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How to Survive an Active Shooter Situation

Tips that could make sure you make it home to your family: Run, Hide, Fight!

How to Survive an Active Shooter Situation

Tips that could make sure you make it home to your family: Run, Hide, Fight!

I hate writing about this subject, let alone thinking about it, but it’s a phenomenon that’s not going away! Burying my head in the sand and not acknowledging its existence doesn’t make it go away or help me get home if I am involved in one of these horrible incidences that seem to have become a cultural phenomenon. In fact, it’s happening with so much regularity that I think we are all growing slightly numb to it. We all get the alerts–active shooter in Aurora, Illinois, the active shooter in Walmart, the active shooter in California, its starting to feel like the title of a horrible tone deaf fiction movie- Active Shooter-America is under fire, rather than real life.  We have school active shooter drills, that kids as young as three and four are practicing what they should do, work place active shooter drills where we do mock scenarios to survive. Its nearly impossible to not grow slightly numb to it. 

I am not writing this from neither a right nor a left perspective, this is not an anti-assault weapons post, nor is it an arm everyone pro-gun post. There is no propaganda what so ever! I repeat-I will not be stressing we all need to be armed, nor will I be advocating that there are too many guns…I will simply be attempting to give suggestions that may keep you alive if you are ever in a workplace, or a soft target area and someone starts shooting. I have scoured many recommendations from experts, I have taken a Mass Shooter Class given by a Chicago Police Officer, by no means of the stretch of the imagination am I an expert on the subject, but what I have done is attempted to compile the resources that are out there into actionable tips that could save your life.

Let me be clear, I think these animals that resort to this most cowardly act are despicable and should be kept alive and tortured for the rest of their miserable existence, I think that riddling their pathetic bodies with bullets and letting them go out in a blaze of misguided glory is too good for them. I’m talking medieval torture here.

My resources include Homeland Security, a slew of government agencies, multiple law enforcement organizations, security experts and every so called authority on the subject. Yes, I scoured countless articles, publications and even a book to pull this all together. Some of the recommendations were just plain ol’ stupid, others were counter to conventional wisdom, and common school of thought and others were just common sense.  I boiled them down to these listed below and relied on the common denominator or practical tips that would be universal regardless of your work place or large crowded gathering.  Keep in mind no one can come up with an all-encompassing list, but this should serve to make you more on guard and increase our situational awareness.

Compensated Affiliate Disclaimer

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you buy the product I may receive some monetary compensation. I only recommend products I use and love!


Now what to do in an actual active shooter event

Be Informed

The Ready.Gov site suggest these preemptive ideas: signing up for an active shooter training (If in the Chicagoland area Check out A-Way Tactical, where I received my training). They preach the see something, say something gospel. They urge us to sign up for local emergency alerts and register your work; and being aware of your environment and possible dangers.


They go on to say make a plan. Plan with your family and ensure everyone knows what to do if confronted by an active shooter. That plan should look for the nearest exits anywhere you go. Have an escape plan in mind and identify in advance places you could hide.



Run and escape, if possible. Getting away from the shooter is your only priority. Leave all belongings behind. Help others escape if possible. Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the shooter may be. Call 911 when you are safe, describe the shooter, location, and types of weapons if possible.


If you cannot run…then hide. Get out of the shooters view and be quiet. Silence your phone and any electronic devices, be absolutely silent, make sure your phone is not on vibrate. Lock doors where possible, close blinds and turn off lights. Do not hide in groups, Spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter.  Attempt to make contact with the police as silently as possible, by using text message or social media to tag your location. If using social media is not possible, go low tech and put a sign in the window.  This is most important, stay in place until law enforcement gives the all clear. Your hiding place should preferably not only provide cover (Cover is something that will not only conceal your location but stop bullets as well. Concealment is just concealing your location.) Quick one question quiz on the difference: if it won’t stop a bullet, its concealment.


Situational Awareness is as good of any place to start. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, Cooper’s Colors are a set of criteria by which to gauge the level of danger within a given scenario to highlight how important gut is to situational awareness. The blog post 12 Days of Safety goes pretty in depth on Cooper’s Colors.

Cooper’s Colors are: 


White – Unaware, unprepared and unconcerned. This is the normal state of mind when you are in the safety of your home.

  • Yellow— Attentive but relaxed. This is the normal state of mind when out in public, such as when you are running errands or visiting the grocery store. While this keeps threats remote to your person, it facilitates a distance that allows you to notice the nice things in life without immediate cause for concern.
  • Orange— Your focus becomes directed at a potential threat. Now you must start planning a strategy in case the potential threat becomes concrete and imminent. Ideally, you will avoid the situation altogether.
  • Red— Imminent danger exists, and immediate action is needed. You must make the decision to run, hide/take cover or fight.
  • Black— You are actively applying an appropriate level of justifiable force—firearm, pepper spray or improvised weapon—to neutralize an imminent threat to life and limb. If you are actively being robbed or hurt, then you may need to comply with demands. (It is crucial a firearm never be used unless you are extensively trained to ensure proficiency, familiar with state laws and prepared to kill someone to defend your own life.)



Cover examples: A stone statue in the lobby, main support pillars, a concrete wall, a telephone pole. Concealment examples: a sheet metal wall, a sheet rocked wall, fabric cube partition walls, garbage can.

The article Cover & Concealment—How to hide From an Active Shooter makes a rather obvious but really astute point, that concealment is perfectly fine, because if the shooter can’t find you, he can’t make you a target. The writer goes on to say that if the shooter can easily ascertain your location, hiding behind a bush for example, isn’t going to protect you. They further state that good concealment may have to change as the threat evolves.


Stay Calm

The Out Safe System is a frame work of actionable items that were developed for anyone who has unfortunately found themselves in an active shooter incident. The system was designed to give you easy to remember options to choose from.

