Self defense against a shooter in the building, part 2

by Lori Hoeck on August 12, 2009

shootergraphicIt’s unlikely you will ever face an Active Shooter or rapid mass murderer, but what do you do in self defense when it happens?

{NOTE: For part one of this series, click here.)

The most professional video resource I’ve found on this topic is Shots Fired — When Lightning Strikes — a DVD by Center for Personal Protection and Safety.

And here’s my take on the subject of self defense in an active shooter situation:

Three things to note:

  • An Active Shooter is not the same as a person taking hostages or a terrorist. An Active Shooter does not want to talk or make a media statement. They are looking to rack up the death toll or exact their warped sense of revenge and payback.
  • There is a difference between cover and concealment. Cover provides some kind of protection against bullets. Concealment can’t stop a bullet, but may hide your presence — for example behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain.
  • Live gunshots are not as loud as you are used to hearing in a movie theater. They may sound like popping noises, a baseball bat hitting a wall, or firecrackers.

Possible Options

There is no one way or procedure I can recommend.  I can give options, but you must decide what to do in the heat of the moment and with the insider’s view of the situation.

Since the average time of an Active Shooter incident is 8 minutes, your actions must be immediate. Assume those popping sounds really are gunshots. Don’t wonder. Act. When you can, call 9-1-1.

1) Exit and Escapefireescape
Move away from the sound of shots with a swift, alert exit outside and away to safety. Don’t stop until you know you are in the clear and safe. Call 9-1-1 and give a report of what you know.

If you have more than one way out of a room, but you don’t know where the shots are coming from, think about exiting the window or a fire escape instead. If you are in a huge area, like a mall, most people will already be running in the opposite direction of the shooter. They may not always be right, but if that is all you have to go on, then work with it.

(Again, I note: There is no one way or procedure I can recommend.  I can give options, but you must decide what to do in the heat of the moment and with the insider’s view of the situation.)

2) Conceal and Cover
The shooter may have rehearsed and visualized how people will take cover and planned his response. So if you take cover, try to find heavy objects — cars in an underground lot, pillars in a building, book shelves in a library – that you can keep between you and the shooter. If hiding, hide quietly with cell phone ringer off.

If you feel you have no option but to respond to the shooter as if you’ve been hit and play dead, then do so convincingly. Yes it’s gross, but if you have to use someone else’s blood to make your injury look more real, do it. This is about survival.

If you have to, fake your “death fall” in a place that will protect you from more bullets, with your vital organs and head behind something like a pillar or desk.

3) Lock and Block
If escape is not an option, find a room you can lock or barricade, preferably both. Turn off the lights. Close any blinds. Spread around the room evenly so you aren’t huddle into one big target. Don’t allow the shooter to lure you out. Again, turn down the cell phone ringers. If you can, quietly turn off computers, fax machines, land line telephones – anything that might draw the shooter’s attention.

4) Distract and Deactivate
As noted in my last post on preparing for an Active Shooter, 50 percent of rapid mass murders have been aborted primarily by unarmed citizens and 25 percent by armed citizens, according to Ron Borsch, a 30-year law enforcement veteran.

If you have no other option because you feel your death is likely if you do nothing, you may want to overcome the individual with force and deactivate the active shooter.

When trying to take out an active shooter, you may get shot, you may die. But then again, you may very well feel you have no other option. Sometimes you just don’t want to lie down like a sheep and let a killer take your life and the lives of those around you.emptyshells

If this is the case, you must think with the tenacity and courage of  Todd Beamer and other passengers on hijacked United Arilines Flight 93 during the 9-11 terrorist attack. They knew their lives were forfeit unless they did something powerfully on their own. They decided to take action to try and save the people the terrorists planned to kill.

You can’t block or outrun bullets, but you can try to mess with the shooter’s aim and frequency of shots fired until you can rush in and take him down.

