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Tips for surviving an active shooter attack

In just a few years, attacks at public venues (schools, the workplace, shopping malls) have become all too common. Firearms and bombs seem to be the preferred weapons. Aside from becoming aware of a bomb, and vacating the premises, there isn’t much a person can do to avoid injury or death. But when an “active shooter” is on site, other options do exist.

According to Lieutenant Rob Pendleton and Lieutenant Dean Boone of the Snellville police department, when an active shooter is present, the best protocol is to, “Avoid, Deny and Defend”, a protocol developed by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. 

In their seminars, Lieutenants Pendleton and Boone note that most people don’t acknowledge a potential threat when it arises. It’s a natural human tendency to think “nothing bad could happen here”, so a common response to the sound of a gunshot is to think it was something else, such as a backfire or fireworks. And while most people don’t want to go running out of a building every time they hear a strange noise, failure to at least consider that something that sounds like a gunshot is in fact a gunshot, can delay life-saving action. 

Avoiding an active shooter is the preferred first option, and the best avoidance technique is to vacate the premises. If that’s not possible, the next step is to deny- take whatever measures are necessary to prevent the shooter from gaining access to your location. Sometimes that’s as simple as locking and/or barricading the door to an office or room. If you can’t deny access, the next step is to defend yourself, by whatever means possible.

An important step in being able to avoid an active shooter, or a variety of other potential hazards, is to be aware of your surroundings. Whether it’s a familiar location or one you have never before visited, you should always note the locations of potential exits should you need to leave and the primary exit path is blocked or inaccessible. Being aware of escape paths is vital to survival in the event that an active shooter is present, or if any other life-threatening situation arises, such as a fire or building collapse. As soon as possible after escaping, call 911. Having first responders arrive quickly will help save the lives of people who didn’t escape. Your avoid strategy should also include a survey of the people around you. Suspicious activity is usually a precursor to a life threatening event. 

According to ALERRT, “most active shooters use the building as a natural barrier from the inevitable law enforcement response. This is the reason most who commit this act remain inside the structure”. As long as an active shooter is on premises, he or she may well be in search of targets, hence the deny protocol. The best way to deny access is to move to a room or office and lock the door if possible. Next, barricade the door with furniture or other large objects. Place as many obstacles as you can between you and the shooter; each obstacle will further delay the shooter from gaining access to you and increase the chances that law enforcement will arrive before the shooter can harm you.

Turning off the lights is another important step. According to ALERRT, “This will aid you in two ways. First, it will give the appearance that the room you are in is empty and that the shooter should continue past your location to find more victims. Second, if the shooter does gain access into your room, the darkness will be to his disadvantage.  You will have been inside this darkened environment and your eyes will become dark-adapted. The shooter will be coming from light to dark, giving you the advantage of sight over the shooter if forced to defend yourself.”

When all else fails, you have to defend yourself. The advice from ALERRT is blunt in this regard. “It is important to remember that the shooter is trying to kill you. If you find yourself in a situation where your attempt to avoid and deny has failed to keep you from becoming a victim, you must defend yourself or die. Hiding under a desk like in a tornado drill will only delay the inevitable. Prepare to fight for your life. In most situations, the shooter is outnumbered by the victims 10 to 1, or 20 to 1, or even 50 to 1.  These are pretty good odds if you can get two or three others to help you swarm the shooter while he is at a disadvantage. Do not fight fair. Use improvised weapons (fire extinguishers, printers, heavy staplers, scissors, broom handles) and attack the shooter’s weak spots.”

For additional tips on the best responses to an active shooter, listen to the podcast featuring Lieutenant Pendleton at, 

Dave Emanuel is Vice President of Random Technologies, a manufacturing company in Loganville, and a Snellville City Councilman. To read more from Dave Emanuel visit