Active Shooter: A Family Guide to Survival

June 30, 2018

It’s Saturday afternoon. You and your family are shopping at a local mall when suddenly you hear gunshots ring out. A scary scenario for sure, but one that is also becoming all too real in our daily lives across America. The City of Los Angeles and the LAFD are no strangers to mass shooting events. As a trained first responder, your chances of survival are better than most, but the real question is, are your loved ones just as prepared to act if they have to? Knowing what to do, and when to do it, can be the difference between life or death. The term “Active Shooter” was born out of the tragedy at Columbine High in Colorado. There, two teenaged boys carrying a multitude of weapons walked on campus and killed 13 people. Since then, similar incidents have occurred all across America. Since 1999, after Columbine, 1500 causalities from active shooter events have been recorded in places like schools, office buildings, government facilities, and most often, the everyday places of business. But, you don’t necessarily have to be a victim. Below is information to give you and especially your family members a fighting chance to survive.

How to Escape and Survive

Active shooter events occur quickly and are unpredictable. The need of quick deployment of law enforcement is critical to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. The typical active shooter situation lasts less up to 15 minutes. Because of this, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation. Training and educating yourself in the following immediate actions will go a long way to increase the odds of surviving an active shooter incident.


These three things are essential to survive. Number one is, RUN. I know it may be hard to think this way but always have an escape route and plan in mind. No matter if you are at the movie theater or at your locally eatery, be ready to act. First thing–move away from the assailant immediately. Leave your belongings behind, they can be replaced, you can’t. If the assailant is active inside a specific area, move immediately to a safer location away from the assailant, but only if it is safe to do so. If you find yourself in an open area, seek shelter. Be sure to put something between you and the assailant, but don’t just sit there. If you know where the shooter is, and if you have an escape route available to you, consider trying to escape. If you have doubt that you can make it out, find the safest area available and secure it the best way possible.

Next, if you can’t get out–HIDE. Always try to hide but have a plan to exit if possible. Hide out of sight of the assailant. Silence your cell phone immediately and try to control your breathing. Secure the immediate area. Whether you are in a classroom, office, dorm room, bathroom, or other type of confined space, making sure to quickly lock or barricade the door. Block the door using whatever is available: desks, tables, file cabinets, other furniture, books, etc. After barricading the door, place yourself behind a solid object and as far away from the opening as possible. If the assailant enters the room and leaves, lock or barricade the door behind them. Other things to do include closing the window blinds, turning off any radios, computers, or televisions operating. Make it seem as if no one is home. Have the belief that the assailant may not stop until he has done what he/she has come to do, or until they are neutralized by law enforcement. Most of all, stay calm and quiet. Always consider the risk of opening a door or window. Movement attracts attention. Be aware that the assailant may bang on the door, yell for help, or otherwise attempt to trick you out in the open. If in doubt, stay silent and still. Do so until you are 100 percent sure the area is safe.

Along with hiding, consider seeking help via a mobile devices, landline, email, text or radios to get first responders to your location quicker, but use caution. Attempt to provide information in a calm and clear manner so that the other person can understand the situation and assist quickly with the right kind of response. Be prepared to provide as much information as possible about the situation and assailant(s), including: your situation, location, name, number of assailants, and their location if possible, along with a description of them if able, down to the language they are speaking, and the type of clothes they are wearing.

Last option is to FIGHT. Use this as a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, and only if other options have failed or unavailable. This is not the time to be timid. Your goal here is to incapacitate the assailant. Do whatever is necessary and act without prejudice in your actions. It’s him/her or you. If you are not alone, work as a team to subdue your attacker. Try and develop a plan beforehand. If you are able, get control of the weapon using whatever actions are necessary to accomplish your goal. Improvise a weapon of your own with what is around you: bottles, pots, pans, anything hard that will inflict pain. When hitting your attacker, do so until they stop moving – do not stop until then.

First Responders will attempt to get to you as soon as possible. When they do, it is important to remain calm and follow their instructions carefully. Do not attempt to carry anything out. Raise your hands and spread your fingers. Keep them visible at all times. Avoid any quick movement. Remember, you know who you are, but they do not. Everyone’s safety should be considered. Do not carry on a conversation with anyone until asked to do so. In the evacuation area, you will most likely be searched, cooperate. None of this information guarantees a positive outcome, but with practice, practice and more practice, along with a cool head, your chances of surviving an active shooter event will rise dramatically.

Next month we will discuss a survival program that is sweeping the country. It’s called, “Stop the Bleed.” LAFD Captain Patrick Leonard of the Tactical EMS Unit states per the national ‘Stop the Bleed’ Program, “No matter how rapid the arrival of professional emergency responders, bystanders will always be first on the scene. A person who is bleeding can die from blood loss within five minutes, therefore it is important to quickly stop the blood loss. Those nearest to someone with life threatening injuries are best positioned to provide first care.”

Source material: LAFD TEMS UNIT and

By John Hicks

Comments are closed.

Back to Top