  • Stay off the shooter’s centerline
    With a handgun, most people shoot straight out from their body, pretty much under their own nose. Accuracy goes down the more they have to move the weapon off centerline and aim to the left or right. Therefore, using distractions, getting off centerline, then coming at the shooter from the side is more likely to succeed.

    If you have no time to distract or get off to the side, pick up a large item like a school desk or any other bullet-slowing or distracting shield and charge the shooter with a blood-curdling yell or by cursing in outrage at the top of your lungs. Vocalization of your emotions this way can strengthen you and your resolve.

  • Team up
    Work with others to distract and charge the shooter at the same time. You may have to talk quietly among yourselves to plan this before the shooter arrives in your area. See what the room or area offers in the way of improvised weapons, and arm yourselves. (Who wants to face a group of adrenaline-charged people coming from all directions armed with scissors, chairs, a large camera swinging on a neck strap, blunt objects, fire extinguisher foam, and hot coffee?)
    The more actions taken by a group, such as distractions and people rushing the shooter all at once, the better the odds of deactivating the active shooter.

    You have to act in concert with total dedication to taking down the shooter with firm resolve. If you believe you have no other choice than to fight, fight to win. Focus on the task with complete determination. It will focus fear into action.

  • Distractions
    Visually or physically distract by using fire extinguisher foam or throwing the extinguisher or other items at the shooter.

    Use soil from a potted plant, hot coffee, scissors – whatever will make the shooter flinch or block instead of shoot for the time it takes to rush him.
    At the recent gym shooting in Pennsylvania, a few five-pound hand weights might have served the same purpose or even an exercise ball, which would have been easy to throw, make a huge, distracting target, and have an effective pop! if shot.

“Pull the fire alarm” or “Don’t pull fire alarm”?
Most say don’t turn on the fire alarm. The problem with pulling a fire alarm is that those who are hidden or in locked rooms, could fear being burned to death and come from hiding into the shooters line of fire. Also groups of people could swarm the exits, making targeting easier for the shooter. This decision will be a judgment call of the moment.

When the police arrive
Realize SWAT or law enforcement won’t know who the shooter is or if there is more than one. This means you will at first be seen as a possible suspect, especially if your looks or what you are wearing match eye-witness reports.

It’s important to not rush or thank the officers who first arrive on scene. They will need quiet and to see your hands, fingers wide, to let them know you have no weapons.

  • Be ready to be treated as a suspect, perhaps even being handcuffed. Things will get sorted out eventually.
  • Follow the commands of law enforcement quickly for your own safety.
  • Provide any information as succinctly as possible.

Medical units won’t enter right away
Most people think EMTs and paramedics will rush in with law enforcement to start treating the wounded. Emergency medical personnel are taught to stay out until the scene is cleared and safe. (A wounded emergency worker means two or three less people to help on scene because it will take one or two to help the injured emergency worker.)

Why is this important? You may see people wounded and in a world of hurt — or even dying — with an ambulance a half block away. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Medical help will arrive as soon as they are allowed to enter the scene. Panicking won’t help. Taking a first aid or EMT class before will be helpful. Get your co-workers together and take a class.

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Interesting links:

Psychology 101: The Mind of a Shooter

5 Phases of the Active Shooter Incident

Mass violence: Why do they do it? What can we do about it?

Standardized Hand Signals For Close Range Engagement (C.R.E.) Operations (Interesting one-handed tactical hand signals. Can you count to 10 with one hand and signal that a gunman has a shotgun and a hostage?)


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck


Photo Credits Top: Adapted from Vidoet ;  Middle: max_trudolubov; Bottom: hydropeek

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{ 2 trackbacks }

What you can do about a shooter in the building, part 1
August 14, 2009 at 11:17 am
Top ‘Think Like A Black Belt’ self defense posts
February 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm

{ 16 comments }

1 Betsy Wuebker August 12, 2009 at 11:01 am

Wow, Lori, this post is chock full of great resources and food for thought. Some of the tips I had never considered, yet they make perfect sense even though contrary to what I might have thought would be effective. Thanks.

