Monday, July 23, 2012

Surviving Mass Shootings

As awful as a mass shooting can be, there are things you can do so as to at least somewhat improve your chances of survival, and its not just about shootings, these same principals apply to disasters such as fires, or terrorist attacks where you want to evacuate a building as fast as possible. It wasn’t that long ago that I posted about the fire in “The Station” night club where 100 people lost their lives, a post called “Surviving a Fire”. Given the recent shooting that took place in the movie theater in Colorado, here’s some easy to remember advice that will improve your survival odds. Its not about living in fear, just a couple quick mental notes that eventually become second nature to you:

1)Exits. Notice the different exit points when entering any room. The obvious first one is the one you just walked through, but look around for more. In many cases people rush to the main entrance ignoring other emergency exits that are closer. In a crowded room this may be the difference between life and death, surviving or getting crushed by the mass of victims.

2)Two ways out. When seated, make again a mental notice of your exits, especially the two closest ones to you. Why two? Because the threat, whatever that may be, mass shooter, fire, terrorist, it may be standing between you and your exit, leaving you with the second one as your best chance of survival.

3)React. In “The Station” nightclub fire, the fire was started by the special effects that were clearly getting out of control yet the band kept playing and the fans kept cheering. During the Batman movie massacre in Colorado people heard the shots and thought it was part of the movie, or part of the premier show. There’s a moment where your primal instinct kicks in, that gut feeling that has kept our species alive for thousands of years. Don’t ignore it, don’t suppress it. If you feel something is wrong, take action and assess the situation. In the case of a shooting in a movie theater, getting down provides both concealment by the rows of seats and to some degree, given the angle and number of seats, it can be cover as well. As soon as you hear shooting get down and crawl away from the threat using the cover provided by what hopefully will be several rows of seats.

4)Escape. As soon as you hit the floor crawl, away from the threat towards the exit. Making a quick exit is key to your survival. In the footage of “The Station” nightclub fire you can see how the place was all engulfed in flames in just two minutes. Seconds make the difference, so exit as fast as possible.

Run, walk, crawl…?

It will depend on a number of factors including the proximity of the exit, the attacker, how many of them are there and the amount of people all around you just to mention a few. The basic gun fighting rule is to take cover as soon as possible, in this case that means ducking behind the rows of seats. In most cases thats the best course of action when under gunfire. Maybe if the exit is close enough you can make a run for it. It is true that a running target is much harder to hit. Then again running increases the chances of falling, so that’s why running wouldn’t be recommended during a fire where falling to the ground means you’ll get crushed under the feet of the human wave trying to escape. The right amount of space, few enough people, close enough distance, you might want to run, if not walking quickly is almost as fast and you’re not as likely to fall in the confusion. Walk fast, duck or even run, it will depend on each specific case.

To Shoot or not to Shoot

If you are armed, do you open fire on the attacker? It will depend on a number of factors too. Are you trained well enough so as to take that shot? You fall down to your lowest level of mastered training, you´ll rarely rise to the occasion. Do you have a clean shot? If not are you willing to risk shooting innocent bystanders?  In the Colorado theater, the shooter was wearing full body armor, a helmet, armed with an AR and using a gas mask after deploying tear gas.
I was shooting a competition this Saturday along with some other people. While I’m not a good shooter by the standards of guys that compete seriously, out of the six shooters in the line that day, I was the fastest one. I can draw and shoot accurately pretty fast, but If I have to take that shot inside a dark theater, with my vision impaired by tear gas, with the place full of people running around scared, and I have a guy armed with an AR, wearing body armor and a helmet leaving me with a small amount of face (covered with a respirator!) so as to shoot at, chance are that I wont risk taking that shot. Honestly I don’t think I could unless I felt I had a clear shot, a window of opportunity of some sort.  Having said that, being close enough and if the attacker happens to be distracted or turning his back you can put him down, even disarm him, stab him or pin him down. Yet you have to be there, fighting to breathe because of the tear gas, in a dark room with mayhem erupting and a mad man shooting everyone down. Much easier said than done doesn’t begin to describe what It must have been like in there.

A few more final tips:
1)Whenever possible, avoid crowds if you can. When a movie I like comes out, I personally avoid the first couple of days when I know the theater is packed. I can catch the movie next week in the early screening when I know there will be fewer people. I don’t like crowd anyway and I enjoy the movie more.
2)Whenever possible, think restaurants, fast food joints, etc, sit a) close to an exit b)facing the main entrance c) with your back against the wall. It eventually becomes a habit of your and its funny how when you go eat with cops, soldiers or other like-minded people they all want to sit in the same place.
3)Carry your EDC, 24/7. If you use your gun or not, its still another tool that gives you options, and its good to have those. Same for your knife, your LED torch, and other EDC often mentioned here. If you don’t carry every day, every single day, it will not be with you when you need it.
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Anonymous said...

Hello Ferfal,

I believe that a less than perfect plan applied ferociously is better than an excellent plan executed timidly. In the Aurora shooting the active shooter was inexperienced with his equipment. The AR had a malfunction and even though the shooter had a shotgun plus a Glock 40 he walked out instead of switching to weapons. This was good for the people, but it also indicates that in this case the shooter was probably not prepared mentally to take incoming fire. Perhaps an armed citizen such as a veteran or a determined father or mother who would very aggressively empty a magazine in the direction of the shooter may have sent him running for the door.


FerFAL said...

I understand, you just have to be there in that moment and make the call right there.Of course, if I had the chance I'd use it, but again, the crowd, tear gas, etc, it must have been hard.

Anonymous said...

Initial reports had the shooter in Aurora wearing full body armor. However, it came out later that is was only LBE, no ballistic protection.

Link to the report talking to the company he ordered from.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding post! Having a plan helps you act (rather than freezing or delaying action).

Anonymous said...

One thing the Station club fire has got me to thinking about is - identify and position yourself to use an exit OTHER than the way you came in. That's the way most people will "instinctively"/unthinkingly go - and you want to avoid the potential logjam if possible. Most of the victims in the Station incident were found in the narrow hallway leading to the front entrance/exit. Very few used the other exits.

Anonymous said...

Also think outside-the-box when it comes to exits. In the case of the Station club fire, "The windows in the main bar room and sun room accounted for nearly a third of successful evacuations."