A lot of people have asked me about how they could increase their survivability in an active shooter situation. The reality is sometimes you can’t win and that’s something you should be training for. Train for the worst day of your life and hopefully when it happens it’s nowhere near the level you trained for. If you’re lucky, your preparations will have paid off. However, the reality that you should always keep in the worst case scenario box is that you will not win. Get comfortable with that monster and snuggle up. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together. When you understand and embrace the fear, it allows you to rationally respond. In some fortunate moments, you will recognize the monster you’ve become comfortable with.
Something I always liked about teaching land navigation was the memory trick and the saying, “You have to walk to the tree before you can climb it.” Now that may have been in reference to how you move a protractor over the map, but we are going to take it in a bit of a rogue direction. I’m going to use that same statement and share something with you that I call the Survival Tree. You get to it, and you go up it, using the branches that are most appropriate to your situation. If the situation dictates you stay in that tree, stay in it. If you can’t stay in it, hopefully you come flying down on the enemy’s head with a righteous fury they cannot hope to withstand.
An unarmed opponent without armor, has little chance of taking out an opponent that has both of those things. The odds only go down from there if you’re lacking training or haven’t thought through the path you would take up the tree. Lets take this step by step for a second and slow down …
Step 1. What is happening?
Examine the situation. What indicators do you have? Do you hear gunfire? Do you know what gunfire sounds like versus a backfiring car? Are people screaming? Are alarms going off? If you lack indicators, you will likely be making your decision out of ignorance and that’s something we don’t do. The indicator could be rapid fire gunshots or it could be the moment you see an injured person. In the worst case scenario, it could be the moment the attackers burst through the door. Once you are certain there are actions going on that warrant a response, you have already started taking steps to the path.
Step 2. Find Your Tree If Possible
If you’ve played the “choose your own adventure” in your head, hopefully you have a COA (course of action) already in motion. The tree could figuratively be right smack in your face as the attacker rushes in. If that is the case, you have reached as high as you’re going to be able to go. Now it is time to bang it out for better or worse. Cowering in the shadow of your survival tree will do nothing to help you or others. If you have advance indicators that something is about to happen, you have time to move further to your tree and begin the climb up.
Under this section, I’ll talk about getting to your tree. That tree could mean climbing into the ceiling or it could mean locking the door. Or it could mean running out the back door and calling 911. The point is you have to get to your tree and start climbing it now. The branches of the tree will be the tools and actions you gather along the way, but none of those things happen while you sit on your fourth point of contact waiting for the bad guys to bring the fight to you. At this point, the enemy has initiated an attack and you must respond or you’re likely to die in place. More than likely you will have just seconds to initiate your movement and the rest of your life to question it. Welcome to the world of active warfare.
Things to consider for step 2:
Some of these will sound cold, but I’m not going to beat around the bush because that doesn’t do you any good …
- Are you alone?
- Do the people around you matter to you? This may sound harsh, but at this point you will be deciding if your coworkers, family members, or even a stranger are worth your own life. I encourage you do dive deeply into this as much as you can. If it is a stranger, do you care? What if that stranger is a small child? What if you run into a classroom? Are you willing to give your life for a stranger? Maybe not, but are you willing to give you life for a stranger’s child?
- Do you need to move?
- Is the location you find yourself in secure? Is there a place to make yourself secure?
- Do you have cover or concealment? What about both? Do you actually know the difference between the two?
- Is there an exit that you can get to that won’t require you to expose yourself to the threat?
Step 3: Climb Your Tree
Now that we have reached our tree, it is time to start climbing. Remember – every branch you grasp, pulls yourself further towards a better position or is a tool that will aid you in your follow-up actions. Those actions could be building a barricade to your last stand area or even scrounging for medical supplies and/or improvised weapons. The point is, we are still improving our position at this and every single stage.
Things to consider for step 3:
- Are you in the best possible place you can be till you decide to exit your tree?
- Can you scrounge for items to better your situation?
- Can you get to a better place with an acceptable risk?
- If you have to make a stand here, what can you do to make your advantage even greater?
Step 4: Exit Your Tree
This is the last stage in the process. You have either reached a safe point and are no longer in danger, or you have to face your aggressor. If you are being rescued by first responders, do not run towards them. Lay on the ground and expect that they have to secure the scene before they can be friendly. It isn’t personal. It is what must be done in order to protect you and those around you. Remember that there approaching the situation from an entirely different perspective. Remember, they are responding to an unknown situation with untold variables and have no idea who the bad guys are beyond a doubt. As such, they have to check everyone for their own safety, as well as the safety of those they are sworn to protect.
Now for the hard part. Let’s say you’re not being rescued and your attackers are going to find you. You need to prepare yourself for violence. Most people are adverse to violence on an instinctual level. This is usually a very good thing. Imagine what our society would be like if people were not wired that way? However, this is the time to ignore that instinct.
You are about to literally fight for your life against someone who is fundamentally opposed to your survival. You need to take a second and throw a prayer up if you have faith, but then get ready to go to work. Find anything you can turn into a weapon and get ready use it. Think outside the box. There are no rules at this point. Get yourself into an ambush position if possible. Climb your tree as high as you can figuratively, and then prepare to hurl yourself out of it in fury.
Things to consider for step 4:
- Improvised weapons
- Ambush your attackers
- Think outside the box
- You have the rest of your life to win this fight
Like most trees, they’re around in abundance. However, you don’t always recognize them until you start really looking at them. Times are getting more violent. It maybe time to get familiar with your own survival tree.