Conversation: Reacting to Active Shooter Situations
Scott Stewart: Hello I'm Scott Stewart and I'm here with my longtime colleague and good friend, Fred Burton. And we wanted to take some time to talk about active shooter scenarios. You know Fred, we see a lot of active shooter scenarios going on. It's something that we've seen in relation to terrorism, as you know, and as you and I have been talking about for years, we've had this de-evolution of the terrorist threat from one based on these professional terrorist operatives to one based on grassroots terrorist operatives. But also we see these active shooters from other sources, right?
Fred Burton: Absolutely. I mean, not only do you have the terrorism phenomenon that we have seen historically, not only in our careers with the State Department, but here at Stratfor. But you also have active shooters that come out of the mentally disturbed ranks, the disgruntled workforce, and it's one of the primary questions that we get here at Stratfor, with a range of different subscribers in our corporate clients as to indicators of, not only want to look for, but how to react to an active shooter in any kind of environment.
Scott: And reaction is important. I mean, I think it's important for people to realize that that the police aren't always going to be there when something happens — it's going to take time. And a lot of the victims of these shootings are dead, really before the cops can get there. Especially in someplace like Kenya as opposed to Minneapolis, or someplace.
Fred: And breaking down the videotape, which you did a wonderful job on this week (that's on our website), I think one of the more interesting phenomena is when you look at the reaction of some of the victims. In essence you see a lot of people that freeze in place. They clearly were stuck on the X: did not know what to do. Whether it was a psychological reaction from the explosions, or the failure to recognize exactly what was taking place, many people in essence were stuck like deer in the headlights, and either trying to hide behind flimsy desks or walls — which the terrorists could literally shoot through. So I think that one of the more important aspects that you've written extensively about on the website is the ability to understand what is taking place with a high degree of situation awareness — and not paranoid to the aspect that freezes you, but just a heightened awareness. And then always think of a plan, always think of your exits, and have in your mind what are you going to do, god forbid, if one of these events starts to unfold in front of you.
Scott: Yes, absolutely. You know, the situational awareness, being aware of what's around you, looking for potential safe havens, looking for the exits. I mean, even in a workplace scenario, a lot of people don't even know where the emergency exits are out of their building. And it's even more pronounced, you know, if you're overseas in a mall or a hotel, or someplace like that. People really need to pay attention to those things. And like you said, it doesn't mean being paranoid or always looking for terrorist behind every bush. But just making mental notes as you go along: 'OK there's the exit there if something happens.' I think another thing that is critical is just having the mindset of these things happen. There are evil people in the world, there are crazy people in the world that want to kill, that want to hurt people. And if you have that attitude, and you have the right type of situational awareness, then when something happens you don't go into denial. You know, it allows you to recognize, in many cases — and this was also in Westgate — I saw, when looking at the interviews with some of the survivors, people were denying that the shots had been fired. And when they deny it they just sit there and freeze or don't react. And that really prevents it — you need to have what we used to call "attack recognition". And to be able to recognize the attack you need that right mindset.
Fred: Absolutely. I mean, if you look in today's society, whether you're in the United States or overseas, I would venture to guess that most people don't go into a public space, whether it be a mall or a hotel, and first look towards potential cover versus concealment kinds of locations as well as exits or [think] 'where am I going to go?' in the event of an active shooter in the workplace or in this kind of public space. It's one of the first things that I do when I check into hotel, not only from a fire hazard perspective, but try to identify my emergency exits. And I run through in my mind — if an event starts to unfold, what am I going to do? Therefore when you recognize that, and it could be the first gunshot, it could be the first grenade explosion, or some sort of loud noise, you have in your mindset that you know what to do to get yourself out of harm's way. And I think one of the important variables here (that you and I were discussing in the officer earlier) is that distance factor. Meaning: move away from the threat as fast and as far as you can, as quickly as you possibly can.
Scott: Absolutely, that's one of the things that people need to realize — [it's that] most of these criminals and militants really don't shoot well. Which is a good thing. And so the more distance… You know, we have an acronym that we've used, with the movement, distance, angle, cover and concealment. But the more movement you can do, the more distance you can put between yourself and that shooter [the better]. And the angle. If you're running dead away you're easier to hit, but if you run at an angle they've got to move, sweep the gun — it's harder for them to hit. And you know, most fatal shootings (and we saw this again in the Kenya situation) the guys were walking right up to these people prone on the floor and shooting them at 3 feet. So it's much more difficult to hit a target if they're moving at 30 feet or 300 feet than if they're laying prone at 3 feet. So even in cases like the Colorado theatre shooting, most of those people were shot at point blank range. So the more distance you can get, the better. And that comes from reacting.
Fred: It does, and it also comes from that situational mindset which we write about extensively here are at Stratfor. Meaning, if you go over and you think in context and look back at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, there was something unusual with the shooter: going out the exit in a dark theater setting. That should have been a mental clue to the point that something's not right with this picture. But the mindset again is one that you're not thinking that this could be some sort of active shooter scenario. And I always want to look at these kinds of events and think what would have happened if someone had stood up and either followed the shooter out? Or stood up and left? Or grabbed their loved ones or significant other or whoever they're with, to try to exit out of that theater and, literally, live to see another movie. Chances are that nothing would have happened, perhaps, but you really never know. So again, I think one of the biggest takeaways is the importance of the situational awareness and recognizing that these events can unfold pretty much anywhere.
Scott: Absolutely. And you know, a lot of people made fun of the DHS movie, the run, hide, fight thing. But really, that gives you an easy [way to remember]. It's kind of like stop, drop and roll. But at least it gives you some kind of rule. Obviously we want people to get away, to run. But if you can't, if you're trapped, if you find yourself in a situation — then you need to hide. And you need to pay a lot of attention to the difference between cover and concealment. Just because you're hidden it doesn't mean they can't shoot through things to get you. You know most of these buildings today, with this drywall construction, just don't provide any cover. So even if you're inside a room, if you can lock the door, if you can put heavy things in front of the door, you still want to try and find additional cover behind desks or filing cabinets, or things like that. So those things are important. Of course, you also have that fight aspect, when you're in that situation you have to get absolutely savage and protect yourself and survive and do what you need to do to keep yourself alive, and your family.
Fred: Very well said.
Scott: Well, thank you very much for being with us in this video. We have a lot more information on our website at Stratfor.com pertaining to personal security, and keeping yourself, your family and your home safe.