Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

Active Shooter Scenario: What should you do?

ACTIVE SHOOTERThe whole point of being a prepper is to be ready if SHTF. The whole world doesn’t have to come to an end for me to consider that it has. If I’m about to die, or my family is, then for me, it’s a SHTF scenario.

Great book detailing previous active shooter responses

This is a guest post from J.L., a police officer from a suburb of Oklahoma City. If you’ll notice, a good deal of the advice from this article mirrors my article on what to do if you’re taken hostage. I’ve had active shooter training and been in several simulations with the Sheriff’s Office but I’m not an expert in this stuff. J.L. volunteered to take his time to write an article for you. It’s based on classes that he gives to civilians.

Sadly, in today’s society, we see a growing number of individuals who walk into crowded areas/buildings and open fire on the people there. Be it a mall, school, or an office setting, these sick individuals are suffering from mental and emotional deficiencies, and generally intend to harm as many people as possible. While you may not be their intended target, you are still in harm’s way if you find yourself in this unfortunate setting.

Do you know what you should you do in this situation?

Your number one priority above all is to yourself and your family. Getting them to safety takes priority. Period! If you can safely escape, do so. I cannot stress this enough!

While the bystanders who wrestled Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner to the ground during his shooting spree probably saved many lives, I would urge you to try get out of the area and to safety as soon as you can.

Going toe to toe with these shooting suspects is not always the wisest course of action for a multitude of reasons.

I shoot regularly, at least twice a month. But shooting at a paper target is quite different than shooting at a moving target that is shooting back at you. Have you ever had to fire your weapon under duress? In a highly stressful situation? If not, try sprinting 50 yards at full speed, picking up your firearm, and then shoot at a moving target 8-12 yards away as quickly as you can. I promise it isn’t as easy as you think.

Things such as your fine motor skills and even your hearing and/or vision can deteriorate in highly stressful situations. Your brain will dump adrenaline into your body and will do things such as constrict blood flow to less vital areas of your body. All of this directly impacts your ability to fire and hit a moving target.

I have had to shoot my pistol in an on duty stressful situation once. I fired twice….hitting once and missing once. My target was about 5 feet away!

You are responsible for every single round that leaves your firearm. A Rand study was conducted on police officers in New York City involved in shootouts. The study found at only 18% of the rounds fired by police actually hit their intended target. Less than 1 in 5 bullets found their mark. (If the suspect did not fire at police, the hit rate went to 30%)..

We can look at the Empire State building shooting in August of 2012 as an example of what can happen. 9 innocent bystanders were injured during a murder suspect’s shootout with police.

For the record, 16 rounds were fired by the responding officers, and 10 of them hit the suspect. Yet 9 civilians were injured by either stray rounds or by bullet fragments. While the officers’ shooting was certainly justified, it shows what can happen when even trained law enforcement officers get into a shootout. It is NOT like in the movies.

God forbid you hurt and/or kill innocent people around you while shooting at someone else.

Another reason I urge you to get to safety as opposed to shooting it out with the suspect is the possible lack situational awareness not just by you, but also by those who are also in the area. I’ll illustrate this with an event that happened to me.

I responded to a late night burglary in progress call several years ago. I was not terribly far from the area, and so I arrived fairly quickly. As I began making my way up to the house, I see a man carrying a gun running across the yard. In a booming voice I announce that I am the police and tell the man to drop his gun.

“But I’m not the burglar!” the man tries to argue. Having no clue who this person is, only that he is on the scene of a felony in progress and he is carrying a handgun, I yell again to drop his weapon. At this point, the man sees I am pointing my weapon at him, and drops his. He lies on the ground and is quickly cuffed.

It turns out that the “burglar” was actually the home owner’s teenage son who had snuck out of the house and was trying to sneak back in. The man with the gun was the neighbor, whom the home owner had called before calling the police. (I shouldn’t have to say this, but ALWAYS CALL THE POLICE FIRST!!)

Fortunately, the only “crime” here was the teenager who violated curfew. But because the neighbor decided he wanted to try and be a hero, he risked getting shot.

My point in telling this story is that we don’t always have a clear idea of what is truly happening. The home owner thought someone was breaking into their house. I thought the man running across the lawn with a gun could be a burglar. The man with the gun might have mistaken the teenager for a burglar and shot him. All of this could have ended very badly for a lot of different people.

