How to Respond When Things Go Bad
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
A man with a rifle burst through the door at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis late in the evening of April 15, killing eight and wounding several others before taking his own life.
The shooting comes on the heels of a school shooting in Knoxville, a workplace shooting in Bryan, TX, a shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, CO, and a vehicular assault and knife attack at the U.S. Capitol.
These events illustrate that bad things can happen nearly anywhere and at any time. People must thus recognize this harsh reality and be prepared to take action to protect themselves and those they love when things suddenly go bad.
As I have written elsewhere, it is always best to detect danger before a threat can fully develop and then avoid the situation; action is always faster than reaction.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible, especially if you are not the primary target of an attack, but just happen to be in a location that is being attacked at the wrong time and place.
Many active shooter scenarios are not targeting a specific person, but the group of people who will be at the place attacked.
This means the individuals at the targeted location will not have much, if any, opportunity to spot hostile preoperational surveillance or other attack cycle activity, as the attack was directed at the location and not specifically at them.
As a result, the people caught at the attack site during an attack find themselves by default on the reaction side of the action/reaction equation.
However, that does not mean all is lost. There are a number of things that can assist those caught in a bad situation.
The first key to surviving an attack is having the proper mindset. What I mean by this is that the person understands that the world is a dangerous place and that they must take responsibility for the security of themselves and their loved ones.
Having this mindset will help them understand the need to practice an appropriate level of situational awareness—which will serve to help them quickly recognize that an attack is underway—and ensure they are mentally prepared to accept that an attack is underway rather than denying it.
Denial is the most pernicious enemy of situational awareness and often proves deadly to those caught in a dangerous situation. Quickly recognizing an attack is occurring and reacting immediately once that recognition is made, are the keys to surviving an attack.
Simply put, the earlier a person recognizes an attack is developing the better.
Frequently, a criminal who has lost the element of surprise before launching an attack will not pursue a victim who leaves the attack site for a safer place.
This is especially true in cases where the target is just one of convenience rather than someone that has been specifically targeted.
But even once an attack has been launched, quickly recognizing an attack is underway and leaving the attack site can help keep the attack from succeeding.
Security professionals refer to this as “getting off the X.” Getting off the X can frequently mean the difference between death and survival.
The ABC’s of Survival
For many years now, people have been providing training on active shooter scenarios, using the “Run, Hide, Fight,” “Avoid, Deny, Defend,” or, the terminology I prefer: “Avoid, Barricade, Confront.”
While initially intended to counteract shooter attacks, these techniques are also applicable to defend against edged weapon attacks or vehicular assaults.
Some people have criticized the simplicity of these maxims, but they do a good job of achieving their goal of raising awareness of attack situations and providing a simple, easy-to-remember mantra similar to the “Stop, Drop and Roll” fire response slogan we were all taught as children.
In dangerous situations, it is difficult to remember complex concepts, so simple is good.
Once a person has recognized that an attack is taking place, a critical step must be taken before they can decide to avoid, barricade, or confront—they must determine where the threat is coming from.
Without doing this, a person could run blindly from a position of relative safety into danger. This is where the OODA process kicks in and proves incredibly valuable.
Consciously following the OODA process will allow a person to orient themselves to the emerging threat and decide what action is appropriate.
It will also help keep them from freezing on the attack site or taking an action that can put them in even greater danger.
I certainly encourage anyone under attack to get off the X, but one must first ascertain that they are indeed on the X before acting.
In some instances, the source of the threat will be immediately evident and easy to locate. But sometimes, depending on the location and situation, it can be difficult to identify exactly where the threat is. Gunfire can echo, and it may take a few seconds to determine the direction it is coming from.
In such a scenario, one should quickly take cover until the direction of the threat can be identified. There may even be more than one attacker, which can serve to complicate the situation and alter reactions.
Fortunately, most attackers engaging in active shooter scenarios are not well trained. They tend to be poor marksmen who lack experience with their weapons.
For example, during the July 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, the attacker managed to kill 12 people. A low number considering he achieved almost total tactical surprise in a fully packed movie theater. This was due to the combination of poor marksmanship and his inability to clear a jam in his rifle.
