Immediately following the mass shooting in Manchester, England at an Ariana Grande concert, I did an interview for a local news station on security planning for large-scale events. One of the points that I made was about how emotions surrounding tragedies such as these quickly die down, complacency sets in, and people very quickly go back to forgetting that problems like this exist. Enter this past Sunday, and suddenly we all remember just how vulnerable we are.
There was a time when going to a local concert, to your children’s school, to church, to a marathon, to an airport, to the movie theater or to a nightclub were all carefree considerations for most Americans. That time is no longer the present, and if you believe something bad won’t happen to you, you may be playing with fire. You need to have a plan.
If one thing is clear following this most recent incident, it is that most people are complacent and are unprepared to save themselves or others during a crisis incident. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re not a first responder running toward the violence, there are some practical steps that you can take to increase your likelihood of surviving a mass casualty event. I’ve outlined a few suggestions below. And let me offer this disclaimer: This isn’t about being paranoid; it’s about being prepared.
The number one response people exhibit during a crisis incident is…. nothing at all. People will often times freeze, and in a moment of disbelief, may even assume that what they saw or heard was harmless. As was the case in Las Vegas, and so many other incidents around the world, many people assumed what they heard were fireworks. You can't afford to assume the best. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Remember, reaction is always slower than action. After the bang goes off, you’re already behind. The faster you can react, the greater your chances of survival. Don’t stand still. Run, as if your life depended on it. Because it does.
Know Your Immediate Surroundings
Make a mental note of the entrances and exits of any venue you find yourself in. This goes for anywhere you go, from a concert hall to a fast food restaurant. Often times in a panic, everyone rushes back to the entrance they came in from. If that doorway is blocked or if a threat comes from that location, you may find yourself running straight into a bad situation. Know the layout of the room you are in, and know where alternative exits are.
While you’re at it, take some time to survey the room and put your eyes on the people around you. If you see someone suspicious, notify authorities. Sometimes, assailants are in close proximity to innocent victims before they act. Don’t be so preoccupied that you miss the threat.
Don't Always Trust The Crowd
One of the secondary leading causes of death or injury during a crisis incident at a mass gathering is stampede. During crisis, people panic and tend to move without purpose. It's the pack mentality, and it can get you seriously injured or killed. If you run, know where you are going. If you don't know where the threat is coming from, take a brief moment to figure it out and orient yourself to the threat. Gunshots echo and bullets ricochet; what sounds left could be right. Again, knowing the layout of the space you are in makes this process much easier.
If You Can’t Run, Find Cover
If you watch some of the videos from the Las Vegas incident, you will see that a large number of people fell to the ground and laid there. I can think of far better things to do to increase your survivability than to lay down on the ground underneath the panicked feet of 20,000 people.
If you cannot safely run away from danger, then you need to hide out of plain sight. It is absolutely imperative that you seek cover, not concealment. Concealment may hide you from plain sight, but it will not stop a bullet (think picnic table, wooden fence or bushes). Put cover between you and the threat. Some examples of cover may include something solid like the engine block of a car, a brick or concrete structure, or even a large tree. And remember; out of sight, is not necessarily out of harm’s way. Always continue looking for an avenue of escape.
Have a Plan on Where to Meet
A few years ago, I responded to an armed gunman and shots fired incident at a local high school, on the anniversary of 9/11. I quickly discovered that the aftermath of that incident was more chaotic than the initial incident itself.
In your haste to flee, you may leave your personal belongings such as your car keys or cell phone behind, inside of a crime scene. As a result, you may have no ability to communicate with loved ones or to get home for an extended period of time. That's why it's best to have a pre-designated place to meet your party in the event something does happen. The location you choose should be far enough from the venue itself that it would be outside of an immediate crime scene or threat area, but close enough to walk to.
Take a First-Aid / CPR Class
My suggestion here would be to research where the nearest hospitals are in proximity to your event, and have a plan to get there. Most times, this won't be an option, so you should know how to save your own life. Many times after a mass shooting incident, patients don’t die immediately from trauma; they bleed to death. First responders will be pre-occupied with locating the bad guy, and you may be left to fend for yourself or aid someone around you for an extended period of time. Find training in your area that will prepare you for some of the most common incidents. At a minimum, you should know how to perform CPR, splint broken arms and legs, how to stop excessive bleeding and how to apply a tourniquet.
Go to a Gun Range
This is not a pro-gun point, and is not so much a professional recommendation as it is a personal suggestion. I recognize that many people are gun-averse. Despite the mounting evidence suggesting otherwise, many would rather remain unarmed. If that is you, please don’t feel pressured or bullied into gun ownership. Still, you should do yourself a favor and go to a gun range. You don’t even have to shoot a firearm, but you should at least familiarize yourself with the sound of gunfire.
As mentioned previously, far too many people interviewed after incidents like this stated that they thought they were hearing fireworks. This kind of thinking delays reaction time significantly, and your chances of escape are minimized by the second. Gunfire is distinct, and while there are similarities, often times it can be distinguished from fireworks. In many cases, the tone and cadence alone may even suggest to you what type and caliber a firearm may be. Best to familiarize yourself in a safe environment than a dangerous one.
These are just a few suggestions, though there are sure to be others. The key is understanding and accepting that we live in a time where you have to plan for these things. If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in an incident like this, you will have to do something, and you have to do it quickly. Develop a proactive strategy and have a plan to save your own life. Don't leave it to chance.
Ryan Dunlap is a veteran law enforcement officer, having served as a Special Victims Detective, Burglary Detective, SWAT Hostage Negotiator and Crisis Intervention Officer. He serves as the Director of Security for a large faith based organization in the metro-Atlanta area where he specializes in developing integrated physical security strategies and emergency response planning.