When a truck plowed into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France earlier this month, it was another painful reminder that a criminal or terrorist attack can happen at any point.
Although we should live our lives as normally as possible, it’s important that each of us is prepared to take personal safety measures if an incident occurs.
Taking stock of your surroundings
Whenever you go to a public place — like a movie theater, shopping mall, restaurant, or sports arena — take the time to identify the closest two exits. It’s important to find a second exit in case your first option is cut off.
If you can sit closer to an exit (like in a movie theater), take the opportunity to do so. If you’re out at a restaurant, take note of the kitchen’s location since there’s usually an exit route nearby. Some stores in shopping malls will have storage areas that will also provide back-door exits.
Avoid looking down at your phone while you’re walking; instead, swivel your head from side to side so you see everything around you.
You don’t need to be on high alert at all times, but getting into a routine of constantly taking in your surroundings will let you quickly identify something that’s amiss.
If a shooter emerges, first try to evacuate
How should you respond if an active shooter is in your area? The Department of Homeland Security recommends following the “run, hide, fight” approach. That means first trying to evacuate.
If you’re unsure where the shooter is, it’s important to not run around blindly. Pick an escape route and stick to it.
There will be a commotion as the large crowd of people all tries to escape the area at the same time. Try to stay as low to the ground as possible, but be sure to have full control of your balance to avoid falling.
Don’t bring any belongings with you as that may slow you down. Keep your hands visible at all times.
Hide if you need to, fight as last resort
If running is not an option, then hide in an area outside the shooter’s line of sight, DHS recommends.
If possible, block entry to the location and lock the doors. Silence all cell phones.
In a restaurant, you may need to drop to the ground immediately and use your table as a cover. If you’re in a public office, then close and lock your doors and turn off the lights.
Take action against the shooter only as a very last resort. The Department of Homeland Security recommends throwing items and the shooter or trying to incapacitate the person in some other way.
This should be seen as a last possible option — only when your life is danger, and evacuation and hiding options have been exhausted.
Be prepared, even if you’re not at scene
Even if you’re not in the immediate location where a criminal or terrorist act occurs, the Red Cross recommends taking steps to ensure your safety.
Turn on the radio or TV to hear news and instructions, and follow the advice of local responders and public officials.
Smell for any gas leaks. If you suspect there is one, turn off the valve right away, open all windows, and leave the building.
Don’t light any matches or turn on light switches; instead, use your phone or a flashlight to check for damages to utilities and wiring. Be on the lookout for fires or fire hazards.
Make sure your family has an emergency plan. Practice it often so you’re ready to act if an incident does occur.