A man knocks on the door of a temple. He looks cold and tired, so the rabbi lets him in and makes him a cup of tea. The man pulls out a gun and takes the rabbi and three other people hostage. After eleven hours, the hostages escape unharmed, and the man is shot and killed by the FBI.
This event happened on January 15, 2022 at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Coleyville, Texas and rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and one of the hostages credit self-defense training against active threats for equipping them with the ability to get themselves and the other hostages safe. The rabbi compared it to CPR training saying “It is rarely needed, but crucial when the moment arises.” Like CPR, self-defense is training everyone should have.
In the United States, public schools and universities make active shooter training videos available to students but don’t provide practice with the techniques. And training in schools doesn’t reach everyone who needs this information. The more people who know how to react in an active shooter situation, the better the chances of everybody getting out safely.
RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. These are the three principles of active shooter safety. Learn and practice them to develop a readiness mindset and have a plan of action instilled in your mind and body. Always try to run from a threat if possible. If you can’t get away safely, look for places to hide until the threat is gone. If it’s too late to hide, think about how to effectively fight back against the threat until you can be safe.
To be ready to run, prepare yourself by knowing where you will run in a given situation. When you walk into a space, familiarize yourself with escape routes such as back doors, windows, and emergency exits. If a window inside a building is located high up, look around for items you could stack and climb to reach it. If possible, know where exits lead. You don’t want to find yourself in a locked stairwell or closed alleyway. In an outdoor area, look for the direction that offers the fastest
path to safety. Are there objects in your way or that could act as a helpful barrier? Are there people nearby, or a secure location?
If you hear sounds like firecrackers, see a gun, or observe something suspicious about a person’s clothes or behavior, don’t hesitate. Listen to your intuition and leave. That might be the first indication there is a threat. Grab your phone unless it is not easily accessible. Don’t stop when you are out of sight of the threat. Keep going until you are in a safe space. Then call or get help.
In the synagogue incident, one of the hostages knew where the exits were, so he was able to start planning his escape as soon as the attacker told him to sit down. He chose a seat with unobstructed access to an exit. He made excuses to get up from his seat so he could get close to the other hostages and share his plan with them. He comforted one and gave directions to another about food pickup from the chosen exit. The hostages worked together to inch closer to the exit.
Another escape strategy is to talk to an attacker with the goal that they will release you from the situation without physically harming you. Your word choice and behavior are critical. Talk calmly and respectfully. Let the attacker know you see them as human. Use empathy and try to develop a relationship. In the synagogue incident, the man was shouting and talking to the hostages as well as the F.B.I. The hostages talked calmly to the man and eventually he allowed one hostage to leave without harm.
If you get the chance to leave during an active shooter situation and there are police or other law enforcement outside, exit with your hands up and open to signal you aren’t a threat. Don’t put your hands down until told to do so.
If there is no time to escape from an active situation—the exits are blocked or you can’t get to one without being seen—get out of the shooter’s line of sight. If you can, run into an unoccupied area. Turn off the lights or move away from items that indicate a person is nearby, like food or an open laptop. Conceal yourself completely with an object but try to hide where you could leap out to fight back if discovered. Drapes, blankets, and gym mats have been used to hide from an active shooter. If the shooter doesn’t know you’re there, you may avoid physical harm.
If the shooter knows where you are but can’t readily strike you, you may avoid harm or buy enough time to plan how to fight back. Imagine you and your coworkers run into a storage room and barricade the door. As the shooter starts to break down the door, you can work together to determine who will go for the gun, who will go for the attacker’s head, and who will go for his feet. Or you hide behind a display and throw objects at the attacker’s face when they turn toward you. This might give you an opportunity to take control of the weapon or run. In the synagogue incident, one of the hostages used his feet to move chairs between him and the attacker. He acted very slowly to avoid detection. He was thinking ahead to create a barrier in case he needed it.
If running and hiding are no longer an option then it is time to get physical. If there are other people, you can coordinate who will do what to disable the attacker. If you are alone you look around and think about how to use items within reach. For instance, one of the hostages at the synagogue mentally rehearsed using his prayer shawl to wrap around the gun or strangle the attacker. Instead, when the attacker became more agitated and told the hostages to kneel, the rabbi pretended he was going to kneel but picked up a chair and threw it at the attacker, which gave the hostages time to run out the exit and escape.
Whichever strategy you use, form a plan and act immediately. If your mind goes blank or you freeze, think RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. That mantra gives you something to focus on, which helps control your mind and body’s response to the stress of the situation. If there are other people in the area, assign everyone a role and tell them what to do. Find out if someone has medical experience and tell them they are in charge of helping with injuries. Pick those willing and able to strike and tackle the attacker and tell them what part to target. Tell someone they are in charge of calling 911 for help.
For more information, The United States Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency posted the following video about active shooter scenario safety,
Take care, stay safe.