SEAL Steps to Surviving an Active Shooter

Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,

Ten minutes and 30 seconds.

That’s the national average time it takes a police officer to show up at the scene after a high-priority 911 call is received.

In many larger cities, including Los Angeles and New York, there are full-time officers assigned to SWAT operations. Yet statistically, their response time is approximately 20–30 minutes before they can get to the scene.

Smaller municipalities often have officers who are regularly assigned to other departments, although they are trained for “active shooter” incidents. It can take up to 45 minutes or longer for these units to respond.

Nearly 99% of the time, these critical situations are handled by regular patrol officers before SWAT ever gets there.

This is why it is your response time and what you do that really count.

Head up, Eyes Open

In this scenario, situational awareness means paying attention to exits, cover and people.

When going to a mall or market, or even during your first days of class at a new school, pay attention to the exits. Make a mental note of at least three options — preferably in three different directions. They could be as obvious as a set of double doors or as desperate as a second-floor window with a 10-foot drop onto pavement.

Second, observe the whereabouts of any large items or objects that seem sturdy enough to provide cover if needed and file this information. In some malls, for example, there may be a lounge area with furniture, sculptures or columns placed at regular intervals.

In a school, are the desks bolted to the floor? Do the windows open? Filled bookshelves in a library or the cooking and dishwashing equipment in a cafeteria will provide very good cover.

Third, look around at the people you pass while in public places or when you are among crowds. If you are at a mall, pay special attention to individuals who don’t seem to have the demeanor of the average shopper, so to say. Many times, these shooters imagine themselves as some type of militia or military imitators and could be wearing army boots or fatigues, while clearly identifiable as someone not in active duty.

Here is this same information condensed into a simple, easy-to-remember checklist:

  1. Know your exits.
  2. Locate places or objects that could serve as your nearest cover.
  3. Observe isolated individuals carrying large bags, such as duffel bags, or who are wearing unseasonably heavy clothing. Keep an eye on people who seem particularly nervous or are sweating. Watch individuals wearing military-style boots or clothes that are “out of place.”

Most importantly, trust your gut and be alert to someone or a situation that just doesn’t seem right so you can notify the proper authorities.

Shots Fired

People who have never heard the sound of gunfire often compare it to the sound of a car backfiring or a loud firecracker. But the discharge of a firearm in a closed environment, such as a mall or a classroom, is distinct and will leave no question that an assault of a deadly nature has begun.

As your ears begin to ring, you must understand that what you do in the first few seconds of this event will determine if you live or die.

Some people think that gunfire produces the smell of burning sulfur or gunpowder like at a fireworks display. However, modern ammo uses smokeless powder and is virtually odorless. Of all yours senses, initially trust your ears in this scenario — the sound of gunfire is unmistakably distinct.

In future articles, we’ll talk about how to move in an active shooter scenario — both individually and as a group. I’ll teach you how to tell where gunfire is coming from and how to set an ambush. And we’ll discuss how to interact with law enforcement once they arrive on the scene.

Be a survivor… not a statistic,

Cade Courtley

Cade Courtley

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