Run. Hide. Fight.
This is the best advice experts have for the rest of us should we find ourselves literally under the gun of an active shooter. It’s cold comfort, but it just might save your life.
On Feb. 15, Pacifica Police Detective Sgt. Duane Wachtelborn invited about 30 local residents into the station’s conference room to hear state-of-the-art defense protocols should someone with a gun open fire in our schools, workplaces or places of worship. While this might once have seemed like a very remote possibility, the steady drumbeat of news from places like Lansing, Mich., Monterey Park, Calif., and even Half Moon Bay has put us all on alert.
Wachtelborn has done a lot of thinking about active shooters. (The more correct term of art is “mass casualty incidents” since the weapon next time might be a truck or a knife or some other deadly implement.) He trains other law enforcement personnel on the protocols, even designing steal-plated vests that hold specialized equipment that might be needed to neutralize a shooter.
He devoted an informative hour and a half to educating citizens who, by their very presence, signaled concern over a changed world. He showed videos from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed to put us in the mindset of people caught in the crossfire of simulated mass shootings.
Run. Wachtelborn echoed the advice of the FBI and others who say your best bet once you hear gunfire is to run in the opposite direction. It might not seem heroic but can keep you from getting shot.
Hide. This option is more difficult than it might seem. Wachtelborn noted that there is a difference between merely ducking out of view — say behind chairs or a table that wouldn’t stop a bullet — and putting a concrete wall or bullet-proof glass between yourself and the assailant. Hiding might not remove you from the scene. Given enough time, the shooter might find you. But it can buy you enough time while law enforcement works to neutralize the threat.
Fight. If there is nowhere to run or hide, all that is left is to fight with whatever is at hand. We learned that fire extinguishers make good weapons. Even throwing something as innocuous as paper clips at the suspect can disrupt his plan and give those in harm’s way precious time. Wachtelborn took a nuanced position about whether the rest of us should be armed. He suggested that if we took firearms training seriously and accepted the liability of shooting a gun that it can be an effective way to stop a shooter in certain circumstances. He did not suggest everyone buy a gun today and tuck it in our purses and briefcases.
We wish there was good news to report when it comes to mass shootings like the one that shocked Half Moon Bay last month. Police agencies change their tactics in response to painful experience. They jettison some techniques — like creating a perimeter and waiting for SWAT to get to the scene — in favor of quick action. But the shooting and dying continues, day after day. Nothing we’ve done since Columbine in 1998 has significantly reduced the likelihood of someone with a gun terrorizing our community.
The FBI reports there were 333 active shooter incidents across 43 states between 2000 and 2019. All told, 2,851 people — including 80 police officers — died in those events. But that is old news. The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 71 mass shootings in the first 46 days of 2023. That is the most for any six-week period in the 12 years the organization has been collecting the data.
It is incumbent upon all of us to be prepared, just as we must be ready for an earthquake. Remember: Run, hide, fight. It’s advice that might save your life.
— Clay Lambert
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