Protecting Yourself From Mass Public Shootings
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
Most of the material I have produced on personal security, such as articles discussing how to practice situational awareness, counter a stalker, or detect hostile surveillance is focused on helping people protect themselves when they are being specifically targeted for an act of violence.
Such material is useful in mitigating these threats because assailants are bound by the constraints of the attack cycle and the fact that there are phases of the attack cycle where a would-be assailant is vulnerable to detection.
But unfortunately, people are increasingly being killed in attacks in which they are not being specifically targeted.
They just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While the overall number of homicides in the United States is down significantly from its peak in 1980, the number of mass shootings in public places is increasing.
Mass public attacks still only represent less than one percent of the total number of homicides, but their increase is significant and brings with it serious implications for personal security.
In these mass public attacks, the perpetrators, whether terrorists or criminals, are targeting places or events—and the crowds at them—rather than specific people.
These attacks have been directed at groups of people at soft target locations such as parades, schools, grocery stores, parks, nightclubs, and other public places.
In such attacks, the assailant’s attack cycle is directed against the place or event and not a specific person.
Because of this, people who happen to be at that place or event at the time of the attack will have very little ability to spot the assailant as he progresses through the early phases of the attack cycle.
This means that people must shift how they think about the attack cycle, and their personal safety, in order to protect themselves (and others) against such attacks.
Mindset and Awareness
A key step toward protecting yourself from a mass public attack—or at least mitigating the impact it can have on you—is adopting the proper mindset and practicing an appropriate level of situational awareness when out in public.
I place mindset first because your mindset determines your willingness to practice situational awareness.
You must recognize that these attacks are our new normal now and that they can happen practically anywhere and at any time.
You also must accept that because practically any crowd of people can become a target, law enforcement and security cannot protect every group of people everywhere all the time.
This means that you must accept responsibility for protecting yourself and those you love.
Part of that responsibility entails practicing the appropriate level of situational awareness, especially when out in public.
You cannot allow yourself to become so distracted by things that you “tune out” and fail to pay attention to what is happening around you.
Proper situational awareness does not mean paranoia but simply having the will to use all your senses to pay attention to what is happening around you.
Another important facet of mindset is the need to combat denial, which is one of the most pernicious enemies of situational awareness.
Quite often attack victims hear what could be shots, but denial-thinking “it can’t be happening to me,” “it can’t be happening here,” or “it can’t be happening now” causes them to delay reacting to the potential danger.
Such a delay can prove to be deadly.
Rapid attack recognition is an important factor in determining who survives an attack and who does not.
Rather than delay, at the first sound of gunfire, the sound of a revving engine and screeching tires indicating a vehicular assault, or the sight of someone with an edged weapon, you must immediately begin the OODA process to help you move from observation to action.
Rapid recognition and action are critical.
But this quick implementation of OODA can only happen if you have the proper mindset and are practicing good situational awareness.
Get Off the X
One of the first fundamentals they teach protective security agents is that if an attack is launched against your principal, you must move the principal “off the X” or away from the attack site.
When things go bad, you must act immediately.
The worst thing you can do is to freeze on the attack site and let the attacker shoot you like a fish in a barrel.
As every marksman knows, it is far harder to shoot a moving target than it is a stationary one.
Thus, you can greatly enhance your chances of surviving a shooting by moving.
An acronym we often use to express how to protect yourself from a shooter is MDACC: motion, distance, angle, cover, and concealment.
Most shootings happen at relatively short distances and the more distance you can put between you and the shooter the better.
Individuals typically involved in these attacks are not accomplished marksmen and most of the people killed during these attacks are shot at very close ranges.
Motion is particularly effective if you are moving away from the shooter at an angle that requires him to sweep his gun to track your movement.
Using things like foliage or vehicles that can conceal you can also help protect you because it is difficult for someone to shoot what he cannot see.
It is even better if the things that conceal you are substantial items like large trees and concrete walls that will provide cover and prevent a bullet from hitting you.
Even if you are hit, you must keep moving to the best of your ability and attempt to find a place that provides both cover and concealment.
It is even better if you can barricade yourself into a safe place.
Contrary to the way gunshots are portrayed in the media, most gunshots are not immediately fatal, and they rarely immobilize the victim instantly.
Don’t allow panic and shock to rule you.
You must overcome them and keep moving if possible.
Many more people are typically wounded in a mass public attack than are killed. Many of those who die will do so because of blood loss.
This fact emphasizes the importance of STOP THE BLEED® training to care for yourself or others in the wake of a shooting.
While tourniquets, pressure bandages, and chest seals can be improvised, these items are relatively inexpensive and, in an emergency, having the real deal is better than improvising.
I carry STOP THE BLEED® kits in each of my vehicles and in my briefcase and you should consider making them part of your everyday carry.
A Note on the Attack Cycle
While each individual victim of a mass shooting attack might not see the assailant as he progresses through the early portions of his attack cycle, it may be possible to spot him later in the cycle as he deploys for the attack.
Demeanor, and possibly a glimpse of a hidden weapon, will be the keys to spotting this behavior.
It is also important to point out that while the victims might not be able to spot early attack cycle behaviors, the assailant must still progress through the cycle, is bound to its constraints, and is therefore vulnerable to detection.
Somebody is very likely to see him as he is conducting preoperational surveillance, acquiring his weapons, or rehearsing his attack.
Beyond attack cycle activities, mass shooting perpetrators frequently display “leakage” and provide hints, or even outright statements, of their intent to conduct a mass shooting.
It is quite common—and extremely tragic—for significant leakage by the assailant to go unreported until after the attack.
“See something, say something” has helped thwart many would-be attacks.
People must understand their responsibility to report attack cycle behaviors and leakage to the proper authorities.
While mass public attacks are becoming more frequent, they do not occur in a vacuum. They are the result of a process that can be detected, reported—and thwarted.