Active Shooter Response: The Flaws of “Run, Hide, Fight”

Evolving city police agency approaches can better protect soft targets against future threats. Pictured are victims photos on paper flowers placed at a mass shooting memorial. active shooter response
Image: AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

Active shooter response training is a crucial local law enforcement emergency planning activity. Consider “Move! Escape. Attack!”

Active shooter response incidents whether at universities, military bases or in public places typically follow the “Run. Hide. Fight” protocol. But one expert exposes flaws and proposes “Move! Escape. Attack!”

Move

The worst thing a potential victim can do in an active shooter situation is to freeze in position in a state of confusion or shock. Unfortunately, this is also the most likely response to sudden violence (even if just temporarily), so it’s vital to prepare people for this possibility, and get them thinking in advance about ways to recognize and fix this problem if it occurs. Forewarned is forearmed.

By commanding a person to “Move!” as the first step in the model, we are hoping to “break the freeze” and prompt them into action. The goal is to get the potential victim “off the X” and complicate the targeting solution for the shooter, while simultaneously jump-starting the mind into problem solving mode. Even a person who is not in the immediate vicinity of the threat will benefit from the freeze-breaking nature of the “move” command.

For victims near the shooter, it’s important the “move” command doesn’t require a time consuming or mentally taxing choice between options (which could prolong a freeze), only immediate compliance. Analysis and decision comes later, after the victim has helped himself by moving “off the X.” In training, the concepts of cover, concealment and angular movement (instead of running straight away from the shooter) can be addressed in conjunction with the “move” command.

What Now?

After the feet start moving, the brain engages and it’s time to analyze the problem and find the best solution for it.

In the “Run. Hide. Fight.” (RHF) model, a potential victim is advised to “run,” and if that’s not possible, to “hide,” and only if all other options have been exhausted, to “fight.” Fighting is clearly treated as a secondary option, compared to the primary “run” or “hide” alternatives, and can only be chosen as a last resort, when nothing else has worked. Actors in RHF training films are invariably depicted using force only when their barricaded hide position has been breached, cementing the idea that it’s not suitable as a primary response.

Accordingly, the RHF model lacks efficiency. It’s not flexible enough to permit someone to evaluate the problem, and choose the appropriate response from a set of equally viable options. Instead, it requires a time-consuming, inefficient, linear process of elimination — consider “run,” but if it doesn’t work, try “hide,” and if both fail, then — and only then — you can “fight.”

If one response is clearly a better choice than the others from the outset, then why consider the others at all? Wouldn’t it be better and faster if we went directly to the most appropriate tool for the job, instead of trying lesser tools first?

Absolutely, so at the decision point the new model presents two primary alternatives — “escape” or “attack.” Either can be immediately selected, depending on the circumstances, without laboring through a more complex and time consuming elimination process.

Escape

In this model, “escape” implies that the potential victim removes himself from the area of immediate danger. Actions that increase the time and distance between the shooter and victim, or decrease the shooter’s access to the victim, constitute “escape.”

Escape may be accomplished by finding temporary concealment (good), finding temporary cover (better), or fleeing the scene entirely (best), as the situation permits. It essentially combines the “run” and “hide” options of the old model into one, because a victim can entirely escape from the threat area, or merely escape the notice of the killer, within it.

The model proffers “escape” because it denotes purposeful movement. Blind and unthinking movement can lead to a literal dead end, from which no escape is possible, so prompting a victim to “escape” may provoke a more thoughtful selection of egress routes or hide locations than simply advising him to “run” or “hide.”

Escape training topics include locating and selecting exits (including nontraditional ones such as service doors, windows and loading docks), cover, concealment, and barricading, among others.

Attack

Attack is the presented alternative to “escape.” It is the second of two options in an “either-or” proposition, clearly indicating it as an appropriate primary choice for certain scenarios. There is no requirement to attempt and exhaust lesser means first, before selecting this course of action — if “escape” is not possible or appropriate, then “attack” becomes the default choice. Posing a binary choice between “escape” and “attack” simplifies and accelerates the decision, versus the three-part, linear, elimination process of RHF.

The use of the word “attack” instead “fight” is not accidental. “Attack” conjures a different emotional response than “fight.” To “attack” is to be proactive and aggressive. “Fighting” can be defensive, but an attack is clearly offensive. In an active shooter situation, we want to encourage this spirit of aggression in a potential victim. There are significant limits on the results we can expect from a simple public awareness campaign, but within those constraints, the emotional power of the word “attack” will do more to properly orient and commit a potential victim to using aggressive violence in self-defense than “fight.”

Sharpening The Edge

“Move! Escape or Attack!” represents an evolution in active shooter response training for the public. Just as “Run. Hide. Fight.” was advancement over the old “lockdown” model, this new model improves on what came before it. Police tactics for active shooter scenarios have consistently evolved through the years, and the public’s tactics must do the same. Our growing experience with this deadly threat must lead to constant improvements in our training and preparation for it.

About the Author

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis”, available in paper and electronic formats through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Apple ITunes and gundigeststore.com. Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

About the author

PoliceOne

PoliceOne

PoliceOne.com is the leading online resource for the law enforcement community.