What to do in an Active Shooter Situation

Amanda Henry of the San Diego Lifestyle Interviews Eric T. 

I had an opportunity to talk with Eric from Aegis Academy about what to do in an active shooter situation. Watch the full video and read our conversation below:

 Full Conversation:

Amanda:   There is the devastating situation that happened overnight in Las Vegas. I wanted to ask you a few questions about guns, magazines and what to do in situations like that.

Eric:           Okay. Where do we start?

Amanda:   I’ve been watching everything on the news about Las Vegas for the last few hours. It’s been terrible. I’ve seen videos of people screaming and running. I’ve seen videos of people getting down to hide. It has peaked a lot of questions.

Patrick Henry and I took a class with you at Aegis Academy. He mentioned that, with certain guns, from a certain distance, you can outrun the bullets as long as a person doesn’t have good aim. Explain to me about the different types of guns. I think the media said that is was an assault rifle. What does that mean? What type of gun is that? How much more deadly is it than other types of guns?

Eric:           Assault rifles came into the world during World War II. You are looking at a magazine-fed pistol grip type of firearm that can be fired from the shoulder or the hip. It’s not as accurate. When used on a skirmish line where you have multiple troops moving in a direction, as they move forward, they’re firing from the hip continuously. They take a shot with every other step. You have a large volume of fire coming down.

The modern terminology for an assault weapon is often something that the media gets wrong. They have no idea what they’re talking about, but if it looks sensational, they’ll run with it. California has specific definitions. It typically has to do with the number of features. If it has three or more features, it becomes an assault weapon, according to California state law.

Features can be a pistol grip protruding conspicuously, a flash hider, a removable magazine, a folding or collapsible stock. Those are examples of features. If you only have two, then you’re okay. If you have three or more, it becomes an assault weapon according to California law.

Amanda:   What about the types of magazines that you can have with these bigger guns? I think there is a limit on that, right?

Eric:           No. There is what’s commercially available in most of the 50 states. Are we talking about in general or in California?

Amanda:   You can talk specifically to California.

Eric:           California has some unique parameters that are shared by a few other states. Most recently, it was voted upon with 64% in favor of making it illegal to own a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. At the last minute, before the law was to go into effect, a supreme court judge stepped in and said, “This is going to make all of these people who have these criminals. Let’s step back and take another look at this.”

That law in California is in suspension right now. For most of the rest of the country, anything that can function and hold multiple rounds is legal. To date, it’s extremely rare that it has become an issue. That’s why it’s still legal. In other states, you can purchase 60-round and 90-round magazines. They’re not unusual for the rest of the country.

Amanda:   I mentioned on Facebook that it was an AR. Someone commented with another type of gun with three letters. Is there a difference?

Eric:           I can only speculate since I don’t know what was said. From my understanding, there were 10 firearms in the room with the shooter. It could be 10 different firearms. All we can do is speculate at this time. You were shown an AR. If it’s three letters, it could have been an SKS, which is a much older design than an AR. It’s a Russian design. They were very common. It was designed with fixed magazines, later modified to be able to accommodate removable magazines.

Amanda:   What if you’re out somewhere and you hear gunshots? There was talk that initially it was fireworks. Is that a noise that you typically hear from any type of gun or is it a unique sound from those bigger guns?

Eric:           I’ve only seen a few of the video clips. At one time, it sounded like the snap of a spark. Another one sounded more like a gunshot. This isn’t unusual. The people at the Aurora Movie shooting thought that it was part of the show until they saw people being killed.

A lot of times, when you don’t think, can’t believe or don’t expect something like that to happen, it takes a bit to process. When we used to train to hit buildings and do room clears, we were told that we have about a six-second window. It takes people time to process what’s happening and understand what’s going on. It’s normal not to know what to do.

You have three basic opportunities to run. It goes back to your situational awareness when you travel around. In the training, there was a method alluding to improving your situational awareness. Be a little more attentive as to what goes on in the world around you. For example, let’s say that you’re in a movie theater or other confined space.

A checklist should go through your mind. For a while, it becomes automatic. You look for at least two exits in case one isn’t available. The VA calls it “hypervigilance.” I call it a sensible way to conduct oneself. I like to be in a restaurant with my back against the wall, watching the front door so that I can see what comes and goes. That enhances my situational awareness.

You asked what to do when you recognize the threat. You have three options that are very natural and simple. One is to run. When someone slams on the brakes in front of you, you get that adrenaline dump of fight or flight. We are engineered to either fight our way out of a situation or run from a situation. That instinct kicks in. It’s not always helpful. You let your mind go.

