(CNN) — It’s a nightmare scenario: you’re at a mall, shopping with a few friends, or maybe getting some last minute foods for dinner. Suddenly, you hear gunshots.
What are you doing?
It’s a reality that many of us have a hard time accepting, but given the frequency of mass shootings in the United States, experts say it’s something to consider.
In these days of active shooters, it is just as important as the “stop, drop and roll” instructions firefighters have taught for decades.
“You prepare for difficult and dangerous times with a what to do during a tornado or fire, so you need to be just as prepared for an active shooter situation,” Oakland County, Michigan Sheriff Michael Bouchard told CNN. “You need to have an exit strategy, a plan.”
The instant you hear gunshots, run.
“Being paralyzed in place is the worst thing to do. Seconds matter,” Jeff Butler, a former CIA and Navy SEAL agent, told CNN. “The first thing is to run. Do not stay crouched in place, if there is a viable exit nearby that takes you completely out of that space.”
Regardless of your location, be it a movie theater, bank, school building or any other place, become familiar with your surroundings, says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its guide in case of active shooter.
If you feel something is wrong, trust your instincts, report what you see and leave immediately.
DHS says to always keep in mind the location of at least two exits. When evacuating, leave all your belongings. And if you are with people who need help to escape and you can help, take them to the nearest exit. But don’t move anyone who’s already hurt.
When running, keep your hands visible so authorities don’t mistake you for an active shooter, and follow all police instructions, DHS says.
Once you are safe, call 911 if the police are not yet on the scene.
If you can’t run, the next best option is to hide.
Planning where you would hide is just as important as noticing the exits, experts say. Always look for places that provide cover and security in the event of a shooting in an area you cannot escape from.
“The active shooter event usually lasts about three minutes and you have to know exactly what you are going to do at those times,” Jean-Paul Guilbault, CEO of emergency and security management company Navigate360, told CNN. “This starts with visualizing yourself in that situation, having an exit plan, and knowing where to hide if you can’t evacuate.”
Navigate360 provides response training against an active shooter to help ordinary people survive these attacks.
Bouchard noted that a good hiding place is one that keeps you out of sight, provides protection from bullets, and is roomy enough to get out and run when possible.
If you’re in a confined space, turn off the lights, close and lock the door, and place something heavy, like a piece of furniture, in front of it, he added.
Don’t forget to silence your phone and any other electronic device that could give away your hiding place, says DHS.
Stay calm and, if possible, call 911 to report the shooter’s location to authorities. If you can’t speak, stay on the line so the caller can hear what is happening.
If you can’t run and there’s nowhere to hide, there’s only one option left: fight
Because facing an active shooter is extremely dangerous, experts say it should be done only as a last resort.
“On when to make an attempt to fight, wait for a reload,” said Butler, who helps design response plans against active shooters. “Use something that you can use as a hand weapon, something hard and heavy that he can hit with.”
Making your move while the shooter is reloading a gun helps even the fight, Butler said.
During your attack, scream as loud as you can and throw what you can, says Ready, a FEMA program. Try improvising a weapon using nearby items such as chairs, fire extinguishers, or scissors.
Commit to fighting and prepare to cause serious injury or death, says Ready.
“Fighting doesn’t just mean fighting. It means conquering,” Guilbault said. “When you’re in the same space as a shooter, make noise, create chaos, use whatever you have to confuse the attacker.”
You have the right to do whatever it takes to save your life or the lives of the people around you, even if it means deadly force, Bouchard said.
The only thing that matters in an active shooter situation is survival.
– Illustrations by Leanza Abucayan
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism