Okay, this one has nothing to do with writing. It's sort of a given that everyone on Chaos is a superpowered badass with plot armor, so it's not really likely that you'll find yourself in a story like this. Unfortunately, in real life, exactly none of us are superpowered badasses, and while we might be main characters in our own stories, plot armor does not apply. The chances of any one of us ending up on the wrong end of an active shooter scenario are slim to the point of nonexistent in everyday life, but it's not a nonzero chance. And since an ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of panic in a crisis, I thought it might be worth putting together something on the matter.
A few things before we begin. This guide is not written for folks with military or law enforcement training in mind. You guys should already have some sort of plan in place. Nor is it meant for folks who go armed on a regular basis. To my knowledge, no more than a handful of people on Chaos have concealed carry permits. With that in mind, this is geared towards folks that either live in areas where concealed carry is illegal or impractical, or those who chose not to. I wrote something of a guide for folks who do carry earlier this week for a military blog I write for. If anyone's interested, shoot me a PM and I'll send you the link.
Right. Now, the chances of ending up in an active shooter scenario as you go about everyday life are low. Astronomically low. You've less than one percent of one percent of a chance during normal activities. There are certain things that increase those chances, like going to large public gatherings. Even then though, it will probably never happen to you. Please don't get the idea that I'm trying to freak anyone out.
Now, the very first thing you should do in an active shooter situation is determine whether or not you're in immediate danger. And by that, I mean whether or not you can see the shooter. In a crowded place like a mall, you probably won't, unless you're really unlucky. If you can, your first objective is to get something solid in between the two of you as quickly as humanly possible. Preferably something that can stop a bullet, but if it just gets you out of their line of sight, that can work as well.
If you can't see the shooter, take a second to evaluate the situation. Try to figure out which way the gunfire is coming from. It can be hard indoors, because gunshots tend to echo in weird ways, but generally speaking, the loudest sound is the one you want to get away from. Once you've figured out about where the shooter is at in relation to your position, try to take a second to plan.
It seems counterintuitive to wait for any length of time in a situation like this, but it might just save your life. The number one thing that gets people killed in an active shooter scenario is panic. If you run blindly, you may end up getting trapped. Large crowds are dangerous enough on their own, even more so when it's a large, panicked crowd. A large, panicked crowd is basically just a stampeding herd. If you fall, you may end up being trampled. Too many people trying to fit through too small an exit creates a bottleneck, which can quickly turn violent. And, of course, it makes for an inviting target.
Instead, look for exits that the crowd might not have noticed. Any mall, theater, or large store will be liberally seeded with them. Bars and clubs will typically have fewer, but even they'll have more than one or two. Find your exit and plan your route accordingly. Try to keep as many solid objects between you and the sound of the gunfire as possible. Stay low, move quickly, and watch your footing. The last thing you want to do is roll your ankle. In movies you'll see people try to run in a serpentine to make themselves harder to hit. Personally, I'd recommend against it. Unless you're running straight at the guy, it's just going to add distance to your escape path. If you have to move with a crowd, try to keep calm and be as nonaggressive to the folks around you as possible. It won't guarantee that you won't get bumped or knocked down or even punched, but it might help.
Keep in mind that it is almost always safest to get out of where you're at than to stay put. Even if the shooters are working as a team, they probably won't be covering the exits. Most large buildings simple have too many to cover, and placing a gunman on each one would be impossible in most situations. An exceptionally well planned attack may involve locking or chaining the doors beforehand, but it's not likely.
If you can't get out, your next best option is to hide. Now let's be clear: hiding is your next to last resort. You absolutely do not want to hide if there's a viable means to escape. If not, well, do what you have to.
If you can find a room with a door that locks, has no windows, and might be overlooked, go for it. Kill the lights, lock the door, and find somewhere in the room to hide, preferably behind something solid. A wood desk will not stop a bullet. Nor will a table. Hell, most cars won't, for that matter. Concrete is usually up to the task, however, and oddly enough, so do books if they're hit right. You might consider it sacrilege to let a book take a bullet for you, but you can apologize to the literary gods once you make it out alive.
If you have time, fortify your position. A simple sturdy chair propped up against a doorknob can turn a door that doesn't lock into a very difficult to defeat barrier. Heavy furniture can also be used to block a door closed. Desks, bookcases, anything like that will do. If the door will lock, lock it. Believe it or not, kicking down a door is a lot harder than it looks. Hardly anyone knows how to do it properly. Your average shooter is trying to take down as many people in as short a time period as possible, not completely scrub the building clean of life. There's a pretty decent chance that they'll just move on if they encounter a locked door. If not you might have to turn to your very last resort, but more on that later.