All that screaming that was going on in the videos, you don’t think when you’re in that natural state. You’re either ready to fight or ready to run. You’re not able to think, at least not well. You can improve your odds of success by taking a couple of long, deep breaths and try to slow everything down and process what’s going on and use your cognitive processing to solve the problem.

Your next option is to hide. It’s not ideal. Running is better. The more distance you can create from the threat, the better. The last option, if these other two options are not available, is to fight. Besides hiding, running or fighting is what we’re designed for.

When it comes down to fighting, ideally, you would collaborate with others to make it as much of a surprise and ambush to the threat as possible. Understand that you’re fighting for your life and show no mercy. You mentioned earlier that Patrick said something about outrunning ammunition that’s fired at you.

Amanda:   Yes. I’m not sure the exact distance that he mentioned. He said that if someone has a handgun and you’re in a grocery store or in a parking lot, if they’re not specifically aiming at you, if you run, it’s better than hiding. They could miss you by a lot if you’re running. Would that be the same situation with these bigger guns?

Eric:           Yes, it would. Bullets don’t fly like a laser beam. You know how you squirt water out of a garden hose. It goes straight up and then arcs back down again. With bullets, it’s the same thing. With a rifle, it happens on a much flatter curve. It can go much further before gravity starts taking over and making it go down. Because of the nature of handguns, the ammunition moves slower. The distance to where it drops happens sooner than a rifle. If you think about the geometry, the further you put yourself from the threat, the smaller you become as a target, and the safer you become.

Amanda:   You recommend to people who are out in a situation like that to run and not hide.

Eric:           If you don’t have the option to run, then you should hide.

Amanda:   I know that a lot of the people in the videos were confused. They didn’t know which way the bullets were coming from. Is there a way that, if they stopped and slowed themselves down and thought about where it was coming from, that they would be able to figure it out to run the opposite way?

Eric:           One can only speculate. There is a type of ammunition called tracer, which leaves a line through the air showing the flight of the projectile. It’s unlikely that you would see something like that. The only thing you can do it try to determine from sound where the origin of the shot is coming from or see the muzzle flash when the rounds are being fired.

It sounds like, in a venue like that, you might have sound reflecting all over different buildings from side to side. There is really no way to tell where it came from. With something like that, you don’t know if someone is being specifically targeted. Historically, it’s unlikely. You can zig, zag, run and make yourself a harder target. You improve your odds of success. If you can’t run, then you hide. If you can’t hide, then you fight.

Amanda:   I have two questions with hiding. Is it better to stay quiet and be by yourself or is it better to try and shout out directions to other people to hide? Should you yell commands if you know what to do?

Eric:           Let’s take a look at the different elements. The first option is to run. Let’s say you already have an escape route in mind. We talked about when you walked in the theater. You looked at the two exits.

You thought about, “From where I’m sitting, if something happens, whether it’s a fire, a fistfight or another Aurora, how am I going to get out of here? I can get out of here the way I came in or one of those fire exits over there.”

You think about it. You have a plan. Now it’s no longer a process of figuring out what to do. It’s “if-then.” If this event occurs, then I do this. That really compresses the amount of time that’s required for you to gain safety. There are other things to think about. You don’t want to leave loved ones behind, but if you have personal effects, a purse with a long shoulder strap can catch on things.

It’s always great to have that cellphone in hand, but if there’s a potential of running back for your coat or backpack, leave it. It’s not worth your life. Help others escape. They may be in front of you and it may help to guide them forward, to help you get out as well. You do want to prevent others from entering the area where there is an active shooter. Now they will be involved. They might be participants. More likely, they’re ignorant of the situation and you want to guide them away, not toward what’s going on.

There may be law enforcement response at the time you’re exiting the building. They don’t know who the bad guy is. When you exit the building, you exit with your hands out, up, and with fingers flayed wide open. Your hands are the threats. Your hands are what carry weapons. They want to see hands. If they see you running from where the event occurred with your hands wide open, they know you’re not the threat.

Once you’re safe, activate 911. Get on the phone and give them as much detail as possible with who, what, when, where, why and how. Give them as much information as you can convey. They’re gathering that information and painting a picture so that, when the response arrives, they have a much better sense than just going in blind with no other knowledge.

Amanda:   In the videos, I heard a parent say, “I need to cover you.” If you have children or someone smaller, is that safe to do? Would a bullet be able to go right through you and into someone else?