Because of these factors, most people killed in active shooter situations are shot at very close range.
Distance also plays an important part in surviving edged weapon attacks and vehicular assaults.
People caught in an attack can do several things to reduce their chances of being wounded. Security professionals use the acronym MDACC to describe them.
MDACC stands for Motion, Distance, Angle, Cover, and Concealment.
For any shooter, hitting a moving target is far more difficult than hitting a stationary one, especially if the moving target is far away.
Most tactical shootings happen at distances of less than seven yards, and not many people can consistently hit a stationary target beyond 25 yards with a handgun.
The difficulty is increased if the target is moving. Most people can put 25 meters between themselves and an attacker in just a few seconds, so motion and distance can serve to improve a target’s chances of surviving an attack.
The angle at which you run away from a shooter is also important because shooting a target that is moving straight away is easier than shooting a target running away at an angle. The motion at an angle requires a shooter to swing the barrel of the weapon and lead the target which is difficult and requires a lot of practice.
If one can run behind dense objects such as trees, cars, office furniture that can provide cover, or foliage and walls that provide concealment, it is even more difficult for a shooter to hit you.
Cover refers to substantial items that will serve to stop or deflect a bullet. A concrete wall or tree trunk provides cover, as do some parts of a vehicle, such as the wheels and engine block.
Concealment is provided by things that can hide a person from a shooter’s vision but that will not stop a bullet. Bushes or a typical drywall office wall will hide a person but not stop bullets.
It is always better to have cover than concealment; but with concealment, at least it will force the shooter to fire blindly.
If a person decides to barricade themselves inside an office, hotel room, or another place during an attack, they should seek additional cover such as a filing cabinet or heavy desk rather than relying on the door or a thin wall to protect them from bullets.
Barricading has proved to be an effective tactic in several high-profile armed assaults to include the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2016 attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
This is not meant to be a primer of self-defense. However, if it becomes necessary to confront an armed assailant, the confrontation must be done wholeheartedly and with the maximum violence possible.
Again, the importance of mindset—and in this situation, a person must do all they can to summon their “inner warrior” to confront the person seeking to kill them.
Improvised weapons can be swung or thrown at the attacker and efforts should be focused on incapacitating the attacker and securing his weapon.
Research has shown that even a trained shooter struggles when he is swarmed by a group of unarmed individuals, so swarming should be considered when in a group.
Mindset is also of critical importance in case of a wound.
In active shooter situations and terrorist attacks, it is not unusual for far more victims to be wounded than killed.
It is extremely important to understand that, contrary to how gunshot wounds are portrayed in the media, most wounds are not immediately fatal and rarely immobilize the victim right away.
Even a person with a critical wound can continue to fight for some time, and many seriously wounded people can continue to move to escape the attack site to safety.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for wounded people to drop to the ground and freeze in panic or go into shock once they’ve been shot.
This gives the shooter an opportunity to approach them for a point-blank kill shot. Don’t do that—keep moving.
People must understand that most gunshots are survivable, especially if the bleeding can be controlled.
Certainly, once a target gets off the X, they should seek first aid or treat themselves with improvised pressure bandages to stop the bleeding and avoid going into shock.
I also recommend that people carry stop the bleed kits in their bags and vehicles and that businesses have STOP THE BLEED® kits positioned around their facilities and provide employees with stop the bleed training. Bleeding is a killer, but in many cases can be stopped using STOP THE BLEED® kits or improvised bandages and tourniquets.
Mindset, Mindset, Mindset
The training given to special operations forces soldiers and law enforcement officers places a great deal of emphasis on the mental aspect of combat.
They teach that the human body can keep functioning and continue to do amazing things even after the mind has decided it wants to quit.
That same sense of drive and determination to survive, the inner warrior, can serve to keep your body functioning after being wounded.
The world is and always has been a dangerous place. However, there are measures and techniques people can use to avoid danger—or at least mitigate its impact if it can’t be avoided.
The willingness to employ these measures and techniques often separates those killed in an attack from those who survive.