The person you see shooting; is he/she actually the shooter? Could they be an undercover/off duty cop? Are they a good Samaritan just like you, trying to stop a killer?

If you choose to engage this individual, how will others in the area perceive you? Could they think you are the shooter? Shootouts like Columbine and the North Hollywood bank robbery had more than one active shooter. For all you know, someone could be watching you while they are on the phone to the police, telling them that YOU are the shooter!

Time and again we (the police) go to calls where we receive partial or even incorrect information. We do not always have a full understanding of what is going on when we first arrive on scene. Do not assume that because you are the good guy, the police or other bystanders will automatically know that.

Active shooter facts

Once you decide your best course of action is to get to safety, what do you do? Here are some steps that will help you:

  • Stay low. Most firearms in these situations are being fired from chest/hip height. So duck, staying as low as you can while being able to move out of the area as quickly and safely as possible
  • You want to get out of the area as quickly as possible. But keep in mind that movement naturally attracts the eye. Try to remain out of the shooter’s line of sight, and don’t move if it is not safe to do so.
  • Put not only distance, but also objects between you and the shooter. These objects may not stop bullets, but usually the shooter will aim for what they see. Objects between you and the shooter will help to obscure their view. Use tables, chairs, building columns, etc to your advantage.
  • If you are able to go through doors, do so. And lock or barricade them if possible. But try not to lock yourself into a room. Look for another way out such as a window or stair well.
  • If you are inside a building, get outside as quickly as possible. This is preferable to locking yourself in a room. If you absolutely cannot get outside, then barricade yourself in and remain hidden.
  • Try to remain quiet. Turn the volume on your cell phone down. Keep calm and try not to scream or cry.

If the unthinkable happens and your life is in imminent danger, then “Unleash Hell”! Throw objects, use anything as a weapon, kick, bite, gouge eyes, scream, yell. Do whatever you can to disrupt the shooter. You are fighting for your life!

When the police arrive on scene, do the following:

  • Follow ALL of their commands. You may be handcuffed and frisked. This is standard operating procedure. (Remember what I talked about earlier and not always knowing initially who the bad guys are?) Don’t be insulted or resist. The police will figure out you are an innocent bystander soon enough.
  • Try to recall as much as you can about the shooter. Where did you see him last? What does he look like? Was there more than one? What was he wearing?
  • Provide them with as much information as you can about the layout of the area. If you can remember which doors you barricaded or which windows you opened, tell them.
  • If you cannot recall much, it is very understandable and nothing to be ashamed of. You just lived through a traumatic event. Your brain and body will be in overload mode. It is very common to not be able to remember details immediately after such an event.
  • You may feel completely drained by all of this. Again, your body just dumped a lot of adrenaline into your system in a “Fight or Flight” reflex. When you are able to do so, eat and sleep.

Once you are out of harm’s way, your ordeal is not over. You will most likely have a flood of thoughts and emotions that you may not fully understand or comprehend. You might feel anger, guilt, sadness, remorse, depression, etc. THIS IS NORMAL!

Talk to others about this. Seek help from counselors or other trained personnel. The “tough guy/I can handle it alone” is crap. We now have a much better understanding of things such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, etc. There is no shame in it, and there is nothing “Manly or Tough” about not seeking help to deal with it. You owe it not just yourself, but to your friends and family to work through all of this. There are trained professionals who can help you deal with everything you will be going through.

I hope that no one ever has to go through this type of tragedy. But if you do, hopefully you will now be better prepared to deal with this type of crisis.

Notes from Graywolf:

Be aware, be proactive, and be ready. Just because it isn’t a coronal mass ejection or the collapse of the economy doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn about it and prepare.

Getting into a physical altercation with an active shooter is about the second worse thing you can do, but the worst thing you can do is just cower and die. If you’re unarmed, the only recourse you’ll have (provided you’ve put yourself in a position to do so) is to do like the bystanders did when Gifford was shot and take him down unarmed. The more prepared you are to do that, the more likely it is that you’ll be successful in saving your life and the lives of those around you. The best system in the world is Krav Maga. Krav Maga isn’t just a martial art that teaches you to fight and get in shape, it’s based on REAL scenarios and is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, who know a thing or two about fighting.  Find a local Krav Maga studio and learn from an expert. If you don’t have a studio in your area, at LEAST get some videos and learn until you can locate someone to practice with in person. Mastering Krav Maga (Volume I) 6 DVD Set — Self-Defense (Beginner to Advanced) is the best DVD set that I know of to do that.

