5 to Survive – 5 Tips for Surviving an Active Shooter Event

During my twenty-five-year career as a U.S. Government Agent investigating terrorism, I became all too familiar with the chaos and destruction that can be caused in attacks by terrorists and other criminals. One of the most deadly and heinous types of attacks is the attack by an active shooter. Because they have the element of surprise on their side, they hit us when we’re unprepared and often blindside us in public places where we feel safe and our defenses are down.

The cold reality is that active shooters have become a daily occurrence in the workplace, in entertainment venues, at parades, and even in places of worship. Sadly, anywhere people gather to play or pray can become a target of a terrorist or other active shooter. The good news is that there are five very simple tools we can use to make sure we are Switched On and ready for the bad guy.

Before we proceed, let me answer a question I am often asked: “So, what does it mean to be Switched On?”

Being Switched On is a daily decision, a moment by moment choice, a constant awareness and mindset. It can become part of our very DNA and act as a coat of armor that protects us from all types of threats, in all aspects of life. When it comes to an active-shooter situation, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Those who are Switched On have a high-functioning internal compass and GPS system. They have emotional equilibrium and dexterity. They recognize nuances in their complex environments, and are guided as to when to turn just a few degrees to the left or right, go forward full throttle, back up, or come to a dead stop.

We’ve all seen news reports of people innocently going to a concert or theater only to be ambushed and gunned down by some maniac with an AK-47. Sadly, some of us have narrowly escaped such situations, known someone who has, or lost a loved one who wasn’t so lucky. So, we must be in the habit of being Switched On every time we are out in public. We must train our brains like a muscle, no different than our biceps. Train the mind and the body will follow. Don’t, and we could lose our lives during an active-shooter event.

Think of your favorite athlete in whatever sport. They develop muscle memory in executing a particular move or play by practicing and visualizing that move or play hundreds of times before you or I ever see them use it in their sport. That repetition is what enables them to make what they do look so easy. It is second nature to them.

By training your most important muscle—your mind—you will increase the likelihood of surviving an active-shooter event. So, take the time to prepare like an athlete. And remember that the event you’re preparing for has much higher stakes than a sporting event—life and death!

The following 5 To Survive tools can empower us all so we can enjoy life as God intended us to. Train yourself to:

  1. Engage your senses and trust your instincts.
  • The essence of being Switched On stems from our minds. Our minds control our bodies, including: sight, hearing and smell, as well as our God-given instincts. When we are Switched On, we listen as acutely as an owl, see with Clark Kent vision and sniff out danger like a bloodhound.
  1. Scan the environment and devise a worst-case-scenario plan.
  • Keep in mind that, during stressful events, the mind automatically scans the memory bank for a predetermined plan. If no plan was put into place then none will be retrieved—and without preplanned instructions to follow, the body will freeze or make a fatal decision. The plan should be threefold:
  • Identify a primary and secondary exit. It is good to make a mental note of the locations of the exits but even better if we can physically walk our escape plan before we need it. In this way, we are like the elite athlete practicing a certain move a thousand times so it becomes muscle memory;
  • Identify safe havens or places to which we can escape; and
  • Identify objects to use for cover and concealment. It’s important to know the difference between concealment (hiding under a table, for example) and cover-and-concealment (hiding behind a refrigerator or thick metal object capable of stopping a bullet, or in a locked room). Whenever possible, cover-and-concealment is preferable because it provides greater protection and safety.
  1. Train yourself to scan the crowd, read people, and identify potential threats such as a lone individual dressed inappropriately for an event. And if you see something that doesn’t fit or seems off in some way, say something to authorities. Never be afraid of being wrong and embarrassing yourself. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It could save your life and maybe even the lives of others.
  2. Listen to and focus on your breath when you’re in close proximity to an active shooter or any violence. As simplistic as that may seem, it has a major twofold effect:
  • It breaches tunnel vision on the shooter and widens your perspective and eyesight so you can see and identify other threats; and
  • Just as importantly, it helps you focus on your previously identified exit-and-escape plan.
  1. Memorize this fact, repeat it over and over, and make it your mantra: “My main focus is to identify the threat, avoid the threat, and escape the threat. Period! Every time I am out in public, I will be Switched On.” Our instinct in times of crisis is to call loved ones or the police—but it’s not the time unless you’re out of harm’s way. As we escape the chaos, we must prepare to encounter police (their response time is typically two to four minutes) by putting our hands up in the air. When they arrive, they will be expecting us to give a description of the shooter or shooters.

With active-shooter incidents confronting us on a regular basis on the news, many people become scared and feel helpless. Some even avoid going out after dark or leaving the house at all. But we must not surrender to thoughts and fears of violence. Our minds can be put to much better use. In fact, they can become our best protection for avoiding active-shooter incidents and for protecting us if we should find ourselves facing an active shooter.

Your mind is your best protection and your best weapon! Train it well. Practice often. Remain Switched On. And live your best life.