If the only hiding places are less than ideal, make do with what you have. Stay away from windows and out of the light. Shadow is your friend. Again, a single shooter in a crowded place is probably not going to have time to search every nook and cranny. There are an astounding number of places to hide in any public building. Use your head and try to find the safest one possible.
Again, your first priority should still be escape. If you're not in a locked room with solid walls and a ton of furniture blocking the door, make sure you can get out if you have to. If the shooter has moved on, beat feet towards the exit. Plan your route, stay low, and move quickly and carefully.
Your very, very last resort is to fight. If it comes down to that, things are well and truly screwed, but not entirely hopeless. There are some very easy steps one can take to maximize one's chances of survival.
Firstly, make a plan. If you're hiding, you've probably got at least a few seconds to do so. If you're with people who might be willing to help, coordinate with them on your plan of attack. If you're by yourself, take stock of what you've got on you and around you that might come in handy.
Next, find a weapon. Nearly anything can be a weapon if you're motivated enough. Most people carry a key ring, for instance. If you think a key ring can't be a weapon, pull yours out and take a look at it. On average, you'll have a car key and a house key, probably a couple of keys for work, maybe for a locker or a mailbox, and the longer you've had any given key ring, the more BS you'll have acquired for it. Now take an empty milk jug and fill it with water. Go into your backyard and hurl the keys at it as hard as possible. Like as not, it'll have sprung a few leaks. Now imagine slinging that in someone's face and tell me it won't do some damage.
Maybe you don't have keys, maybe you just have a pocketful of change. That can be thrown pretty effectively too. Your first order of business should be to get the shooter off their game, and throwing crap at them is almost always the best way to do that. People instinctively flinch away from things thrown at their face, and the more people throwing stuff, the better. Books, paper, jackets, clothing, keys, change, whatever you've got on hand, throw it at the son of a bitch as hard as you can. Once they're distracted, you may have a chance to escape. Or you may have a chance to close in.
If you get the chance to close the distance while they're distracted, do what you can. The head and face will be the most vulnerable targets, so always go for them if possible. If you can swing a stool or a chair and you've got one on hand, try and crack them over the head. In real life when people get hit with furniture, the only thing that breaks is the person. Maybe you can find a hammer or a heavy wrench. Hell, maybe you'll get really lucky and find a butcher knife.
One note about knives: don't try to stab someone with a kitchen knife. The grips aren't made for it, and like as not, your hand will slide up the blade and you'll be picking up your fingers with the other hand. Slash at the face, eyes, and neck. If you've got some training with a blade that's fine. Go with what you were taught. If not, technique isn't really as important as going after them as aggressively as possible.
Same with anything else. Improvised clubs like table legs, crowbars, baseball bats, and even sturdy broomhandles can all be effective. Swing for the fences and don't stop until you can't move anymore. If you let the shooter catch their breath for even a second, they may remember that they have a gun and use it on you. Attack like your life depends on it, because it does. Screaming helps, oddly enough. The sound can disorient, and it helps pump you up as well. By this point hiding is pretty much out of the equation, so it doesn't really matter if they hear you or not.
The theory here is simple: your average shooter is not a trained fighter. They may have taken a self defense course or two, but in general, they'll be amateurs. They'll also likely be in fight or flight mode themselves. The brain does funny things in a situation like that. It tends to shut down critical thinking. Fine motor skills go right out the window. That's why soldiers spend so much time training. It's not so much that you don't have time to think in a life or death situation as you physically can't. Drilling vital skills into your body as muscle memory is vital, because you'll be running on almost pure reflex. You have no idea how much time I've put into practicing something relatively straightforward like reloading, because it is insanely easy to screw up in the heat of the moment.
The average shooter won't have that training, and won't know what to do when someone takes them by surprise. The body instinctively tries to throw the hands up to protect the face when something unexpected comes flying at it, which is why you start of by throwing stuff. The instinct is to keep the hands up around the face and head when people start swinging things at it, and if you keep swinging and don't let up, they might not recover.
