What I’ve Learned from an Active Shooter Crisis

Active shooter crisis’ strike without warning in many cases, or at least it would seem so. But warning signs of impending violence many times do precipitate acts of violence. As communities and industries attempt to cope with the risk, many have explored a myriad of options to create holistic programs.

One factor that is often overlooked, as plans tend to focus on law enforcement response and run, hide, fight scenario videos, is that most incidents are over before law enforcement arrives. So, what is the average human being going to do between the window of time when the weapon is drawn and law enforcement appears?

Kristina Anderson, founder of The Koshka Foundation and a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 commented that when she heard the shots fired by the perpetrator, it resembled the noise of an axe “being repeatedly taken to a piece of wood”. Within seconds as the event escalated, the gunman entered classrooms, targeting students and professors without warning. Ten years ago, when this tragic event occurred, schools across the country did not often provide active shooter response training. Ms. Anderson’s reaction is the result of our advanced human brain’s rational thinking. She noted in a discussion that I recently had with her, “This taught me the importance of having thoughtful, educational discussions with students around options for active threat responses, and most importantly, to be aware of our environments and loud noises”.

In Amanda Ripley’s book, “The Unthinkable” she explores emergency situations and outlines emotional response to a crisis in three ways:

  • Denial
  • Deliberation
  • Decisive Moment

Denial is the result of our emotional brain’s natural response. Instead of reacting instinctively, we rationalize if the situation is actually happening. This period of time can greatly decrease our response to a crisis. We then consider our options. If we can’t think of any choices, the deliberation may take longer. Thinking through decisions mentally and physically can greatly improve the individual’s reaction time by shortening the deliberation period as well as the synapse between the brain and the responding muscles.

Protection specialists consistently train themselves to be better responders and in some cases, do the opposite of what someone would think is appropriate. This repetitive training, through mental exercise and physical practices, helps to ensure they have a greater chance of overriding the denial and deliberation phase thereby committing to a decisive action faster.

But how does the average person prepare themselves to face a crisis and survive?

Step 1: Admit to yourself that this can happen. Eliminate the biases that have conditioned our brains.

Step 2: Make a plan. I don’t suggest you occupy your entire day sitting at your desk or walking through the mall thinking about the lone gunman. I do suggest that you take a moment once in a while to pause and think through, “What would I do right now?”. Think through the simplest, most efficient things you can do in response.

Step 3: Take some classes in self-defense if you haven’t already done so, and see how you cope with fear. This will help you to identify what your realistic response is in consideration of your current physical condition and hopefully shorten your instinctual response to distress. This training will help you get to the decisive moment quicker.

The necessity for organizations to come to grips with all the facets of a comprehensive active shooter program are essential. This starts with recognizing that the risk exists. Over a series of blogs, we will explore the components of a comprehensive plan including assessment and planning, preparation, and response and recovery.

About Chuck Tobin

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