How to survive a mass shooting

The only guaranteed way to avoid becoming a casualty of a disaster is to be somewhere else when it strikes.

Such a mentality is easy to apply to disasters with advanced warning, such as a hurricane. But mass shootings don’t fit into that category.

The horrific school shooting last December in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults, took place six months after a gunman in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 and wounded 58 at a late-night screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and a white supremacist killed six and wounded four at a Sikh temple in Racine, Wis.

Closer to home, a gunman in February 2008 walked into a Northern Illinois University lecture hall and opened fire, killing five and wounding 21. That shooting took place barely a year after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, when a gunman at Virginia Tech University killed 32.

Other recent mass shootings include the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, and the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot.

People with McHenry County ties were among the casualties at NIU and Aurora, Colo.

After the Colorado shooting, agencies such as the Houston Department of Emergency Management released and promoted education materials in an effort to teach people how to escape mass shootings. The Northwest Herald through this article will do the same.

This article is not a between-the-lines commentary on gun control, concealed carry, violence in mass entertainment or other hot-button issues. Its sole purpose is to give you the best chance of survival should you find yourself in what law enforcement calls an “active shooter” situation.

Situations differ based on location, and whether you are alone or have the compounded nightmare of having family members with you whom you have to protect. But the general rule to remember is this:

Run and get away. If you can’t get away, hide. If you’re found, fight.


The moment you start hearing shots, get away. Don’t take time to think whether the noise you heard was, in fact, shooting.

Leave your possessions behind. Your life is far more important than anything that you own.

Your escape is not complete once you leave the building. If the building has windows, get out of the line of sight. If the gunman inside can see you, he can shoot you.

Call 911 to alert the police after you have made your escape. If you see unaware people heading toward the building you just escaped from, stop them.


If you’re trapped in the building and can’t escape, find a room such as an office, with only one way in and without an interior window that the shooter can see or shoot through.

Lock the door and barricade it with heavy furniture to keep the shooter out, and take cover behind something sturdy that could help stop a bullet. In hiding, you want to seek both cover and concealment – concealment helps keep you from being spotted, and cover stops a bullet. Do not hide behind or in straight line from the door – you will be in the line of fire should the gunman decide to shoot through.

Turn off the lights and keep quiet – don’t give any indicator that the room is occupied. If there are multiple people hiding in the room, spread out – people tend to huddle together in emergencies.


Fighting is a last resort to be taken only if you have no choice and your life is in imminent danger.

Your goal is not to disarm the shooter but to render him unable to fight. The most vulnerable places to hit the shooter are the eyes, head, throat and groin. There is strength in numbers.

Arm yourself with a sharp object such as scissors or a letter opener, a blunt object such as a chair, a pot of hot coffee, or anything else that can hurt the attacker. Fire extinguishers can be used both to blind an attacker and as a blunt-force weapon.


The first priority of first responders will be to stop the shooter, not to aid in evacuation or help the wounded. Help for the wounded will come when the building is secure.

When authorities approach, keep your hands visible at all times and follow their instructions promptly. Avoid screaming, pointing or making any sudden moves.


• In all too many cases, investigation after a mass shooting finds that the gunman left warning signs that were ignored or not taken seriously. If a friend or acquaintance makes comments about hurting people or “topping” previous tragedies, don’t ignore them – report them to authorities.

• No matter where you are, you should always make yourself aware of where the exits, both regular and emergency, are located. Looking for the exits when any kind of emergency hits could mean the difference between life and death.

• Because your odds of being caught in a mass shooting are much lower than for other emergencies, it is always good practice to know at any given time where the nearest severe weather shelter, fire alarm and extinguisher are. And the same goes for the nearest automatic external defibrillator – the life that a little advanced thinking saves may not necessarily be your own.

• Senior reporter Kevin Craver is a former Army infantry sergeant.

On the Net

Visit http://shawurl.com/d1q to watch the instructional video produced by the Houston Department of Emergency Management. The video, which depicts such a shooting, is violent and may not be suitable for younger and more sensitive viewers.

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