When a gunman menaced a small Seattle college, a student pepper-sprayed the attacker, ending his rampage. Police say his actions likely saved lives.
When an armed couple who had already killed two police officers entered a Las Vegas Wal-Mart, a shopper with a concealed weapon tried to confront them and got killed. Police say he died “trying to protect others.”
And when an Oregon high school student fatally shot a classmate and wounded a teacher, the teacher made his way to an office and alerted officials. Police say he probably prevented additional deaths.
These scenarios, which all unfolded over the past week, demonstrate the risky and potentially life-saving decisions faced by anyone in the path of an active shooter. At a time when shootings seem to happen almost daily, how should Americans react if someone opens fire at work, at school or at a theater or store?
Q: What do experts say people should do in an active-shooter situation?
A: Bo Mitchell, president of 911 Consulting, tells his clients that their first goal is to run away. “If you see this happening far enough away from you that you don’t have to be part of it, we want you to run,” Mitchell said. If that’s impossible, he advises hiding in a room and locking the door. “Find a place that you can close up and barricade.”
Fighting back is a last resort. “You want to act with speed and total surprise, and you want to get a fire extinguisher or a pair of scissors or a chair and go after that guy because you have no other choice.”
The Department of Homeland Security also suggests fighting back, but only as a final option.
Q: Have police changed their response tactics?
A: Before the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, police response to mass shootings was slower and more deliberate. Patrol officers would often wait for a more heavily armed SWAT team to arrive and clear a building. But with active-shooter situations on the rise, authorities have changed their tactics to respond faster.
Now more local officers know how to fan out in teams to quickly eliminate the threat of a gunman, said Thomas Aveni, executive director of the New Hampshire-based Police Policy Studies Council.
Paramedics and firefighters are receiving the training, too, “to respond as quickly as possible, rather than wait for additional resources.”
Unlike 20 years ago, school-resource officers are commonly stationed in high schools and middle schools, with the goal of stopping problems before they become deadly, Aveni said.