30 Seconds to Surviving a Mass Shooting


A common reaction by individuals involved in a mass shooting is to hesitate, to disregard the sounds of gunshots or explosions as “it must be something else, a shooting could never happen here.” Don’t be fooled … mass shootings have occurred in workplaces, schools, churches, parking lots and other public places. When your life could be at stake, you must act quickly and always assume the worst.  If you think you hear gunshots, immediately exit the area - don’t wait for someone to tell you to run.  What is the worst consequence of being wrong - a little embarrassment?  But if you’re right, you can stay alive. The single best action you can take during a mass shooting is to exit the area as fast as you can and go as far away from the scene as possible.  But don’t just run. Be smart.  If the shooting is inside, take an outside exit away from the sounds of gunfire.  Once outside, move as quickly as you can.  If you come under fire, run in a zig-zag pattern, in short bursts of 2 -3 seconds if possible, taking cover behind cars or trees as you keep moving away.  Cars, buildings, thick trees, even drainage ditches or concrete curbs can provide cover in an emergency.

If you are inside or in a location where you cannot safely exit the area, seek cover as soon as possible. Look for building support beams made of concrete or steel, commercial copiers, freezers, or concrete or brick walls -- anything that will provide cover by stopping a bullet.

If you are given the order to shelter-in-place, do so immediately. Do not leave your location until rescued by first responders, even if you believe the attack has stopped.  Mass shooters often commence their attack, then pause to reload or go outside to secure more weapons or ammunition, then return to continue their killing spree. Even in small buildings, clearing an area of an armed gunman can take law enforcement officers hours, so do not leave your safe location until rescued by police.

If exiting the area or finding protective cover are not options for you, then consider finding the nearest place to hide or, as referred to in Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, seek concealment. Locate anywhere out of the shooter’s line of site.  In a movie theater this may mean simply dropping down in between rows of seats. In a warehouse, it could mean hiding behind a pallet of boxes.  Office personnel can seek refuge in closets, cabinets or behind partitions. The key to concealment is that it must be out of the shooter’s line of sight.  Individuals who have hidden under office desks or under cafeteria tables but in the path of the shooter have not fared well.

If you are in a crowd of people and being shot at and you have no way to exit, seek cover or find concealment. Even falling to the floor and playing dead has worked on numerous occasions.

The key to surviving a mass shooting is to quickly recognize the threat and safely exit the location.  If exiting is not possible, seek cover to protect yourself from bullets, or concealment out of the shooter’s line of sight. Remember -- always stay sheltered-in-place until rescued by first responders.


using cover for protection from bullets

Hiding when cover is not available

About the author: John Matthews is a highly decorated, thirty-year law enforcement veteran and public safety consultant who has developed scores of federal law enforcement initiatives.  He is a recipient of a Texas Press Association award for column writing, the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a firsthand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.