Lessons learned in civilian active shooter scenario training

Safariland instructors showed a group of trainees how to react when “hide and hope” is not an option in an active shooter situation

By Shelbie Watts, FireRescue1/EMS1 Editorial Assistant

“Have you thought of what you would do in an active shooter scenario?”

The question rang in my ears as I sat in a meeting room with my colleagues at the start of an active shooter training day led by Safariland. A few people raised their hands and shared their ideas on how we could escape our office building in the horrible event of a shooting, and I thought to myself, “I’m glad someone’s thinking about it.”

Luckily, I was about to become considerably more knowledgeable not only on how to escape, but also on how to defend and medically treat myself and others if tragedy should strike during the work day.

“To hide and hope is not a good strategy”

To start the training, Safariland instructors Sandy Wall, Brad Griffin and Terry Nichols laid out our three options in the event of an active shooter:

  • Run
  • Lock
  • Fight.

“To hide and hope is not a good strategy,” Wall said, adding that someone dies in an active shooter scenario an average of every 15 seconds in the time before responders arrive, so those on scene should take decisive action and find something to do.

Participants started out the training by learning some basics in the classroom.
Participants started out the training by learning some basics in the classroom. (Photo/Safariland)

The first option, running, turned out to be more complicated than I previously thought. According to the instructors, running is almost always the best option. However, if you have one plan of escape, you have zero, and if you have two plans you have one – because the shooter could be impeding your intended exit – so it helps to be creative. Can you break through a window? Is the wall in the bathroom sheetrock? Keeping an open mind about how to get out other than through the front door is vital to escaping active violence.

Locking yourself in a secure location is the second option when running is not possible. For this lesson, we exited the classroom into the bathroom, where the instructors showed us how to successfully barricade ourselves inside by simply laying a trash can on its side and lying down on the floor, utilizing our body weight to push the can against the door. We were surprised at how effective this tactic was. We each tried one by one while the instructor attempted to open the door, but the trash can always prevailed.

Defending yourself and others

When running and locking are not an option, it’s time to fight. Our instructors demonstrated several ways to strike the shooter if combat becomes necessary, including the hammer fist, the elbow strike and the good ol’ knee to the groin maneuver. While punching, striking and kneeing a pad held by my partner, I learned that the simplest moves can sometimes have the most powerful impact.

Sandy Wall instructs participants on self defense moves.
Sandy Wall instructs participants on self defense moves. (Photo/Safariland)

The instructors later built on the lesson by showing us how to strip the gun from the shooter while also using the defense skills we had just learned. We took turns prying a rubber gun from our instructors by pulling it down and out, or side to side, all while yelling in his face and kneeing him in the groin to get into character.

Tourniquets and wound packing

The last portion of training consisted of learning how to apply a tourniquet, how to effectively drag dead weight long distances and how to pack a wound. I can’t say reaching into someone’s wound and pinching their artery before packing in the gauze isn’t daunting, but the skills we learned are vital to saving the lives of the wounded before responders can arrive, and they aren’t as difficult to learn as the public might believe.

Participants practice tourniquet training.
Participants practice tourniquet training. (Photo/Safariland)

Putting our training to the test

Our training was put to the test after a long day of eye-opening lessons. Instructor Griffin donned an intense guard suit (which he said does not always do the trick when squaring up against “enthusiastic” trainees) and the real-life scenarios began.

In each drill, we were located in different areas of the building and instructed to use our run, lock, fight training when we heard the “gunshots” (the instructors used blanks). The anticipation of the terrifying sound was almost worse than the real thing. “What am I going to do?” I thought, even though the scenario was entirely staged. “What if my actions result in the ‘deaths’ of my colleagues?” My worrying was immediately broken by the simulated gunshots and all contemplation went out the window, as the instructors had previously warned would happen.

A participant practices defense moves against instructor Griffin.
A participant practices defense moves against instructor Griffin. (Photo/Safariland)

Thanks to the simple lessons we covered, over-thinking wasn’t necessary. I already knew how to run in a strategic way to get to safety, I already knew how to barricade myself in a secure location and I already knew how to defend myself if I came into close contact with the shooter. After the exercise, a horn was sounded and we went over what we did right, and what we could have changed for a more successful outcome.

I’d never say I’m ready for the real thing, and of course we all hope it will never happen, but I now have a new confidence in my abilities to save my own life (as well as the lives of my colleagues) if the situation should arise.

Utilizing active shooter training in your community

Partnering with vendors or other public safety agencies to provide simulated active shooter trainings in your community empowers citizens with crucial knowledge, such as how to save themselves and their peers in a high-pressure environment in the critical moments before help arrives. Creating resilient communities who can anticipate risk and limit its impact can decrease the amount of lives lost in acts of violence. 


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