so one would not have to ‘think,’ which is difficult under extreme stress. The more prepared you are, the quicker you can react.”

Here’s a primer on what you should do during an active shooting event. Our advice: Practice. Practice. Practice.


Always know the exit or stairwell nearest to your office or desk. Pay extra attention to how to get out of the building during any office fire drills. The second you hear the first pop-pop-pop of gunfire, leave the building. Fast.

Take nothing — you’ll retrieve your purse or laptop later — and wait for no one, experts say.

“Run as fast as you can, warning people on your way out the door,” Jason Porter, a regional managing director for the Pinkerton risk and security company, tells Yahoo Health. “Don’t let other people slow you down.”


If you can’t get out of the building:

  • Hide in a room with, preferably, a door that locks.
  • Turn off lights.
  • Push heavy objects against the door.
  • Silence cellphones.
  • Keep quiet.

If you can’t find a place to duck into or under, and you can hear gunshots, curl up into the “smallest possible target,” Frank Scafidi, an FBI agent for 20 years, tells Yahoo Health. “Firing is generally done from the hip. If someone has an automatic weapon and is sweeping back and forth, it’s better to be as low to the ground as you can be.”


If all else fails, fight for your life. Grab anything you can hurl at the attacker — a chair, fire extinguisher, stapler, even a cellphone — and wait for the moment he or she hesitates to, say, reload. The moment the attacker pauses, you attack.

“This isn’t a schoolyard fight; it’s someone coming to kill you,” says Porter. “You need to commit to fighting to the finish.” The Paris train attack heroes rushed the gunman in a group and didn’t stop until they had subdued him. One of them, Anthony Sadler, who is a college student from California, told NBC that “we just did whatever we could to disarm him.”nerdlogo-neon-green