How to Stay Safe Before, During & After a Violent Crisis on Campus or Anywhere Else

campus safety

The recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School once more evidences how vulnerable our schools and colleges are to violence. The places we once thought of as safe havens for our children are now home to fear and anxiety and horrible tragedies. In the aftermath of the Florida shootings, a young friend, with input from people in the military, law enforcement and risk management backgrounds, has sent me some recommendations that I want to share with you. Their application is not limited to schools and colleges. As he writes: “The guide is not meant to be taken as gospel but it also isn’t a joke – these steps, and others, may help save your life and the lives of your loved ones. Military or law enforcement training is not essential to being prepared – there are steps you can take starting today to ensure you know what to do and how to react to an attack. Remember the standard regression rule of ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ – run first, if you can’t run then hide, if you can’t hide then fight – but use the tips below to strengthen aspects of preparation and action. I truly hope no one, anywhere, will ever need these lessons.”

Here is the guide. I know it’s long but it’s worth taking the time out to read.


(1)   Know basic medical care –You don’t need to be a paramedic/EMT to save someone’s life or keep him or her safe during an attack once you are out of harm’s way. CPR is a great tool but won’t necessarily help in a mass-casualty incident. Field dressings can be fashioned from clothing and are quick and relatively easy to apply, but you need to know where on the body they can be properly used. Some injuries might require the fastening of a makeshift arterial tourniquet, such as a belt, or even applying sustained direct pressure. Take a tactical trauma first-aid class for training on these and other life-saving methods. It may only be a few minutes before professional medical help arrives on the scene of an attack, but using that time wisely can be the difference between life and death for the injured.

(2)   A whistle and light – Carrying these two small objects – both can fit on your key chain – can save your life. Smartphones double as both, but obviously have limitations such as battery life. Attacks can happen at night or in darkly lit areas, like concert halls or movie theatres. A flashlight will help you navigate in the dark, signal emergency responders as to your location, or enable you to guide other people to safety. The whistle can also be used to signal your location to rescuers, especially helpful if you are stuck under debris or otherwise incapacitated.

(3)   Office Planning – If you work in a large office building, a school, or other place with public access, make sure you and your coworkers are aware and trained on contingency planning to include what to do and where to go in the event of different types of attacks. Do you shelter in place? Do you evacuate to a specific location? If your organization does not already have an emergency plan, ensure it establishes one. If there is a plan but you don’t know it, then the plan is irrelevant – ensure you get trained.


(4)   Know the exits – This is important when out in public, as knowing the closest place to exit in an emergency will enable you to get away from danger quickly and efficiently. Look out for tertiary exits, those often marked as “Emergency Only” through which people generally do not enter or exit an area. Moving to a tertiary exit during an attack may not only be the quickest way to escape but may also help protect you from the inevitable rush of people trying to reach the biggest or most recognizable exits. In addition, follow-on attacks are most likely to occur at the largest and most congested escape routes, the “choke points.” Thus, a tertiary exit may shield you from further threats.

(5)   Have an escape plan – Know where you want to go and how you are going to get there if an attack were to occur. This doesn’t have to be a concrete plan nor do you necessarily have to follow it in the event of emergency, but you can always be thinking about escape routes. Start getting a sense of escape planning at home by creating a plan with your family: Where can you exit if the front door is blocked? What windows are barred/blocked/sealed to prevent escape? Will you have to jump to safety? You can answer these same questions in a public location. Lying on the ground or sheltering in place, even behind a barricade, may not be ideal responses if the attacker has easy access to your location.

(6)   Footwear is important – One takeaway from survivors of 9/11 was that stairwells in the towers had become clogged with shoes, as people going down dumped their business footwear to move more quickly. At work, keep a pair of comfortable “trainers” at your desk, something you can put on in a hurry and in which you can move quickly. On the go, when changing shoes isn’t an option, don’t necessarily dump immobile shoes such as high-heels or flip-flops at the first sight of danger – running barefoot can also be problematic, especially in areas of heavy debris – but understand the limitations of your footwear and if you need to take them off, do so without second thought.


(7)   Avoid the rush – At the outset of an attack, try to avoid the initial instinct to immediately flee and take a few moments to figure out what you are fleeing from. The most important thing to do is put distance between yourself and the threat, but to do so safely you need to know where the threat is located and, if applicable, where it is going. Videos of those fleeing the attack in Las Vegas show that many of the concert-goers fled directly into the shooter’s line of sight, not having figured out where the shooter was positioned. The same goes for vehicle ramming attacks. If you can see the attacker, the attacker can see you. Try to quickly find haven or ad-hoc shelter– a concrete pillar, a tree, even a flipped table – behind which you can work to quickly figure out where the threat is located. Then, move in the opposite direction or to a better covered location. Remember that threats can emanate from above or below ground in addition to being mobile or static.

(8)   Evacuate the scene – Do not remain in the area of an attack if possible, and do not return there (if at all) until the incident is fully cleared. Put time and distance between yourself and the threat and keep moving; getting far away from a threat is not cowardice. Unless the circumstances deem it absolutely necessary, don’t try to overpower an attacker; instead, quickly find an exit and get yourself and others near you out of harm’s way. Unless you are an emergency responder, your continued presence at the scene will only serve to distract or confuse those responders. If you must remain at the scene, be sure to identify yourself to police/military and follow their directions closely so you are not mistaken for an attacker.

(9)   Be wary of misinformation – Inevitably in the aftermath of an incident, reports from the scene will be hazy, incomplete, and even potentially wrong. Maybe you’ll hear about an additional shooter, a secondary explosive, or alternatively you’ll be told the incident is cleared. Don’t try to piece through partial bits of information at the scene of an attack; rather assume the incident is ongoing and continue to put time and distance between yourself and the known threat. Once definitely clear of the threat, then you can sort through the initial updates and reach a conclusion about the safety and security of your current position.

(10) Last resort, resort to fight – You don’t need to be trained in krav maga or know how to use a firearm to take the offensive against an attacker. In situations where you simply can’t flee for lack of exits (like on an airplane or train) or lack of distance (if the attacker is within a jump length), turn anything around you into a weapon to use against the terrorist. Throw your chair. Smash your drink glass. Club him or her with a briefcase. Spray the fire extinguisher. Try to overcome initial shock – the quicker you counter, the less chance a threat will be able to defend itself. Terrorists can be stunned and hurt just like you can. If possible, best practice is to attack from behind; – aim for head, eyes, neck, or groin – and to team up with those around you. Do not assume that a terrorist will accede to your pleas for mercy; instead, as a last resort, bring the fight to him or her.