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Monday, November 26, 2018

Can Your Character Survive an ACTIVE SHOOTER?

In this post, I am sharing with you my notes from a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, with the permission of Officer Eckridge.

In my novel, Reliance, Sterling is a metal witch who is a good-guy acting in a bad guy's role. She is the hostage taker. She is the criminal element. If she's going to save lives, she has to be ready to take lives, too. See how I used the class in live shooter survival to plot a bank robbery.


An active shooter who is engaged in killing or attempting to kill people will in most cases be using a firearm and choosing his victims randomly, though he is looking for soft targets. (I use the masculine pronoun throughout as most mass shooters in the United States are white males.) 

Typically, law enforcement is needed to stop the shooting and mitigate harm. The shooter will often stop when they hear the police sirens. 

An active shooting event will most likely be over in ten to fifteen minutes. Before the police can get there, your characters must be prepared mentally and physically to deal with the situation. Until there is police on scene, it is up to your characters to save themselves. Are they up to the task?


  1. They must quickly determine the most responsible way to protect their lives. If they are an employer or boss, customers or underlings will naturally follow the lead of the employee or manager in this kind of situation. In their minds, they are the authority.
  2. Cell phones should be silenced but NOT turned off. Your character should dial 911 but not say anything if they might be overheard. (More on this in a moment.)
  3. EVACUATE - If there is an acceptable escape path, your character should attempt to escape the area.
    1. Have an escape path in mind.
    2. Evacuate regardless of whether the other characters agree or follow along.
    3. Your character must leave their belongings behind - EXCEPT for those items that are pivotal to their survival such as a phone set to make no noise, keys, a make-do weapon. Wait! Your character forgot the pass that would get her through the locked doors? Bummer of a plot twist.
    4. Help others escape if possible.
    5. Have your character run in a zig zag.
    6. Hallways and doors are fatal funnels. Your character should avoid or move fast.
  4. Call 911 once your character is safe to do so. They shouldn't assume someone else called 911; every character should call 911 and, without putting themselves at risk, to the best of their ability tell the operator:

    1. location
    2. number of shooters
    3. physical description of the shooter
    4. number of weapons and the type of weapons the shooter ahs
    5. number of potential victims

  1. The character should find a place where the shooter is less likely to go.
  2. The hiding place should be:
    1. Out of the shooter's view
    2. They should hide behind large items like cabinets or desks that provide protection if shots are fired in your character's direction. 
    3. Do not put them in a place where they could be trapped or their options would be restricted (or do - plot twist!)
    4. Lock the door and block it with heavy furniture.
    5. Turn off ANY source of noise, radio etc. as it pulls attention in your direction.

  • If your character is stuck in place - 

    1. Try to barricade the area and prevent the shooter from entering.
    2. Do not attempt to move wounded people

    1. Fighting should ONLY happen when there is imminent danger.
    2. Your character should attempt to distract or incapacitate.
    3. Act as AGGRESSIVELY as possible against him. 
    4. Once your character starts, your character cannot stop until the situation is neutralized. No matter how tired, no matter how hurt, no matter what, your character must engage and stay engaged or they will most likely die (and that would be a terrible plot twist)
    5. Throw items
    6. Improvise weapons. A pen, a screwdriver, a stapler, a chair, a fire extinguisher, anything and everything is fair game.
    7. This is kill or be killed time. Your character must make the decision and commit to it.
    8. Your character MUST NOT draw their weapon and go hunting for the live shooter -- the cops will kill your character.


    Up until Columbine, the responding officer would contain the area and wait for SWAT. Now, an officer will go in and try to take the gunman down. When writing, remember the year that you are plotting out. Pre-Columbine v. Post-Columbine. This is post-Columbine information:
    • Your character must keep their hands visible and EMPTY. If your character has something in their hands, it might confuse the police (plot twist!)
    • They should follow police instructions
    • If your character has a weapon, they should keep their hands up and visible and tell the officers.
    • Your character should not reach for ANYTHING - a cell phone can be misunderstood.
    • Your character must understand that the police have one purpose and that's to stop the active shooter as soon as possible. The officers will go directly to the area where the last shot was heard.
    • Officers may be wearing regular patrol uniforms or they may be dressed in tactical wear that includes helmets, bullet resistant vests and other equipment.
    • Officers may be armed with handguns, rifles, or shotguns.
    • Officers may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation.
    • Officers may shout commands, they might push your character to the ground for their safety. This won't be gentle. They are trying to get people safe fast.
    • Some of your characters might freeze. The officers may need to push them.
    • Your character should avoid quick movements around the officers and not do things like cling to the officers and restrict the officer's visual field or capacity to react (Or do, who am I to tell you how this plot goes.)
    • Your character should avoid pointing, screaming, yelling
    • Your character shouldn't stop to ask for help or direction, instead they should exit the way they saw the police come in.

    • Characters are shut down
    • Characters are traumatized
    • The officers who responded did NOT stop to help the injured victims. Rescue teams will come in. These teams will be comprised of additional officers and medical personnel.
    • Rescue teams will treat and remove injured people. They may ask civilian characters to help removing the wounded from the premises.
    • Once your characters are in a safe location, they will not just go on their merry way. They will be assembled and they will be held. Expect at least nine hours on location.

    I hope this helped!
    Remember, I bring you my research to help enhance your reading experience and to edify your writing. 

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