I was inspired to write this post after reading this article from the Art of Manliness and wrote this specifically with mothers of small children in mind.. All other sources are cited below.
I’ve never been involved in a shooting, nor have my children.
I’m not ex-SWAT or part of a tactical response team.
I didn’t have SEAL training, can’t kill someone with my bare hands, and don’t have a concealed carry permit.
I’m a mom with little kids who goes out in public and wants us to all come home alive.
And I think you are too.
Unfortunately, this is a topic we can’t shy away from or pretend isn’t relevant. I already worry too much, so believe me, this is not a fun exercise. It is, however, a necessary one.
This is not a fear mongering post, but it’s a fact today there are more mass shootings than ever before. Taking a few minutes to mentally prepare could be the difference between getting your family to safety or not. It is that simple.
Things that work against us in an active shooter situation
Normalcy bias | Our brains are hard-wired to think things are normal. This is why bystanders and witnesses will stand frozen instead of moving into action.
The brain can take a while to adjust to the idea something odd is going on. Instead of gunshots, a person might even think it’s fireworks or a car backfiring (even if you’re inside a building) because that’s still more likely than a shooter (source).
Help is not likely | In this FBI report, nearly 60% of shooter incidents were over before police arrived. In fact, most shootings end in 2 minutes or less. This is why you must know what you’ll do before you get into that situation. You are likely the only person who can save yourself and your children.
Indecision is a bad decision | Many people respond to dangerous situations by freezing. This isn’t because they are stupid or cowardly, but because we are in shock and not mentally prepared. (source)
We operate in a herd mentality | Research has shown that when placed in unknown situations, we’ll follow the lead of anyone who appears to know what they’re doing. In an active shooter situation, this is unhelpful because we’ve already established that the large majority will freeze. The key to survival in an active shooter situation is to act fast. (source)
The #1 thing that will increase your family’s chance of survival
It’s not locked doors, exit locations, or how fast you run that will determine your chance of survival although those will help. It is knowing what you would do before you ever get into the situation. Like many things in life, it’s about mental preparation.
The reason the military and special ops train frequently is because it’s through training and preparation they make the right choices instinctively. If you have never considered the best way to respond in a shooter (or any other type of emergency) situation, you are not at all likely to respond in a way that will increase your survival.
General tips for being out with small children
If in doubt, leave quickly | If you walk into an establishment – say a bank or a gas station – and you immediately sense something off, get out. Don’t screw around and second guess yourself, just leave.
You can get a fountain drink somewhere else, it isn’t worth it. The more we practice using our discernment, the sharper it becomes.
Make sure your children listen to you | I cannot stress enough that your children need to obey you. If your children don’t mind you, now is the time to fix it.
Have a code word | Create a word your children recognize that signals danger. Danger or emergency are easy and clear. Without being overly scary, teach your children when you use this word they must listen to you carefully and follow your lead.
Practice handling all your kids at once | I have a 4-year-old, 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and an 11-month-old. It would not be easy, but the best way for me to get everyone out of harm’s way quickly is to hold two kids and pull two kids.
By holding on to two children’s hands (or their wrists) in one of my hands then using my other arm to secure the youngest two in my arms, I can move/pull them all. It will be hard, cumbersome, and painful for myself and the youngest two, but it’s better than the alternative.
Get very familiar with your baby equipment | If you have a baby carrier, you’re good to go. If you have a child in a stroller, you’ll have to determine if it’d be quicker to take the child out of the stroller and run or to leave them in it and run with the stroller.
If there are curbs, sidewalks, roads, and doorways, out of stroller is best. If it’s a straight shot on a flat road, you might try your hand. Either way, be able to quickly release your child from their seat.
Be between the children and danger | Without getting paranoid or going overboard, position yourself and family near walls where danger won’t occur behind you.
Being near exits and steering clear of obstacles will allow you to react by putting your children behind (or in front) of you and moving quickly. If you have a stroller or baby equipment, do not go to the back of a restaurant with a small path out.
Basic best practices
Being alone in an active shooting situation will be different than having your children with you, which is the point of this post. That said, the basic principles remain the same.
There are essentially three options, and experts agree that your chances of survival increase when you attempt them in this order, as is possible. (video from the FBI on Run, Hide, Fight)
Run > Hide > Fight
Experts agree, hands down, the best thing you can do to increase your family’s chance of survival is to get as far away from the shooter as possible. Even the Department of Homeland Security suggests, “If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises.”
This is logical common sense, and yet… most people do not run. Whether it is normalcy bias, fear, or shock, it’s difficult to say. Knowing in advance the best thing you can do is run will help you react appropriately if you ever find yourself in this devastating situation.
Know your exits on transportation, in a restaurant, or in a larger building. If a shooter is in the front of a store, run towards the back, through the kitchen or employee entrance, and outside. We are programmed those are “keep out” areas, but in an emergency crisis anything goes.
If it is an open area, run in a zig-zag pattern away from the shooter until you can get far enough away or take cover. (Update: If you are a semi-fast runner and holding your children, running as fast as you can straight toward your hiding spot, say behind a car, or your escape route is optimal. If it’s a wide open area with nowhere to hide, zig zag can definitely help, but the goal is always to get as far away as possible from the shooter as fast as possible).
Don’t try to gather your things and don’t stop for others who are not moving. Try to encourage others to follow you, but just go. Emergency responders do the same and though you’d like to show compassion for others who are down, the best chance your children have for survival is to get as far away from the shooter as possible.
Remember, shooting a moving target is difficult even for an experienced shooter. Many mass shooters have little to no experience with guns so if you run fast, zig-zag, and take cover behind things that stop weapons like pillars, vending machines, or bookcases (source) you have a good chance of survival.
If running would require you to be in open air for an extended period of time with your children exposed, you may choose to hide. If it is running or standing still, run. If it’s running or hiding, you’ll have to make a judgment call.
When running isn’t an option because the shooter is blocking the exit or you can’t jump out of a third-floor window, the next best option is to hide. The goal is to be out of the shooter’s view and behind something that will stop bullets.
Glass doors, windows, or flimsy structures will not provide safety from bullets. After finding a spot, position yourself in front of your children so there are multiple barriers between the shooter and your children. Think Secret Service here.
Try to hide behind something solid, if possible. If you can go in a room and lock the door, do that. Mass shooters historically look for easy victims, and will not spend an excess amount of time trying to get in a locked room.
If you go into a room and lock the door, immediately barricade the room with whatever you can find. Tables, chairs, dressers, filing cabinets, whatever you can physically move. Turn off the lights, be quiet, and don’t let your cell phone ring. As I mentioned in my article on what every mother needs to know in case of an intruder, don’t answer the door or respond to the shooter. Unless you can confirm it is the authorities, do not open the door.
If the shooter passes you by, and you were able to see this from your hiding spot, make a run for it if the coast is clear. Again, getting as far away as possible from the intruder is always the best idea.
Now, if you have small children with you I don’t suggest this. However, research shows that unarmed bystanders can subdue or chase away an assailant if they are in numbers (source).
Even a trained shooter (which most mass shooters are not) would not be able to fend off people from every side. If you have small children with you, fighting would require leaving them unattended which is not acceptable. If running or hiding are not options, other adults in your party may want to engage, but stay close to your kids and shield them.
Finally, Get off your phone and watch your surroundings
The best thing you can do besides thinking in advance about your plan is to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk around on your phone or oblivious to your environment.
Everyone involved in the mass shootings thought things were normal until it was too late. Look around you. Observe. Pay attention. Be wise.
I am sending you out like sheep among the wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes, and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16