As a member of the New York City Medical Reserve Corps (NYC MRC), I am frequently invited to participate in public health-related drills and workshops. On the heels of the November 13th mass shootings in Paris, I attended an Active Shooter Training in Manhattan. The speaker, Thomas Mauro, a retired NYPD captain, delivered a clear and timely presentation. As stories of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting fill my newsfeed, I am eager to share what I learned.
The Department of Homeland Security and the National Institutes of Health have poured over the 300+ active shooter cases in the United States since the 1960s and determined that shooters set out to commit murder and are prepared to die in the process. Shootings usually occur in confined spaces but there are exceptions like this year’s Michigan highway shootings and the 1966 University of Texas clock tower massacre. In addition to schools, churches, and movie theaters, recent shootings have taken place in a spa (2012 Brookfield, WI), coffee shop (2012 Seattle, WA), grocery store (2015 Old Bridge, NJ), medical clinic (2012 Pittsburgh, PA), bar (2012 Tuscaloosa, AL), and poultry factory (2012 Fresno, CA). The incidence of active shooter events in the U.S. is on the rise and this means that anyone, at any time, could become an unwilling participant.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, in most cases, “active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” That being said, it is important to note that 38% of victims have some kind of a professional connection with the shooter. However, most workplace gunmen (only 3% of shooters are female) show signs of instability before staging a shootout at the office. *
Regardless of the gunman’s relationship or what their motivation, there are only 3 things to do in an active shooter situation: RUN, HIDE, or FIGHT. Knowing what to do (or making the best guess) requires a quick assessment of the situation.
Running as a group or scattering in different directions are both strategies that have worked (and have not worked equally) in the past. The gunman will likely have shaky hands preventing him from hitting a moving target. Run if there is a known escape route or a better place to hide. Leave your belongings behind (trust me on this one, there are too many good reasons to list). On your way out, warn others to turn around and evacuate as well. Try to help others, but in this situation, the priority is to save yourself. Do not attempt to move wounded people or render aid. Unlike a fire event, elevators will remain operational and can be used to escape. When safe, call 9-1-1 (from someone else’s phone since you left yours behind) and be prepared to provide the following information:
- Location of shooter(s)
- Number of shooters
- Physical description of shooter(s)
- Number and type(s) of weapon(s)
- Number of potential victims
Lock the door, turn out the lights, and take cover. Hide behind something that stops a bullet and won’t restrict your movement. Filing cabinets and solid wood desks are good; cheap pre-fab drywall building construction and particleboard IKEA furniture is not. However, hiding out of the shooter’s sight, behind a flimsy plastic chair, is better than being out in the open.
Cellphones will give you away. Even if the ringer is off, the screen will light up brightly with an alert or an incoming text or call. When the shooting event hits the media, everyone will be trying to reach you. The ‘silent’ vibrate setting on some phones isn’t silent at all and talking to a 9-1-1 dispatcher will blow your cover. Fumbling to text your loved ones with shaky hands is also risky. If you have a pager or an alarm setting on your watch, shut it off.
As much as Ben Carson thinks you should rush the shooter, fighting is always a last resort. If the situation calls for it, make the commitment and go BIG–yell, flail, and get crazy. Improvise weapons, wield a fire extinguisher, throw things, hurl your briefcase, aim for the eyes with air freshener, cleaning supplies, or bug spray.
WHEN IT’S ALL OVER: It is very important that you come out of hiding or run from a building with your empty palms exposed. To an officer, a cellphone in your hand may be seen as a weapon or bomb detonator (another reason to leave your things behind). Exit the area by taking the same path the police or SWAT team cleared as they entered.
WHAT TO DO RIGHT NOW: Take a moment and think about your safety. What is the escape route at your office or the places you frequent (like the grocery store or gym)? If you are a manager, share this information with your staff and be especially aware of employees (or former employees) who show signs of inappropriate conduct. This could be a warning sign that they may need special assistance or support. *
Check to see if your local 9-1-1 call center has implemented direct text-to-911 service HERE. If you’re new to the text-to-911 service, you can find general information on the FCC website. It might prove to be helpful in an emergency situation.
I don’t wish for anyone to have to choose between running, hiding or fighting. Unfortunately, the general message at the training was “when, not if.” I tend to worry less about domesday and find comfort in being prepared. I truly hope passing along this information helps others as well.
Extra information from the presentation supplied by FEMA:
A 6 minute video to WATCH.
*We, as a society, could be doing more to help individuals who exhibit signs of instability before they are compelled to act out. The signs include frequent sick days, disheveled appearance, lack of general coping skills, anger, and hostility. It is important to have frank conversations about these behaviors with the intention to provide support and connect those in need with services. For further reading, check out Mia Ross’ article concerning mental illness in the workplace HERE.
Props to my manfriend for attending this event with me–he was a great sport. Active Shooter Training is not generally considered a fun first date, but it was better than this one: Sex In The City Meets Nurse Gail.