This article could save your life, or your child’s. Please pay attention. I recently heard something that got me thinking, and I hope it gets you thinking too.
Emergency preparedness is much more than planning for the power to go out or storing extra tap water. For example, today I attended an exercise that walked through detailed plans that you will never want to see in action: an “active shooter” scenario in a hospital.
What’s an active shooter scenario? In this case, the story was that a man with a handgun was making his way through the hospital, intent on reaching his hospitalized girlfriend, and shooting anyone who got in his way. A security guard went down, and a nurse, and then some patients, and a doctor, and suddenly the bad guy has a hostage – his (ex-) girlfriend. I’ll admit – walking through it gave me goose-bumps. Something like this happening for real would be truly horrible.
It doesn’t have to be a hospital. It could be your workplace, and you probably recall such a story from the news, whether it was at a steel plant where another round of layoffs just hit, a college campus where a mentally unstable student failed another course, or any similar scenario. Put yourself in your workplace, the grocery store where you usually shop, at the mall, or even in your own home (one of the scariest cases, as I describe in “The Road Home”), and then imagine that you have a bad man with a gun, who happens to be shooting. What do you do?
In the exercise I went through, we stepped through existing procedures as the incident progressed, from calling “codes” over the intercom to alerting law enforcement using 911, to other lock-down and alert systems in place. And in the scenario people panicked (of course), injuries needed treatment and there was a lot of general confusion.
In the midst of that confusion I learned something that dramatically increased the value of the exercise for me and the other participants. A law enforcement officer, specifically one of the team leads for our regional SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, who also runs Active Shooter Response training for all of the local police agencies, had some words of wisdom.
Before I pass these words along, let me make a couple things clear. 1) This article is for educational purposes only and I’m not giving you specific advice for any situation. This is just another tool, another option to consider if faced with a dilemma. 2) In general, if you are given advice by law enforcement, you should probably follow it. If you are given orders by law enforcement in the middle of a bad situation, just follow them. This approach will probably keep you alive, or should at least keep you from getting into worse trouble. You will have to decide, in the middle of whatever situation, what makes sense for you.
Let’s get back to what the SWAT officer said. Given this particular scenario of a lone gunman moving from point A to point B in this building, here is what he said. “In a case like this, you will be told to stay down and hide behind closed doors. That is the official policy. However, that’s not what I would do, and here is my personal advice. Don’t. Get out of the building as quickly as possible and run. I tell my kids at school that if this happens, throw a chair through a window and get out and run. Don’t just wait. Often, the reason you are told to stay and hide is because of liability reasons.”
Did you catch that last part? That’s right, liability reasons. Not life-and-death, common-sense reasons. You may not be getting guidance that is intended to keep you alive, but instead, you’re getting guidance that will protect someone’s backside if you decide to sue them later because of the advice they gave. That advice is what their lawyers require, and that is not necessarily what makes sense.
I talked with the SWAT guy afterward, and the scenario, and some variations on the scenario. For those of you who ask “what if”, yes, there are infinite scenarios that could play out here. The guidance is general, and here is the reasoning behind it.
- If someone is indoors, trying to go from one place to another and shooting along the way, you want to go (run) away from that person, vs. waiting in his potential path (whatever path that may be).
- Running people are harder to shoot! This one is pretty simple. (If you don’t believe him, try to shoot and hit anything that moves. It’s not easy.)
- Outside is bigger than inside. You have a lot of options once you’re outside, including the ability to run in a more directions.
- Inside is where the bad guy is. Outside is better.
How can this advice go wrong? You can probably think of a few ways, and one of the most obvious would be in the case of an organized terrorist attack, if they were also waiting for you at the exits. Or you could accidentally run into the path of the shooter instead of away from him. Or maybe there are two shooters and you run into the path of the other one. Like I said, there are countless ways this could play out, but in a scenario with one bad guy, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out: get out of the building.
This guidance is another tool to add to your toolbox. You need to think for yourself, and be able to evaluate the sense of the rules you are expected to follow, especially when your life is at stake!