What to Do in a Mass Shooting Situation

In the event that you find yourself in the middle of a mass shooting, what would you do to survive?

Right now, as we go about our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to imagine that any one of us would ever be caught in the line of fire. But all gun laws and controversy aside, the sad truth is that this is the world we’re living in right now. And whether it’s a concert in Las Vegas, a night club in Florida, or a work building in Virginia, a Walmart in Texas, a school in Connecticut, or a movie theater in Colorado, the venues may change, but the threat of dangerous psychopaths will always remain, as long as there is evil in the world. So think about it: What would you do to survive a mass shooting?


At the risk of seeming paranoid, it’s not a bad idea to always be aware of your surroundings, knowing where the nearest exit is located and what kinds of surroundings could potentially serve as hiding spots or defense weapons in a pinch. There’s a reason flight attendants have passengers identify the nearest exit before the plane takes off, and why schools run drills to rehearse emergency situations: people need to know how to respond quickly in the heat of the moment — without much thought.

“Our frontal cortex, which is our deliberate thought that we experience every day, … shuts down,” says law-enforcement veteran John Bruner. “The first five seconds of an active shooter incident [are] paramount. React immediately.”

The more our brains can be automated to make the right decisions in a panicked state, the better. And if you’re with a group of friends or family at a public event, it’s always wise to decide on a meeting place ahead of time, just in case you become separated.


Of course, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation. Just drop everything and get out of there, running for the nearest exit as quickly and calmly as you can. It can be tempting to grab your purse or coat or cell phone, but if your belongings aren’t at your fingertips, just leave them behind. Everything is replaceable — except you. Running serpentine (in a zig-zag pattern) can also make you a harder, more unpredictable target for the shooter, though it really depends on the kind of gun that’s being used.


Running may not be an option, if the shooter is blocking the exit. Most mass shootings are over within 15 minutes, so chances are you won’t have to hide too long. If you’re outside, locate the closest car, bush, or trash can, and consider using one of those as a hiding spot. If you’re indoors and the shooter is in another room, lock and barricade the door with furniture, if possible. A heavy desk or filing cabinet will be your best bet. Bullets cannot penetrate brick, concrete, or steel, but can penetrate most interior walls, so keep that in mind when choosing a hiding spot.

If you’re hiding with other people, quickly split up duties. One of you calls 911 while others work on the barricade and grab things that will work as weapons. If you don’t have access to a phone, try to set off a ceiling sprinkler system, which should notify the fire department. And don’t forget to turn off lights and silence your cell phone if you have it. How awful would it be for your ringing cell phone to draw the shooter to your hiding spot? Speaking of your phone, if you’re afraid that calling 911 will be too loud and draw too much attention to yourself, you could try texting a bunch of people and asking them to call 911 for you. Make sure you include your location.


Don’t worry about fighting fair. The shooter certainly isn’t. Adopt a warrior mentality and fight for your life. If you come face to face with the shooter, many things around you can double as weapons — from hot coffee to fire extinguishers to umbrellas. Throw things at the shooter’s head and hands — anything to cause a distraction and slow the shooter down.

“Most people who are shot by a gun survive,” Bruner says. “So understand that and cling to that. Just keep fighting.”

Play Dead.

When all else fails, hide in plain sight. You can only play dead if the shooting has already (unfortunately) claimed several victims, but it could be a viable option. Just make sure you lie face down and completely still.

Again, having an escape strategy in place will greatly increase your chances of survival, in the unlikely event you find yourself in a tragic, scary shooting situation.

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