No one wants to admit that a shooter could target them while they sit in church or stroll the downtown streets or pick up milk at Walmart – but living through the past few months in America, we have no choice. We have to admit that no place feels sacred or safe.
Rather than feel helpless, people are looking for options, including training in how to handle themselves in an active shooter situation.
On Aug. 16 Chisago County offered a free training called “Surviving an Active Shooter” at Lakes Region EMS in North Branch with presenter Dr. Mike Monroe Kiefer.
“If someone has not had any training at an active shooter event, then they’ll tend to freeze,” Kiefer said. “Then you’re basically a sitting duck, so I try to give people at least an hour’s worth or two hour’s worth of training, and then you have some idea of what you could do if you hear shots fired.”
Kiefer, with a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, travels the country teaching the methodology called “Run, Hide, Fight” developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
According to Kiefer, a person who hears gunshots in a public place should choose one of three options – run, hide or fight – based on how close they are to the shooter. If a safe path is available, run. If you can’t get out safely, hide. As a last resort, fight.
When to run
Kiefer said that once it’s been determined which direction gunshots are coming from, if there is an escape path, attempt to evacuate whether others agree with you or not.
“Even in the Walmart shooting,” Kiefer said, “people weren’t sure if it was gunfire or someone popped a balloon or lit off fireworks. Don’t question that. Don’t be running around, ‘Hey, is there a shooter in here or what?’ No, you be heading for the door.”
If you’re wrong, he said, the worst is that someone will laugh at you, but you would have been safe.
Leave your belongings behind, except your cell phone whenever possible. It could be useful later for contacting authorities. Tuck it into a pocket or bra so your hands are free to make your way safely.
Help others escape whenever possible, and prevent others you see along the way from entering the danger area.
Once you’re away from the immediate threat, keep moving farther than you think you need to.
Follow all orders from law enforcement such as putting hands up or behind your head.
“Never run with a gun,” Kiefer stressed. “If you have a conceal and carry permit and you plan to get (the shooter), and then law enforcement comes in ... secure your weapon. They’re trained to shoot somebody that’s holding something.”
When to hide
If you hear shots fired and are unable to escape due to being in an enclosed space, look for ways to hide.
“The shooter is in a hurry,” Kiefer said. “If he doesn’t see somebody, he’s not going to shoot at empty desks. ... If they don’t see a target, you increase your chances of survival.”
In an office, the quickest thing to do is crouch under your desk and pull your chair in to cover yourself or hide behind any large piece of equipment or furniture.
Turn off lights in a room if possible and barricade the door shut. Don’t block the door with your body – shooters often shoot through doors without opening them. Hide to the sides of doorways.
“Make yourself difficult to get to if you’re in a room,” Kiefer said.
Even if you’re hiding, grab something to use as a weapon in case the shooter appears. A desktop could yield a scissors, a metal-barreled pen, a stapler or paperweight to strike with or throw.
In a restaurant, grab a knife or fork from the table before hiding. Locate a large or heavy item to use as a shield.
“Fire extinguishers are in almost every building,” Kiefer said. “Know how to find them and use them to either spray and run or spray and strike. It’s an improvised weapon.”
When to fight
If you are brought face-to-face with a shooter with no chance to run or hide, a viable option – rather than do nothing – is to fight.
“They don’t expect you to fight back,” Kiefer said. “That is a huge advantage for the average person because the shooter expects you to run. They expect you to do what they say. As soon as you have that element of surprise, it stuns them.”
Kiefer asked a seminar attendee named Ashley to come to the front and hold an imaginary gun at him at a range of about 3 feet.
“If she’s got a gun in her hand and I’m this close and I’m going to get shot,” he said, “my best chance is to grab her hand, push her hand, to move that gun out of the way so that it doesn’t hit me. ... Try and get behind her, throw something at her, something to distract her. I’ve got to try some kind of aggressive tactic against her because she’s too close.”
He suggested practicing with a weapon of choice to get comfortable with it such as a stun gun, taser or pepper spray.
Kiefer said fighting may simply be the first part of a “strike and run” option to stun or temporarily disable the shooter.
“You don’t have to take the person down,” he said. “Aim for the facial region. Blind him. If he can’t see, he can’t shoot.”
When faced with the frightening task of fighting an active shooter, Kiefer said adrenaline kicks in as you fight for your life.
“Fight with all your might,” he said. “Commit to maximum aggression. Believe you will survive.”
Make it quick
To close out his talk, Kiefer said timing is critical in making the choice to run, hide or fight. Aside from the Dayton, Ohio, shooter who was neutralized within 30 seconds, the standard duration of a mass shooting incident is five to 15 minutes.
“You have to be taking action fast,” Kiefer said. “not discussing it for five minutes because the whole thing is going to be over in five to 15 minutes. You don’t need to panic for too long because within 15 minutes the police are there or SWAT is there.”
He said you need to be moving within five seconds of the sound of gunfire and either secured in place or running away within 20 seconds.
That’s why training and drills in schools, workplaces and businesses are so important, he noted – to help people know what their options are so they can get moving quickly in the right direction and survive.