Eric:           Think about the physics of a bullet. It’s a little, discrete packet of energy. It’s a chunk of lead that’s aerodynamic flying through the air. It won’t go through everything. It expends energy.

If you’re driving a car and someone shoots at you through the windshield, that bullet expended a lot of energy getting through the windshield. Windshields are really hard and strong. It may have expended a lot of the energy and diminished the effect it would have on you. I would happily give my life for my loved one. If I need to do what I need to do to protect them, I’ll do so.

Amanda:   That would be a good idea if you were hiding and there was someone that you wanted to protect? That would be something that you would do?

Eric:           If it comes down to hiding and you’re discovered by the threat, in the course of hiding, you should have a plan for the last recourse, which is fighting. If you cover a loved one and don’t fight, then you are more likely doomed then if you give it all you’ve got and pick up whatever you can hit or attack with, and employ that.

If you have multiple people doing that, you may have success in reducing the threat. He may go someplace else or he may not be able to continue doing what he’s doing. Hiding is good if you can’t run. If you can’t run, you hide, and then the hiding is unsuccessful, you only have fighting left.

Let’s talk a little bit about hiding. If you are in an office type space, you want to be someplace where there would be some effort to discover you. You want to silence your cellphone. That’s historically been an issue. If a call comes in with someone asking if you’re okay, then it gives you away. Lock doors behind you.

You can make a choice, if you have a co-worker banging on the door, screaming, “Let me in,” and you’re confident that you won’t give your position away at that moment, then you let them in. It’s a good idea to think your way through all of these things to consider what you can do. When you’re down to a fighting situation if you’re not by yourself, what resources do you have available?

You may have someone on your left who was a jujitsu champion. You may have people with a lot of talents that you were never aware of that are optimal for this fight situation. There are fire extinguishers on the wall. There are phones. There is anything that can be made a projectile. It’s hard to shoot people when you’re being inundated with everything in the office coming at your head. Of course, you’re attempting to incapacitate the shooter.

Amanda:   There was a lot of fencing around the venue. Is a chain-link fence something that you should hide behind? Do you just keep running to the next thing?

Eric:           We’ll define our terms. There is “cover” and there is “concealment.” If I’m behind a bush, that’s concealment. You can’t see me. You can shoot right through the bush and hit me, but you can’t see me. If you don’t know I’m there, you can’t shoot me. If I’m behind a huge paver wall, it’s like playing the game Battleship. You have to shoot everywhere to hit me.

Concealment is good but cover is better. Cover will stop bullets. A concrete wall, the engine block of your car, the post office box on the curb, anything like that is cover. They will typically stop rounds. That’s preferable to concealment. If it’s a random shooter, then it’s up to statistics. Concealment is better than nothing and cover is better than concealment.

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Amanda:   Is there anything else that you want to say for people who are looking for more information about this?

Eric:           We offer courses. It’s a catch word in law enforcement and military called SA, situational awareness. There are pioneers out there who have broken it down into color codes that identify what level of awareness you want to run at. It will wear you out if you try to stay at a high level of awareness all the time. You can always just ratchet it up a little bit more than normal.

It takes just a minute to look in your rearview mirror. If a car passes you that you didn’t see coming and it caught you off-guard, you can grade yourself at situational awareness. If someone walks up on you and surprises you, and you didn’t see them coming, you weren’t exercising good situational awareness.

You may go the rest of your life and it might be completely irrelevant. But it can also help you if there is a day-to-day issue. Because of the fact that you were paying attention, it can be resolved more readily.

We call cellphones the ultimate distraction device, because when your head is down, you have no idea what’s going on. Every 20 or 30 seconds or so, bring your head up and have a look around. “What’s going on around me? Is there something that I need to know about? Is there something I can help other people with? Is there something I can avoid if I’m paying attention?”

Amanda:   Thank you so much, Eric. I know you’re a 30-year veteran of the US Army and 22 years in the Special Forces. I wanted to get your opinion and give other people a bit of comfort that they have a plan if something terrible like this would happen around them. I appreciate it. How often are you doing trainings?

Eric:           You can go to the website and take a look at the calendar to see what we have scheduled. There is lots of information out there. Homeland Security has references and guides. Research “active shooter” and you will find lots of information readily available. You just have to find it. I want to leave you with an old military maxim. A poor plan violently executed is much better than a perfect plan that’s too late.

Amanda:   I like that. Thank you so much for being on the call today. I will look up AegisAcademy.com and see when the classes are, and let some people know.

Eric:           I’m happy to be of help.