Strategies for Surviving an Active Shooter

Mass shootings happen every year in the United States, actually they are increasing in frequency. School shootings, church shootings, events and businesses can all become targets. Mass shooters like crowds and victims. I would encourage you to participate in active shooter training. Here’s a few things to think about.

  • active shooter / active killer – describes the perpetrator of a type of mass murder marked by rapidity, scale, randomness and often ends in suicide. Actively engaged in killing as many individuals as possible.
  • mass shooting – is a crime in which an attacker kills or injuries multiple individuals simultaneously using a firearm.

Anytime you are going into a building, facility or even a store to go shopping it’s important to know where the emergency exits, elevators, stairwells and restrooms that are within the building. I like to even know where the loading docks, storage areas and janitor closets are. Most of the time a building layout can be located in the entry lobby or close to the elevators. I want to know where I’m going, how I’m getting there and how to get out in an emergency.

The training that I participate in is mandatory at the facility I currently work at. It’s made simple and easy to remember. Run Hide Fight. You hear gunshots in the distance. What do you do? You hear gunshots just outside your office door in the hallway. What should you do? What is your plan? Run-Hide-Fight

It should be noted that recently Run Hide Fight has been misunderstood. People were running to hide instead of escaping. A close friend of mine shared what his college currently uses. It is Avoid, Deny and Defend.

Let’s talk about Avoid. If you can escape outside through an emergency exit, or doorway, or window. Do it. Get out of there. During the process of getting out make sure it doesn’t put you into the line of fire from the attacker. Hallways tend to stack people up and can make you an easy target so use caution. Stay upright but make yourself a small target and move with the flow of people. Bullets have a tendency to strike walls and travel down the length of the wall usually within about eight inches. So stay off the wall. Bullets will also skip off concrete and pavement so hide behind the tire and the engine block of a vehicle. Avoid the attacker.

If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.  Listen to your intuition. You may never know how your intuition keeps you safe. I think we are wired on an intuitive level that we don’t understand. The book by Gavin DeBecker, “The Gift of Fear.” Is a good read.

If you can’t avoid, then deny. Under your desk in a cubical should be the absolute last resort, but it may have to do. Remember this: movement and sound will attract attention. Attention you may not want. If you must hide, do it. Sometimes you may be able to move to a more secure location to hide. Deny. Turn off the lights, lock the door, Find a safe, out of sight hiding place. For example better than under a desk is behind a locked office door under the desk with the lights out. Better still would be a locked bathroom, or janitor closet. The next time you are at work take some time to look around. Remember the difference between cover and concealment. Just remember cover will stop bullets, concealment only hides you from a gunman. Cover would be behind a concrete wall or a solid steel door. A hollow core steel door, no. A hollow wooden door, no. A sheetrock wall, no. I would also recommend arming yourself with anything you can find to fight with if you must.

As a last resort, Defend. As a group or even individually you can successfully defend against a gunman. Here’s some tips. I would imagine that you are hiding, but realize the gunman is coming closer, or attempting to gain access to the room you are in. Make sure you are armed, anything that can inflict severe injury very quickly. A fire extinguisher is a great weapon, spray them with the foam and hit them over the head with the can. Make this sicko come to you and surprise him in the doorway. Doorways are what we call fatal funnels. Why? This is the only entrance and exit point for the room. It is a transition zone. It is during this time that you can spring into action. Remember it’s not enough to control the muzzle of the weapon, injury is the best way to neutralize him. Don’t fight the weapon, destroy the man with the weapon. Hopefully this never happens.

You should contact emergency services to get law enforcement responding as soon as possible. That being said, don’t put yourself at greater risk, by stopping your escape to do so. Run, escape the area, get to a safe spot and call for assistance. If possible stop others from entering the area. Give a description of the attacker if possible. Location of the attacker, building address, building name. The emergency dispatcher will have a lot of questions. Answer them to the best of your ability, if you don’t know, tell them that. Someone else may be calling with the information you don’t have. Giving false or inaccurate information can delay the response and add to confusion.

Police Response: Police officers responding to the 911 calls of an active shooter are faced with an extremely chaotic situation to sort out. You will be going through an array of emotions, adrenaline will make you strong, angry, sweaty, shiver, all of these reactions are normal. The officers will be very direct and yelling instructions. Follow them. They will treat you as a potential threat until the scene is under control. During an active shooter their primary job will be to neutralize the shooter. Your primary job is to escape and follow the instructions given to you by officers on the scene. Officers will be dealing with a lot of confusion and adrenaline as well. Until the threat is neutralized and the area secured, they will not be rendering first-aid, medical help will wait until the scene is safe.


  • Know where you are going and how to escape in an emergency.
  • Run / Avoid get to the exits and out the building. Call the police. Know the address and name of the building you are at. Stop others from going into the building if possible.
  • Hide / Deny in a secure place. Lock the door. Turn out the lights. Stay put until the police secure the scene. If you hear the gunman on the other side of the building. Run. Or get to a better, more secure hiding place.
  • Fight / Defend is usually listed as a last resort. If you must fight, unleash hell and don’t stop fighting until the threat is neutralized.
  • Understand how the police will respond. Follow their directions.
  • I know this may not seem like a martial arts related article, but incidents like this are on the rise. However, the chances of you, or your children, or even one of your students encountering a situation like this is in the realm of possibility. Knowing these simple steps might save your life. Always stack the deck in your favor.
  • Train hard. Train smart.


Dwight Wilson

Security professional at the Valor Force. He is a Guro of Filipino Martial Arts, author and has contracted with several government agencies as a professional tracker and instructor. Dwight is Corresponding Member of the EUASU.

Author: Dwight Wilson