In light of current national (United States) and world events, particularly given my position as an instructor on a community college campus, I’ve made it a personal mission of mine to learn as much as possible about active shooter incursions. Early in my career, I was unnerved by the possibility that I could face a possible active shooter in our hallways. The stories of Michael Carneal (Paducah, KY), Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden (Jonesboro, AR), and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (Columbine, CO) were fresh in the news. Teachers in general were looking around their classrooms and trying to determine which students had the highest likelihood of becoming the next mass school shooter.
In recent years, shooters have branched out from public schools, taking their particular brand of violence into areas less affected by violence – office buildings, warehouses, malls, colleges, and dance clubs. In response to this growing trend, government entities have devised response plans that are being disseminated to schools, colleges, and employers of various sorts in an attempt to prepare citizens for the unlikely event that they will fall victim to a rampage shooter. The most popular of these plans is Homeland Security’s Run, Hide, Fight® protocol.
If you’ve not viewed the video for the RHF protocol, use the next 6 minutes to do so:
Seems rather basic, which is just what most people need in the face of mind-numbingly nerve-bending circumstances. The Run-Hide elements of the protocol are basically human nature codified in video. Who needs to be told to run or hide from loud noises and dangerous circumstances? Normalcy bias and ‘the freeze’ notwithstanding, most people are going to default to running and hiding.
It’s worth noting, however, that hiding can be problematic in an active shooter event. History is replete with stories of people who took shelter under tables and desks while active shooters roamed their schools. The small amount of shelter provided by a table or desk makes it inconsequential as a place of refuge. The vast majority of victims in school shootings are students who tried to hide instead of taking to their feet and running.
Where the trouble with this training comes into play, however, is in the ‘Fight’ element. The simplistic instructions deny every truth about human physiology and indoctrination (usually at the hands of the very establishment that made this video) against engaging in violence.
The 4 pieces of instruction in the video (at the 4:13 mark) are as follows:
Attempt to incapacitate the shooter. Great advice. How do you do that? Hit him in the head with a chair or fire extinguisher (as the video shows)? What if you have no weapon? How do we go about incapacitating the shooter empty-handed? When is the best time to move in on the shooter? What about the shooter’s weapon?
Act with physical aggression. Again, great advice, but what does that mean? Should we become angry? How do we make the shift from sheer terror to brutal aggression? What actions do we take with that aggression?
Improvise weapons. Good call. However, at what point do we cross the line from defender to aggressor with an improvised weapon, thus putting ourselves at risk of going to jail?
Commit to your actions. What actions? There are no actions specified in the video, so what exactly should defenders commit to? Active aggression, whatever that is? Using our improvised weapons (but to what extent)?
In order to truly affect positive change in the outcomes of active shooter situations, there needs to be more instruction/direction. People will, in the face of stress or confusion, default to the level of their training. For most people, the level of training is pretty much nil.
Certainly it is true that covering every defensive contingency is impossible in a short training video. However, just a little additional instruction would clarify for a self defender what actions (s)he could take to maximize the potential for success. For example:
Attempt to incapacitate the shooter. Distract the shooter with any material that can be thrown at him. Close the gap between yourself and the shooter while he is distracted. Push the muzzle of the weapon toward the floor or ceiling. Bear hug and tackle the aggressor and strip the weapon from him. Slam elbows into his head to disorient him or relieve him of consciousness.
Act with physical aggression. Hit hard, hit often, and don’t stop until the shooter is down for the count. Even if you are shot, as long as you are conscious and mobile, continue to fight. It’s your life or the shooter’s. Do not give in until you are no longer able to fight.
Improvise weapons. Pencils, pens, chairs, scissors, books, fire extinguishers, coffee pots, eating utensils, and any other object you can hold in your hand is a potential weapon. That hot cup of coffee is quite a weapon when thrown in the face of a threat. Poke, slash, stab, bludgeon, and scald the shooter until he is incapacitated and no longer a threat. When the threat is subdued, cease the attack and wait for authorities to arrive. Vengeance against a shooter after he is down for the count will likely result in charges against the would-be defender.
Commit to your actions. Whatever you do, do it until you cannot do it any longer. If you are going to tackle the threat, do it without hesitation and to the fullest extent of your might. Any reluctance on your part could be deadly. If your only weapon is a pen, attack with that pen until the shooter is down or you haven’t another breath to draw. He is there to kill you; turn the tables on him.
People who are told to run and hide but instead find themselves faced with having to fight to survive usually become statistics that anti-gun advocates and news anchors talk about for weeks after a mass shooting. Take the events in Orlando, Florida, for instance. More than 300 people in a club ran or hid when Omar Mateen opened fire on them. More than a third of them became statistics because they were never taught how to fight for their own survival.
Run, Hide, Fight® has its place as basic information, but it is woefully incomplete as a means of reducing the casualty count in a mass shooting event. Does additional ‘Fight’ training guarantee success? Not at all, but it does give the defender an edge that just might be sufficient to allow more people to walk away from the event unharmed.