In a situation like that, fight or flight is on your side. Blindside the shooter and attack with as much ferocity as you can manage and there's a very real chance you can take them out of the fight. Multiple people working together stand an even better chance, especially if someone can get in close enough to grab the weapon. Get the weapon pointed away from everyone else and there's not a whole lot they can do. If you can subdue them, fine. If all you can really do is beat them to a bloody pulp, well, do what you have to. Most self defense laws have clauses making excessive force illegal, but frankly, it's not bloody likely that you'll be held accountable for taking out an active shooter unless you purposefully torture them or something.
You need to know, however, that going into a fight like that is still dangerous. One of the first things that any competent self defense instructor will teach you is that, if you get into a fight, you will get hit. In a knife fight, you will get cut. And in a situation like this, you may very well get shot. Fighting the shooter is your last resort because, if any part of the plan fails, you stand a very good chance of getting shot. Everything could go perfectly and you could still take a bullet. Do not fight unless you absolutely have to.
If the worst happens and you or someone you know does get shot, there are a couple of very simple things you can do that might save their life. First: get to safety. First aid is pointless if you're still being shot at. Secondly, take a second to examine them. A gunshot would will almost always have a corresponding hole on the other side. Next step is to stop the bleeding. Pressure is your best friend here. Apply pressure directly to the wound and hold it. If you can improvise a dressing out of something, maybe a strip of cloth, do so. Unless you have a first aid kit, keeping the wound sterile is going to be impossible. Do what you can, but don't let yourself bleed out just because you can't find sterile gauze. Direct pressure works wonders at stopping bleeding. Seriously, you'd be amazed.
If, however, the bleeding doesn't stop from pressure, you may have to resort to a tourniquet.
Before we continue, lemme add a disclaimer. Do not apply a tourniquet to anyone but yourself or maybe a close family member. Unless you're a trained doctor, nurse, or medic, you will probably screw it up, and then you might be held liable. It sounds cold to put it like that, but it's the truth. Do what you think is right, but I highly advise that you don't try to put a tourniquet on anyone but yourself or a close family member.
Now that we've got that out of the way, here's how this works. A tourniquet essentially squeezes shut all the veins and arteries in the limb, preventing the blood from leaking out. Notice I said limb. It will not work on a torso, and for the love of god, don't put a tourniquet around someone's neck. That's called murder, and we're trying to prevent that here. Once you shut off bloodflow, the tissue below the tourniquet will only survive for so long. If left on for more than a few hours, amputation is pretty much the only option. This is a last resort, folks. Better to lose a leg than an arm than your life, but if you don't have to lose either, that's even better.
Anyway, the first thing you do is find something like a belt to wrap around the limb. Belts are particularly effective for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they're wide enough that they can shut off bloodflow without cutting into the flesh. Secondly, belt buckles are sturdy enough that you can really winch the thing down without worrying about breaking it.
Anyway, once you've got the thing wrapped around the limb and secured in place, you need to find a windlass. A windlass is the technical term, but what you need to be thinking is something along the lines of a sturdy rod or stick. Ideally, something long, thin, and sturdy. Insert the windlass under the tourniquet, in between the material and the skin, and then start to twist. As you turn the windlass, it'll wrap the tourniquet tighter and tighter, and will eventually shut off bloodflow to the wound. Keep turning until the bleeding stops, then secure the windlass to keep it from coming loose.
Ideal placement for a tourniquet is about two inches above the wound. If a joint is in the way, like a knee or an elbow, two inches above the joint.
Do not cover the tourniquet. With a little luck, the patient will get medical help before the limb starts to die, but the first responders have to know it's there.
Do not remove the tourniquet. It only works so long as it's in place, and taking it off will just make the bleeding start again. Medical personnel can safely remove it, so let them handle that part.
If possible, write a T on the forehead of the patient. That should let the doctors know there's a tourniquet in place. If you can write the time it was placed, even better. Lets them know how long it's been there, so they can have a better idea of whether or not the limb can be saved.
In the event of a gunshot wound to the chest (which is more survivable than you think, by the way), you run the chance of encountering tension pneumothorax. Basically, that's what happens when the space around the lungs fills up with air, and makes it hard for the lungs to expand properly. Unless you've been trained to do a needle chest decompression, there's not a whole lot you can do to treat it, so it's best to prevent it, which is easy enough. When you're applying pressure to the wound, place something like a plastic bag over it and secure it in place. Grocery bags work well in a pinch, but nearly anything will work. I've even heard of people using ID cards. The idea is to keep air from getting in, so whatever you use, make sure it's airtight.
Anyway, that's the long and the, well, long of it. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, my inbox and the comments section are open.