A few weeks ago we all watched with heavy hearts events unfolding in San Bernardino. I wondered would things have turned out differently had the people caught up in the situation been more ‘actions on’ prepared. I know that there’s some ‘training’ provided in schools, and other facilities to prepare folks for an active shooter situation, but I’m pretty sure it boils down to everyone piling into a closet and hoping for the best.
I decided I needed to do a blog post on surviving an active shooter scenario, and I decided it needed to come from a place of authority on such matters. So I enlisted a buddy of mine to help out and do it as a guest post. My buddys’ name is Rob O’Neill (@McHooyah on Twitter). He happens to be the SEAL TEAM 6 (Special Warfare Development Group) operator in the assault stack on Operation Neptune Spear who came face to face with Usama Bin Laden in his bedroom and shot him stone-cold dead. So you should put your ears on, and listen up, it might just save your life….
Surviving An Active Shooter Scenario – By Rob O’Neill
People are creatures of habit. There are routines in everyday life and these routines are rarely broken. When is the last time you drove a different route to work or school. Do you always try to leave at the same time every day? What time to you take lunch and where do you eat it? What time do you go home and do you travel a different way than you came? It’s not a shortcut you are taking, you drive it every day. It’s just the way. People do not like change and they want things to stay the same. They also tend to believe that just because something catastrophic has never happened, it won’t happen today. And when something catastrophic does happen, people usually freeze and refuse to admit it is real. This is an evolutionary characteristic known as the normalcy bias. Prey animals will instinctively freeze when the predator shows up: maybe they will be invisible.
People are also becoming less aware of their surroundings. Pull your head out of your phone and take notice of others around you who haven’t done so. When is the last time you were bumped into by someone who was texting and walking? Remember the woman who fell into the mall fountain because of this? How many people have died in horrific car crashes because of smart phone usage? Do you really know how to open the emergency exit door on an airplane even though you have heard the safety brief many times? Can you do so in a time-sensitive situation where lives are on the line? Where is the nearest exit from your room in your building without using the elevator? Have you actually gone down those stairs to see if it leads to the lobby or outside? If that exit is blocked, where is the other one?
People rarely take note of what is going on around them. People rarely look forward and if they do, it doesn’t go further than their noses or the bumper of their vehicle.
This normalcy bias can be minimized through proper, realistic planning, preparation and training. However eliminating the common, gross lack of situational awareness is up to you. I bring up these points because of the disturbing trends in our midst. We are living in a time of disgruntled co-workers, outcast students, mentally ill video game freaks, and, most dangerous of all, jihadis who shoot up crowded areas with little or no notice. These deranged and radicalized monsters arm themselves to the teeth, pick the softest targets they can find, usually in “gun-free” zones, and murder as many innocent people as possible. It has happened all to often in the recent past. People will rationalize by thinking that their chances of being struck by lightening are higher than their being the victim of a terrorist hit. I know of a man in Montana who was struck twice. Don’t become a statistical wonk in order to rationalize ill preparedness.
It will happen again.
Calling 911 is the most obvious, immediate reaction because, after all, no matter what you think of them, the good guys – cops – will show up. But this will take time unless they are on the premises. There are actions that you can take to neutralize the situation or escape, but it is imperative that you do something.
Actively participate in saving your own life. Read that again.
Prepare yourself before it happens. Regardless of where you are, always identify all of the exits and have a plan to get there. People tend to avoid emergency exits, even in an emergency, because that is what their muscle memory tells them. Have plans on how to get out of each exit. Wherever you work, study or spend most of your time, have emergency evacuation plans and rehearse them. Know where the exits are and what is immediately outside of them. This only takes minutes to do and it is just good practice. You never need your emergency plan until you do.
Some people get very nervous at the sight of a gun or other weapons. If this is the case with you, find a training course where you can use them and see them used. It is important to remember that weapons and bullets aren’t the killers. People with intent are.
The best way to stop an active threat is to eliminate that threat. Get a good handgun and a concealed carry permit. Take a course and learn, from a professional, how to use it. Stay current with target practice. Make sure you can identify a target and what is beyond it. Hit what you aim at. Practice your draw from where you will conceal it. Will you be wearing a jacket? Is it in your purse? Do it the same way every time. You can even practice at home by drawing your weapon and “Dry Firing”… obviously, ensure it is unloaded. In many cases, the active shooter commits suicide the just after the moment of the first, armed confrontation. Be the reason this happens.
