Q What is an active shooter?
A The traditional definition of an active shooter makes reference to an individual(s) actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people usually in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms and the selection of victims has been largely random. More recently, terrorists (such as those in the Paris incident) have employed the active shooter strategy to kill and spread terror in the larger population of persons seen as opposed to their views or philosophy.
The recent killing spree by Syed Farook, 28, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, in San Bernadino California which resulted in 14 people being killed and 21 injured, is at best, an example of an active shooter scenario with terrorist undertones, and at worst, an outright act of terrorism.
Although Canada, to this point, has been largely spared from these types of incidents, according to Mass Shooting Tracker there have been 336 incidents in 2015 so far in the United States where four or more people were injured by gunfire, many fatally.
It would be naive to think that it cannot and will not happen in Canada at some point.
Active shooter situations offer a unique challenge for police. In a hostage taking scenario, for example, the passage of time is considered an ally but in the active shooter situation, time becomes the enemy as active shooters strike quickly. In these types of situations, therefore, many people are killed before police are even alerted. Quick response and action must be the hallmark of the police response to these types of devastating incidents.
The problem is that by the time police become engaged in an active shooter incident, in most cases a large number of people have already been murdered.
Active shooter situations are usually resolved or ended only when police neutralize the threat by killing the shooter(s), or the shooter(s) commit suicide or in the case of case of Islamic terrorist, martyr themselves for their cause.
The Situation in Canada
Canadian police agencies have undertaken training to deal with active shooter scenarios but they have limited experience to fall back on. It is inevitable that at some point an active shooter scenario, possibly terrorist based or motivated, will occur in Canada, regardless of the amount of fairy dust our current government sprinkles on the threat of terrorism in Canada.
If our government persists in not taking the terrorist threat seriously it is incumbent on citizens to be prepared to act individually in order to prepare and protect themselves.
What follows is a list of common sense approaches that can be taken by people caught in an active shooter scenario to attempt to protect themselves and increase the odds of survival.
Be vigilant and have a plan
Although it is impossible to accurately anticipate where an active shooter situation might occur, experience has taught us that they usually occur in situations or locations where people congregate: malls, theaters, restaurants, sporting events and the like. The Paris terrorist attacks which focused on a rock concert, restaurants, and a football stadium emphasize the point. The Paris attacks also further demonstrate that active shooters tend to target and are most effective when they select locations where there is little if any security. In the Paris example the the rock concert and restaurant scenarios resulted in large numbers of deaths while the football stadium which had perimeter security did not.
At a very minimum: be aware of your surroundings; know where the exits are located; be alert to what is happening around you. Based on past experience we all have a sense of what constitutes normal behavior. If you see something out of the ordinary go to a heightened level of alert.
In any situation where you could be at risk, know ahead of time what you will do if confronted by an active shooter. For example, if you are in a mall or another public venue and you hear what sounds like gunshots where there should be no gunshots, do not hang around to see what is happening, wondering what you should do. Have a plan and be ready to act.
The fight or flight response
1 Once you come to the conclusion that what is happening may be a threat to you, immediately leave the area, heading in the opposite direction from where the threat is. Don’t rubber neck to see what is happening. Encourage others around you to leave as well but don’t waste time getting into discussions with people as to whether you should leave. Just leave, get as far away from the threat as possible, as quickly as possible. As soon as it is safe to do so, contact 911 and alert the authorities to what is happening.
3 If the threat is between you and your avenue of escape, hide. Find the most secure place possible such as a room with a door that can be locked. If you can hide in a room use whatever there is in the room to erect a barricade in front of the door and identify anything within the room that could serve as a weapon in the event the shooter breaches the door. Stay away from windows and turn out the lights. Turn off your cell phone. The last thing you want is a phone going off to attract attention to your location.
4 If no rooms are available, improvise, hide in a closet. As a last resort if there is no physical place to hide, take cover – that is, put something between your self and the shooter that will provide some level of protection. If no cover is available try to conceal yourself so that the shooter cannot see you.
3 Lastly, if fleeing or hiding are not options be prepared to fight back. Don’t take unnecessary risks but if you are caught in a situation where there is a high likelihood you will be shot if you do nothing, then act. Any action you are able to take to injure or incapacitate the shooter increases your odds as wells as those of others. Although taking on a shooter with a gun may be out of character for you, it may save your life. If you take that step, then act quickly and act violently.
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