If you’re like most people, you’ve probably thought about what you would do if there was a fire in your home. You may have worked out a plan that your family has practiced, or at least considered the best escape route to take should you find yourself trapped by a fire. But have you ever thought about what you would do if you found yourself in a violent situation in your workplace, or on a school or college campus?
Perhaps you should.
School shootings and workplace violence incidents have certainly become more prevalent. It’s hard not to read your Twitter news feed or watch your favorite news channel without learning about another tragic event. Even with these violent acts occurring so frequently, the odds are you will never personally experience such a traumatic incident in your lifetime. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t think about how you will react in these life-threatening situations.
In the off chance that you do become involved in such an incident, how prepared are you to protect yourself and others from harm?
The Out Safe system is a framework of action steps that I developed for anyone who becomes involved in an active shooter incident or violent situation. The system is designed to keep you safe by giving you easy-to-remember options to choose from. Out Safe has 5 steps:
- Figure Out
- Hide Out
- Call Out
- Get Out
- Fight Out
You do not have to take each step in order. In fact, depending on the situation you are facing, some of the steps will be skipped and some will very likely be taken simultaneously with other steps. Think of Out Safe as a set of options you could choose from to keep you and others safe from harm. Let’s talk about each step.
This simply means maintaining self-awareness in order to recognize the sound of something bad happening in your surrounding environment. This could include:
- Glass breaking
- Arguing or yelling
- The sounds of physical confrontation
If you recognize that something bad is happening or is about to happen, the most important thing to remember is to take immediate action. Don’t hesitate to act. Hesitation or inaction could result in harm to yourself or those around you.
Since there really is no safe place in these situations, go to a “safer” place. This could be a locked room with a wall or corner safe from direct gunfire. You may have to direct others to come with you, as you will find some people will freeze up and not know what to do during an emergency. Remember, inaction could expose you to further danger. Secure your position by locking and blockading any doors. Close any window shades or blinds so no one can see inside. Active shooters are more likely to pass by a room that appears locked and unoccupied. Further, it is vitally important to remain quiet, including silencing your cell phone. Sounds from within your safer place could give away your position
You will likely do this at the same time you proceed to hide out. You should immediately call 911 to start a law enforcement response. Don’t hesitate to do this, even if you think others have already called. Seconds count in these situations and an immediate law enforcement response is vital. Be prepared to give detailed information to the 911 operator in order to direct law enforcement directly to the crisis point.
Get out of the area of the crisis point if it is safe to do so. This includes leaving your safer place if you feel your life is in imminent danger. If you choose to get out, quickly move away from the crisis point and find an area where you will not be exposed to direct gunfire. Call out if necessary and wait there until you receive further instruction from law enforcement.
If the suspect enters your “safer” area and you feel your life is in imminent danger, you may have to fight your way out as a last resort. In choosing not to fight out, you are simply waiting to become the next victim. You have to start mentally preparing yourself to do this now.
If based on your circumstances you choose the option to fight, you have to be 100% committed to your actions. Rally others to fight with you. Use all available weapons, including chairs, backpacks, keys, and other objects to throw at or strike the shooter with. You should attack vulnerable areas on the shooter, including the groin, throat, and eyes in order to disrupt his or her ability to pull a trigger. The ultimate goal here is take control of the shooter and any weapons until law enforcement arrives. Are you exposing yourself to danger by doing this? Yes, of course you are. But think of the alternative if you choose to do nothing.
In readying yourself for future crises, it is important to develop a survival mindset. This involves playing “What if?” games, or imagining yourself in a crisis situation and developing personal contingency plans to keep you and others safe. Decide on actions you could take to survive in that imagined scenario. This way, if something bad really happens, you at least have a plan in mind – the same way you do by thinking about a fire safety plan in your home. As you play these “What if?” games, keep telling yourself, “I will survive!” With this, you are mentally preparing yourself not to quit, no matter what you are faced with.
Out Safe gives you options for survival and helps you develop your survival mindset. Write these options down on a piece of paper and post it in a place where you will see it every day. Underneath these survival options write, “I will survive!” as a constant reminder of your willingness to do whatever it takes to keep you and others safe during an active shooter or workplace violence incident. Although it’s unlikely you will ever need your plan, the simple act of preparing one can provide piece of mind.
David Jannetty is the Academic Program Manager for the John P. Burke School of Public Service Master of Public Administration program at Post University, and a retired assistant deputy police chief with the Waterbury, CT Police Department. Jannetty has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, public safety, and emergency management.