If eliminating the threat is not possible, you need to distance yourself. Get to a safe place but get out of the situation. Hiding or playing dead is the last resort. You are keeping yourself in the “Kill Zone” and are more likely to get hit with a bullet meant for something else. But a bullet never lies. Do not panic. Do move with a purpose. If possible, run when they are reloading. Unlike Hollywood, guns run out of bullets quickly and re-loading takes time. Stay Active. Never stop! Move from cover and concealment to cover and concealment until you are far enough to make a run for it. The killers want to inflict the most casualties as possible and will not pursue individuals. Moving targets are harder to hit and killers don’t want to waste bullets. They are also bad shots. Get out of the building at the first opportunity.
Hiding is the last option but might be necessary. Find an out-of-the way place with a door that locks. The desk you hide under may as well be a coffin. Quietly barricade the door with anything that is heavy. Shooters will not waste bullets on doors if they are not certain that people are in the room. Stay quiet and calm; make sure others are quiet and calm. Screaming has never helped anyone and panic is contagious. Make sure all cell phones are silent. Double-check that. I’d hate to get killed because of some dude’s annoying ring tone. Get away from the door and remember that bullets go through things including walls, doors, furniture and people. Try to get out through a window. Find a weapon. There are weapons in every room: Fire extinguisher, glass cleaner, hair spray. Make sure to aim for the eyes. A broken mop handle can be a spear and a hot curling iron will burn. Hit someone in the head with an iron you put in a pillowcase. That’s gonna leave a mark.
If you find yourself cornered, put up a fight. You just made a weapon, use it. NOW! These people will kill you no matter what. They will lie to you while re-loading. They prey on the weak. If you run out of places to move and hide, charge the active shooter and inflict as much harm as possible. Try to disarm them. These are weak people who prey on easy targets. Don’t be an easy target. Attack and inflict as much damage as you can. If you manage to disarm the shooter and still consider him a threat, kill him with his own weapon.
If you find yourself hiding and the cops show up, remember, if you can see them, they can see you, you are safe. Do not run to them, let them come to you. They are assessing the situation and have some adrenaline pumping. Don’t add to the confusion. These are people with guns drawn but don’t panic. Terrorists don’t look like cops. Cops look like each other. You’re safe.
If the cops begin shooting, stay as low as possible. This will be scary, but it means they found him. It will all be over quickly. Most gun fights end promptly. If the cops are not inside and you are able to vacate, do so with the realization that they will be outside very soon. Realize that they are just getting there and are not 100% sure of the entire situation. Always keep your hands where they can be seen and do not rush the officers. Be prepared to tell the officers what you saw inside but remain calm and only report what you can with accuracy. Too much false reporting comes in the aftermath of chaos and that can lead to confusion. Be prepared to remain in the area with law enforcement, as they will need to take statements. Do not leave until cleared to do so.
A summary is in order: Panic is contagious and it will get us all killed. Actively participate in saving your own life. There are bad guys in search of soft targets, so don’t make it easier and softer. Run and evade if you can, but fight when you must. A dead pacifist isn’t any less dead than a dead warrior.
I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. We’re in a fight and it’s one most of us are not prepared for. It’s time we follow the mantra: “Fix Yourself”.
O’Neill initially sought to become a sniper and enlist as a Marine where he had known some friends. On the day he arrived at the recruitment office, the Marine recruiter was not in. Instead, a Navy recruiter suggested that O’Neill enlist in the Navy, telling him he could be a sniper in the Navy SEALs. As a member of the Navy, O’Neill was reportedly involved in more than 400 missions, including the mission to save Captain Richard Phillips during the Maersk Alabama hijacking, and Operation Red Wings in which O’Neill helped save Marcus Luttrell. On 11 occasions during his career, O’Neill left home thinking he would not return alive.
O’Neill rose up the chain of command to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator. His 52 decorations include two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars with Valor, a Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor, three Presidential Unit citations, and two Navy/Marine Corps Commendations with Valor.
In 2012, after 16 years of service, and 4 years shy of retirement, O’Neill left the Navy. He is now a public speaker employed by Leading Authorities, a speakers bureau.