It’s happened again, this time in the idyllic and historic city of Annapolis, Maryland: An Active Shooter.
The eight people shot and five killed at the offices of Capital Gazette Communications illustrate the grim reality of the myths about how to survive if you are caught in this type of incident.
The proper response to an active shooter event is to move. Do not hide.
Hiding under a desk is not a tactical plan that helps anyone except the shooter. Hiding only makes you an easy target. Your best course of action in any shooting situation is to run.
One of the first news reports on the Annapolis shooting came from a Gazette reporter who was in the office during the event.
“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” reporter Phil Davis said. “I write about this stuff — not necessarily to this extent, but shootings and death — all the time. But as much as I’m going to try to articulate how traumatizing it is to be hiding under your desk, you don’t know until you’re there and you feel helpless.”
I hate that this reporter felt “helpless” and that he did what most others would do in the same situation, and what most of us have been told to do, hide.
The average distance between an active shooter and his victim is less than 5 feet. People who hide under their desks tend to be the people who are often killed. We need to stop telling our co-workers, families and students to hide under their desks. Besides, I have never encountered much ballistic protection in any desk.
Consider the bravery of Wendi Winters, an editor and reporter at the Gazette who grabbed a trash can lid and recycling bin and charged the shooter. Witnesses say she distracted the shooter long enough for her colleagues to run to safety, possibly saving their lives. Sadly, she gave her own life, as one of the five who were murdered.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach or response to surviving an active shooter event. However, the one thing you can do is to develop a survival mind-set, which is your greatest weapon. The will to survive is much more important than the skill to survive. This is why the reporter felt “helpless;” he knew there was something more he could have done if he had been properly trained in active shooter response.
Of course, there are special considerations such as when small children and the elderly are present. But the majority of us can do incredible things, and will, if empowered to do so. Just ask James Shaw of Nashville, who disarmed an active shooter in a local Waffle House and saved countless lives, including his own.
In the Annapolis incident, the police responded in an unbelievable 60 seconds and bravely ran directly to the gunfire. Those who survived owe a great deal to those officers. Still, in most instances, the police response time averages 12 to 17 minutes, while the average active shooter event lasts fewer than nine minutes. Do the math. Surviving an active shooter event is your responsibility.
In all my years of training counterterrorism teams, SWAT teams, police and civilians, I have learned that awareness, preparedness and training provide peace of mind. Not knowing what to do causes unnecessary fear and panic. With mass shootings becoming more frequent and deadly, people should be thinking (and training) on how to respond if caught in an active shooter event. Hiding is not an option. Knowledge creates confidence, and confidence produces action.
Greg Shaffer is founder of Dallas-based Shaffer Security Group, which trains police, intelligence officers and civilians in active shooter response and tactical firearms. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.