• Joe Gilbert

How To Survive An Active Killer Attack

Updated: Aug 25





Let’s move past the elephant in the room. The only way to stop an active killer is with effective fire. Who wields the fire is irrelevant and the decision to go armed or allow employees to be armed is an individual decision. Period.


When considering your response, one fact stands firm, the faster the response, the fewer the casualties. It’s obvious that we can’t count on law enforcement to quickly eliminate the threat, nor emergency medical personnel to provide lifesaving care. This is not an overall condemnation of law enforcement; however, we don’t get to decide who responds. We’ve too often seen law enforcement sit outside while innocent lives are lost. Additionally (as the casualty count is a function of time) even the most effective response from law enforcement won’t be initiated until someone calls for help. Our first priority is to escape harm not call for help, thus delaying response. Once on scene the first priority of law enforcement is to stop the threat. Only when they deem the scene secure (often too late) will medical personnel begin the lifesaving work. More obvious than ever, we need to affect our own rescue and be prepared to manage wounds.


Good decisions are made in advance and acted on in the moment. We need to identify our particular risks and develop our plan now. Let’s get started.


The vast majority of violent acts are motivated by one of the following: economic gain, customer/client retribution, worker-on-worker disagreement, personal relationship problems, warped ideology, or is peer driven. Retail establishments are a target for economic gain, and medical and law offices are likely to be targeted by a client as a form of retribution. Beyond risk mitigation, preparedness can mean the difference between life and death. There is no accurate specific demographic profile for an active killer. They may have marital problems, be socially awkward, suffered loss of employment, or have drug or legal problems. Most of us have suffered similar problems and never considered violence as an appropriate response.


De-escalation should be at top of mind when dealing with conflict and we can’t afford to let our own sources of frustration (at home or work) aggravate the situation. We must break any chain of events that will intensify our interaction. Being perceived as disrespectful or challenging is a major trigger. To effectively communicate we need first go to the place of the person and carefully bring them to us. Just as when dealing with a child, we must think of their perspective and communicate appropriately. If we are dealing with a person who lost a loved one, we must go to them emotionally and gently guide them back. If a person is frustrated by an inability to obtain service, we can go to them by recounting our own frustration. Handling unrealistic demands can be challenging. Zoe Chance (Yale) refers often to her magic question “what would it take?” and Chris Voss (former FBI chief hostage negotiator) asks a similar question “how can I do that?” both employ tactical empathy and may provide a solution we’ve not thought of. Well Chosen words with appropriate and measured emotion are key. We usually need to ask multiple levels of the same question to identify the underlying issue.


Unfortunately, being diligent is not enough; we must be prepared to respond to a violent attack. Most of us are aware of the “Run Hide Fight” model; however, I don’t believe this frames the components of action as effectively as possible. Again, well chosen words and a bit of digging deeper are required.


Proper framing and understanding of what we must do to survive is best accomplished using the Escape/Deny/Attack-back model. Understanding what an active killer needs to be successful and what we need to survive drives this model. We are not running; we are escaping. We are not hiding; we are denying the needs of the active killer. We are not fighting; we are attacking back to save our life!


We must ESCAPE if able, not run to a place where we are trapped. We must leave personal effects behind and (if possible) grab our go-kit and guide others out and to a designated rally point.


We must Deny the killer access to more victims. If egress points are blocked, move to the closest strongpoint and once inside deploy strongpoint security devices. Move everyone to the most secure location within the strong strongpoint, check everyone for wounds, silence all cellphones, call for law enforcement, and remain calm and prepare to attack-back if the strongpoint is breached. If the strongpoint is also a secondary egress point, deploy strongpoint security devices to stop the killer prior to egress.


If we Attack back, be prepared to use improvised weapons, act without hesitation, and know that outnumbering the attacker can create an overwhelming force. This is not a linear strategy, we may move from one mode to another to affect escape.


Lastly, we must know what to expect and how to react when law enforcement arrives. They likely won’t know whom you are and no aid will be rendered until the scene is secure. Let them do their job.


To be most effective, these strategies require implementation of a formal plan, training and practice for best chance of survival.


Good decisions are made in advance, act now!

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