Successful Tactics to Survive a Mass Shooting


An examination of successful tactics to survive a mass shooting by individuals who have survived these horrific incidents reveals that:

  • Locked or barricaded doors can slow or stop offenders; and
  • Playing dead (whether actually wounded or not) can save your life.

Both of these tactics are highlighted in Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival and have been successfully employed by victims during mass shootings or active shooter incidents.

1. Locked/barricaded doors can slow or stop offenders

On multiple occasions, especially in schools and workplaces, locking or barricading doors has proven to be a highly successful tactic. If you have an opportunity to lock the door with the offender on the outside, do so immediately.  If you do not feel that the lock will stop the shooter and you can safely move to barricade the door with chairs, tables, couches or other furniture, then do so.

You may be able to topple file cabinets (even if heavy) or other large items in order to impede the shooter’s path toward you. Often these obstructions will also serve as either cover or concealment and may frustrate the shooter in his attempt to enter so that he moves on to easier targets.

     Remember, mass shootings are usually not prolonged events.  They often take less than 12 minutes, so the offender usually does not have (or take) the time to shoot open a door and knock down a barricade to make entry.  Reports from survivors often recount how the shooter tried the lock or pushed on the door, but when unable to gain entry simply moved on, sparing the occupants inside. This is one of the main reasons school districts throughout the country practice lockdown procedures, and why corporations should implement these same successful tactics.

2. Playing dead has worked on a number of occasions

From the case analyses, I was surprised to discover that playing dead provided an extremely high survival chance during a shooting incident, regardless of whether the victims were previously injured or not. Upon closer analysis of these events I realized there is more than reasonable logic behind such a finding: during a mass shooting incident, especially when the shooter has a large number of targets (people) from which to choose, playing dead draws the least attention from the shooter.

Often shooters appear to be on a “mission” to kill as many people as possible.  If they believe they have already fatally wounded their targets, they may simply keep moving on to other victims instead of ensuring those already shot are dead.

Similar in nature to a locked door which slows down the attacker, most shooters move quickly through a location and do not take the time to check on each and every victim.  The possible exception to this might be if the shooter had a specific target or primary victim(s) in mind, such a student who bullied them or a boss who fired them, and they wanted to ensure that their attack had been successfully concluded.

It is important to note there appears to be no unified explanation as to why certain people decided to play dead. Some did it as a result of extreme fear, some did it because they were badly injured or immobilized, and some did it as a conscious strategy to stay alive.


Mass Shootings is John Matthews' most recent book and focuses on the information and techniques one needs to know in case they find themselves in a mass shooting scenario.