I was recently asked my opinion about the different responses to active shooter incidents that are currently being advertised by some of the different security providers.  While this site is dedicated to preventing violence, it would be naïve to think that we can prevent every incident. The bottom line is that we support and recommend the “run – hide – fight” response to any violent incident.  To be clear, we certainly still encourage people to focus on preventing these attacks from occurring using the strategies explained on the site, but the “run – hide – fight” is a response to violence is our recommended process if an incident can’t be averted.

The reason for our choice of the “run – hide – fight” model is due to the way people make decisions under stress as well as the way that people naturally respond to situations that pose a threat to their personal survival.

A Defense Based On Decision Making Strategies

When we are looking at the best way to respond to an active shooter, we need to begin with the way our body responds to stress – the freeze, flight, or fight response.  The “freeze” often precedes the flight or fight response and exists for two reasons.  The first reason is that freezing and halting all movement may help you avoid detection (not being identified through an attacker’s peripheral vision), while the second reason is to pause and gain more information about a situation before making a follow on decision.  If you enter the freeze response for the second reason (the need for more information), our goal is to get you out of the freeze response as quickly as possible so that you can take actionable steps that might save your life. This means we need to limit the number of possible decisions you have available to make to avoid “paralysis by analysis.”

Avoiding cognitive paralysis was a major factor in backing this response and one that caused us to disregard many of the other processes that involved an acronym.  During situations that are extremely stressful, our ability to process and recall information can quickly become overwhelmed.  By limiting the number of potential outcomes to three (run – hide – fight), we are able to remember the response without trying to recall the components of an acronym that outlines the process.

Let me give an example of why avoiding acronyms is important.  In the military, when your rifle malfunctions, you are trained to immediately and automatically “tap – rack – bang” in order to get your weapon operational.  You tap the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is seeded correctly, rack the charging handle to the rear, and pull the trigger.  That quick process solves many of the problems a weapon may experience and doesn’t require much thought or require a person to recall a long list of steps.  Compare this response to another method that Marines are taught. SPORTS is an acronym that stands for Slap the magazine, Pull the charging handle to the rear, Observe the ejection port, Release the charging handle, Tap the forward assist, Squeeze the trigger.  It is extremely difficult to remember this sequence of events even in a non-stressful situation (Even now, I had to look up the acronym to get a couple of the pieces right), let alone trying to recall it under the conditions experienced in combat.

“Run – Hide – Fight” falls into the easy to remember category of “tap – rack – bang,” “stop – drop – roll,” and dial “9-1-1.”  Since this is a response that civilians would be taught and aren’t going to have the benefit of extensive and continuous training, the more simple response the better.

It’s Intuitive and Logical

Run

The first way to protect yourself is to put physical distance between yourself and the threat.  Understanding that Proximity Negates Skill, the farther you are away from a violent person, the greater amount of skill he will need in order to be effective in hurting you.  Because many of the active shooters that have conducted attacks in recent history have not been trained in the military or law enforcement, this is a sound tactic to ensuring your safety.

Hide

It is important to note that the flight response is not limited solely to putting distance between yourself and the threat; it also involves protecting or blocking yourself from the attacker.  Blocking comes in two forms – concealment (blocking from observation) and cover (blocking from enemy fire).

If we are under the assumption that the attacker is armed and you are not, hiding behind something that keeps a person from being seen and that could stop bullets would be ideal.  However, in a situation where you are limited in time, concealing yourself should be done using anything available.

Fight

If the situation progresses and the run and hide options are no longer viable, people should attack the attacker with everything available to them.  Throwing objects can often disrupt the aiming of a weapon and will, at a minimum, keep the shots being fired from being aimed and accurate.  Once within arms distance of the attacker, kick, punch, and bite until they are incapacitated.

A Civilian Response

This response is for civilians who have not had access to the training that security providers have. Members of the military and law enforcement have been trained to overcome the risk of shootings and should go towards the sound of the guns and attempt to kill or subdue an attacker once an incident has begun.  Responding to violence with force is the only way to minimize the number of casualties once a shooting has begun, but should be limited to trained first responders or civilians who have no other option.