Here are the 5 Out Safe steps:

  1. Figure it put
  2. Hide out
  3. Call out
  4. Get out
  5. Fight out

These steps don’t have to be taken sequentially, they can be taken in which ever order presents itself in the conflict or whatever you are facing.



Figure it out

This simply means maintaining self-awareness (or applying Coopers Colors for Situational Awareness) in order to recognize the sound of something bad happening, from raised voices, to threatening conversations, to gun shots.

  • Gunshots
  • Explosions
  • Glass breaking
  • Arguing or yelling
  • The sound of physical confrontation

If you sense something bad is happening, the most important thing is to take immediate action. The folks at Emergency Management, who published the article 5 steps to stay safe during an active shooter incident state that above all else, don’t hesitate to act. They go on to say that hesitation or inaction could result in harm to yourself or those around you.


Hide Out

I love this bit of advice they share…there really is no safe place in these situations, so they urge the person in an active shooter situation to go for a “safer” place. This could be a locked room with a wall or a corner safe from direct gunfire. They advise securing whatever position you take up to hide in with blockading any door, and locking it if it locks. Close any blinds that allow a clear view inside. Studies show that active shooters tend to pass up doors that look locked or unoccupied. It is vitally important to remain quiet, and silence your cell phone. I’ve repeated this multiple times to drive this point home and emphasize how important this one is.

Call Out

This can be done simultaneously with hiding. Call 911, and even if you can’t risk talking or explaining what’s happening to the operator, because it might compromise your safety or location, just dial the number and mute the phone. Don’t hang up. Seconds count so getting law enforcement headed towards your location as soon as possible could save your life or the lives of others. If you can safely do so, be prepared to give detailed information to the 911 operator to direct first responders directly to the crisis.

Get Out

This may seem obvious, but fear can paralyze you. But if you can, get out of the area of the crisis. This includes your “safer” place if you feel your life is in immediate danger. If you choose to get out, move quickly and away from the ground zero of the crisis where you will not be exposed to gun fire. Call out if necessary and wait until instructions from law enforcement.


Fight Out

If the assailant enters your “safer” area, fight like your life depends on it, because it does. In choosing not to fight or attempting to negotiate your way out or begging, you may be simply waiting to become the next victim. You must mentally prepare to fight. Marshalling all of your resources, to find makeshift weapons, or to create a distraction so you can form a blitz attack. The most important thing here—if you decide to fight, you must be 100% committed to this. Rally others to fight with you. Use chairs, backpacks, keys, and find objects to throw at or strike the attacker. Make it your mission to attack vulnerable areas on the assailant, the groin, eyes, the nose, soft tissue, and throat. You should be disrupting his ability to pull the trigger. The ultimate goal is to take control of the shooter and any weapons until law enforcement arrives.

Again I am not proposing playing hero, but these actions should be only taken as a last resort. You are throwing yourself into immediate and potentially life threatening danger, but the alternative is far bleaker if you do nothing.

The Department of Human Services list the following characteristics of a mass shooter in their active shooter guidelines.

  • Victims are more often than not, chosen at random
  • The event is unpredictable and evolves and escalates quickly
  • Law enforcement is usually required to end an active shooter situation


In the article 3 steps to avoid an active shooter they also list out steps that kind of echo the other resources, run, hide and three, fight. But they add a few distinct nuances that the other resources didn’t mention.

For example, they state a really important nugget under run, and that is, don’t let anyone’s indecisiveness slow you down. And two under hide, they make a perceptive call-out about your hiding place- it should not trap you or restrict your movement. And lastly, under fight, they suggest you yell and be aggressive as you can be when going on the offensive to fight the assailant!

The article by Jamie Allen, 5 Ways to Stay Safe in A Mass Shooting introduces another term we haven’t discussed at any depth here yet, but I think I’d be remised not to address it and distinguish between the two main types of targets, soft targets and hard targets.

Malls, movie theaters, churches, nightclubs are considered soft targets. These soft targets are considered any public place where security is limited and are populated by a high number of people. Just mentally picture any mall in the country on a weekend.

A hard target—contrasted by soft targets, are places where they typically restrict access to the public and are well protected. Think airports, courthouses, police stations and jails.


I think the following are medium targets: sporting events, music festivals because most require you to walk through metal detectors and have police and security presence.

Mr. Allen, says to stay calm, always be situationally aware, deny denial, move and create distance, and leave and keep going. Great tips!

In conclusion

The key here is to make it home if you are unfortunate enough to be in a workplace or mass shooter incident. Nothing else matters. That is our first, second and third goal. These steps and tips are a compilation of all the available data, research, and studies I could find. This article was compiled from Government sites, such as the Department of Human Services, FEMA, the State of Texas, higher education, various law enforcement agencies, and security experts and media outlets. I humbly attempted to try to craft this into a coherent one stop shop for information to make sure you can be safe, and make it home.  I admittedly have never been in a mass shooter incident, knock on wood, but I read and plan in the event I am ever in one. I keep a knife or some form of weapon on my person. I am restricted from carrying my concealed carry firearm into my place of employment, but in locations and events that do not restrict carrying, I am armed and my head is on a swivel scanning, and mentally planning for an escape or cover if trouble should break out. I practice situational awareness. I would suggest you get trained in concealed carry, if in the Chicago area. I would also suggest you look into purchasing  non-lethal weapons, that can be in a purse or work bag, like a baton, stun gun,  a tactical pen, pepper spray or Kubotan. In closing let’s employ these tips above and do everything we can to make it home safely if we are unlucky enough to be in an active shooter incident.


Kevin Flowers's Headshot 2019

                     By Kevin Flowers

Here I have compiled a list of resources for your reference:































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