2 Vered - Blogger for Hire August 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Still, I hope I never find myself in that situation. :)

3 Lori Hoeck August 12, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Hi Betsy,
Chock full, indeed. My researcher self enjoyed finding the links.

Hi Vered,
Yep, I completely understand!

4 Michael August 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Not to take away from the seriousness of the post, but when I read the part about gunshots sounding like firecrackers or a bat hitting a wall, I thought, “How often has anyone heard a bat fly into a wall?!?”

Duh. Baseball Bat.

5 Lori Hoeck August 12, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Hi Michael,
Thanks for stopping by and imparting some wit.
OK. OK. I’m changing it to baseball bat right now.

6 Marc August 13, 2009 at 6:50 am

An incredibly thorough and informative post. Clearly you know your stuff Lori.

All I can say is thank God for people like you who are so willing to teach others the importance of self-defense

7 Lori Hoeck August 13, 2009 at 10:54 am

Hi Marc,
Thank you, Marc. I’m happy to help.

8 cindy platt August 14, 2009 at 12:10 am

Information is empowerment. When I read all the resources you provided and the cues and clues for this situation I kept thinking this is the kind of presentation that keeps us from being victims. Thank you for keeping the information real and reader friendly.

9 Kathy | Virtual Impax August 14, 2009 at 5:24 am

An amen to Cindy – Knowledge is power. This is definitely one of those “hope I never need it” and if I do – I hope I have the presence of mind to act deliberately.

The thing is – by reading this – I have laid the ground work. The possibility of me “acting deliberately” has increased exponentially thanks to you.

THANK YOU!!! If there’s ever a “blog most valuable to your survival” contest – you’ve got my nomination!

10 janice August 14, 2009 at 7:44 am

Thank you, Lori, from me and the whole family. The class of kids I knew who were massacred were 5 year olds and could do nothing. I give thanks that my kids are now old enough to read wisdom like yours. I also let them watch films with us so they see – and we can discuss – scenarios I hope to God they’re never in.

11 Lori Hoeck August 14, 2009 at 8:25 am

Hi Cindy,
Thank you for taking the time to read the information. The more we good guys know about such things, the less powerful and successful the bad guys.

Hi Kathy,
Survival is rooted in a mindset of determination, and you sure seem to have the resolve needed!

Hi Janice,
You’re welcome, and I’m glad the whole family can learn, too. I have to shake my head at parents who choose denial over empowering their kids to be calm, confident, and competent with self defense. My hope is this site helps change that.

12 TrinaMb August 14, 2009 at 10:31 am

I am so proud of you for sharing your knowledge with such clarity, and helping any who are willing to learn.

13 Davina August 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Lori, you have outdone yourself on this one. I actually feel a slight adrenaline rush from reading about these scenarios — ready to act. Thank you for bringing all of this to my attention. As Vered said, I hope I never find myself in this type of situation. My stomach turns at the thought. But you have done your job! I’m more aware than before I read this.

14 Lori Hoeck August 14, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Hi TrinaMb,
Happy to share!

Hi Davina,
Thank you and thank you for the tweet!

The Active Shooter situation is so different than most crime that I felt I had to give people a better understanding of it and the role they can take.

15 Barbara Swafford August 18, 2009 at 11:02 am

Hi Lori,

What a great series. I didn’t realize there was so much to think about what faced with this scenario, but thankfully you’ve done the homework and now we have it all in one place.

As I was reading this I thought, “this is something that should be taught in schools”. I’m thinking you need to take your message on the road. Yeah?

16 Lori Hoeck August 18, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Hi Barbara,
Thank you.

I love speaking to groups on self defense — especially about the information in my e-book — but many schools are too worried about liability to empower students to do much of anything during an Active Shooter situation.

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