Gunman. Fatally wounded. Active shooter. These phrases are more and more common today, as active shooter incidents have become an unfortunate reality of our society in recent years. But first, what is an active shooter? The FBI defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” According to this definition, then, between 2014 and 2015 there have been a total of 40 active shooter incidents (20 in each year alone) in the United States. This number has increased since 2013, when there were 17 active shooter incidents nationwide.
Most of these incidents involve innocent people who have been randomly targeted. The unpredictable nature of these active shooter incidents can understandably lead the general public to feelings of apprehension and helplessness. To quell anxiety and to equip people with knowledge about what to do in an active shooter situation, the Department of Homeland Security offers the following advice:
- Be aware. When you are in a building, office, mall, etc., be alert for possible dangers and identify at least two emergency exits in the surrounding area.
- In the event that there is an active shooter, leave the area and/or building as quickly as possible. This is not a time to gather belongings, and even if other people don’t follow, you should evacuate immediately.
- If evacuation is not an option, attempt to hide in a location that would make it difficult for the shooter to see you and/or get to you (such as behind a cabinet or desk). Locking and blocking doors, as well as remaining quiet and still, are other important actions to take.
- If possible, call 911. Even if you can’t speak for fear that the shooter will hear you, leave your phone on for the dispatcher to listen.
- This is the absolute last resort, only to be used if you have exhausted the previous options and your life is in “imminent danger.” At this point, you can take action by throwing objects, yelling, using “improvised weapons,” and behaving as aggressively as possible toward the shooter.