Another thing you can do to help is stay armed. You might not be able to have a firearm everywhere but you should at least have a knife. Carrying a big honking blade isn’t going to be feasible because you’ll make yourself a target and the bad guy would take it from you (not to mention you’ll look like a crazy person walking around with it). Find a wallet knife that you can have with you all the time. I carry a Boker Plus Subcom Black Knife in my wallet as a part of my personal EDC kit but Survival Life has a giveaway right now on a folding credit card knife that you should look into if you don’t want to spend as much as I did.

John Blair has an excellent book called Active Shooter Events and Response that breaks down past active shooter facts and the response from the Law Enforcement side of those events. I think you’ll find there are some key lessons that you can learn that could not  only teach you what to do if you face an active shooter, you can pull lessons to learn how to protect yourself in several different crime and SHTF scenarios.

If you want to learn more about learning how to protect yourself and your family from crime or attacks like this, I recommend getting a book like Strong on Defense: Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime as well as seeing if your local police department has neighborhood meetings. Also, it never hurts to see if there’s anyone down at your local VFW or American legion. All kinds of skills can be found there.

Best book I know to learn more

About James L

A police officer in Oklahoma, James is a gun enthusiast and certified police instructor. In his off time, he is a single father who enjoys playing with his kids and watching football.

Come visit his Preparedness site at Plan and Prepared


  1. Jeff Steele says

    This is great advice and should be read by all.I would add that people have to stop acting like zombies! i will explain.I am amazed by how many people are so absorbed in their electronic gadgets.They walk in/out of stores and through parking lots never looking up.They have no clue what is going on around them .Those few seconds lost can very well be the difference between getting out alive and being zipped up in a body bag.I counsel people to be proactive.scan your surroundings.See if something looks out of place.I scan a parking lot going in and coming out of any store.I never have my back to the entrance of a restaurant. I always look for the exit.I have taught my wife to always check the backseat of the vehicle before getting in and never be on the phone coming/going from her vehicle.A little common sense can make all the difference between getting home and being a statistic.BTW, if you find yourself in a situation like he described,Get yourself flat,face down and your arms and legs extended so the LEO’s can scan you in a second for threat assessment.And for God’s sake,put your cell phone in front of you instead of in your hand!That cell phone might be mistaken for a weapon!Remember, the LEO’s want to go home to their families too…

  2. Nathan Alexander says

    This is a brilliant post, and should be required reading for the layman who doesn’t want to take the time to read a whole book on the subject.

  3. Cops are over militarized and feel the 2nd Amendment is meant only for them.

    • If you are going to make broad and generalizing statements such as this, please be prepared to back up what you say with facts.
      I completely disagree with your statement that cops feel that the 2nd Amendment is just for them, and am providing a link showing that your assumption is not true.

      • I DID over generalize. Rural cops are mostly on board with citizen’s rights. It doesn’t give me a lot of confidence however when I see a lot of uniformed cops & chiefs lining up for photo ops with Obama & Bloomberg. I do feel that most cops are military wannabes. I’ll take Sheriff Andy Taylor any day.

        • Actually, many of the officers in my department are former military. Not sure how that makes them wanna-bes, but ok. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

  4. Jared Henry says

    Great post, active shooter situation happening not far from my hometown as we speak. Sad, this individual is targeting our excellent RCMP officers and the entire city of Moncton is on lock-down. Sadly one officer wasn’t paying close enough attention in the aftermath of the first shootout and was shot in the back. 3 officers are deceased and 2 wounded, link here http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/moncton-manhunt-stay-home-stay-safe-1.1854053

  5. I meant to post this back in June. This goes along with what I was saying about not going toe to toe with armed suspects…and their possibly being more than one. Very sad.


  6. Lifepads and Lifetabs are a great addition to any LEO or First Responder , EDC or Active Shooter Bags.

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