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Vickroy: How to boost your odds of surviving mass shooting

Police take part an active shooter drill August Oak Lawn.  |  File photo

Police take part in an active shooter drill in August in Oak Lawn. | File photo

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:45AM



You’re shopping at a mall, you’re sitting in class, you’re in a theater, watching a movie. Suddenly, shots are fired.

How quickly you react can mean the difference between life and death. And how prepared you are can determine how quickly you react, Oak Lawn police Cmdr. Art Clark said.

Not trying to be alarmist here, but mass shootings such as the ones in Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Conn., and Nairobi, Kenya, are becoming a sign of our times, sadly enough.

Burying your head in the sand about it will not improve your chances of survival should you and a shooter cross paths. But having developed a plan just might, Clark said.

“We want people to go about their lives,” he said. “Don’t be paranoid. Don’t let fear prevent you from going about your business. Just be prepared in case something goes wrong.”

Preparation will give you an advantage, he said, and not force you to make quick decisions during a stressful situation.

Clark organizes live-shooter drills for the Oak Lawn Police Department. They typically include the participation of emergency personnel from surrounding towns as well as the county and state. Such a drill was held in August at Oak Lawn High School.

It’s great that police, fire and medical workers have a plan in the event of disaster, but so should you.

Three options

The Houston Police Department, together with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has put together a video advising people how to react in an active shooter situation. “Run, Hide, Fight” can be viewed on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0)

1. Run: Get out of the building.

2. Hide: If you can’t get out, find a safe place off the main path of the shooter. During the event in Kenya, bank employees hid in the vault, for example.

3. Fight: If there’s no other alternative, be prepared to fight. Chairs, staplers, fire extinguishers can all be used as weapons. Clark said a shooter will at least be momentarily distracted by anything you can throw at him.

Have a generic plan of where and how you’ll reconnect with family or friends in the event you get separated, Clark said. We’ll all meet across the street or at Aunt Ann’s or we’ll call a particular person to let him know where we are and that we are safe.

Such a plan should apply to any kind of emergency, Clark said, including a fire, tornado or other natural disaster. Make sure children and grandparents know the plan as well, he said.

Next, be helpful. Call 911 and give as much appropriate information as possible. The dispatcher will want to know the location of the shooter(s), how many there are, a physical description of the shooter(s), the number and type of weapons being used and the number of potential victims. Be calm, be specific and be as accurate as possible, Clark said.

When police arrive

“It’s important to understand that the first officers on the scene are there to deal with the shooter,” Clark said, so don’t be surprised if they run past or step over injured victims in their pursuit. “Until the shooter is stopped, we can’t bring in the emergency response people to help.”

When you see police, show your hands immediately and follow directions. Do not charge an officer.

John Frycek is a licensed private investigator and an National Rifle Association firearms instructor in Chicago. He owns Special Solutions LTD on the city’s Northwest Side.

Frycek said, in many cases, the shooter is not a perfect shot, especially if he’s delusional or psychotic. All the more reason, he said, for those in the line of fire to move and move fast.

“A moving target is much harder to hit,” he said, but if you’re hit keep running if you can.

Shielding your body

Dr. James Doherty, medical director of trauma services at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, agreed that the best thing to do in a shooting situation is to run as far away as possible, or if not able to run away, to find cover.

“A moving target at a distance is harder to hit, and any form of barrier (such as a table, wall, door, etc.) has the potential to absorb the kinetic energy of a projectile and/or deflect it,” Doherty said.

“Gunshot wounds to the head are obviously the most devastating in terms of both morbidity and mortality,” Doherty said, but the head represents only about 12 percent of your body surface while your torso represents three times as much.

“Thus, in an active shooter incident, unless the shooter is a good marksman, you are probably more likely to be shot in the torso,” he said. “Unfortunately, the heart and many extremely large blood vessels such as the aorta and the vena cava are located in the torso. If injured, these organs can cause fatal hemorrhage.

“Nevertheless, given the choice, I would seek protection for the head and neck area due to the high potential for death and disability from such an injury,” he said.

The element of surprise

“Evil gets the upper hand at first because of the element of surprise,” Frycek said. “But you can remove some of that element by thinking about this ahead of time and having a plan of action.”

He said he tells people, including his own kids, that if they find themselves in a threatening situation to move and move swiftly. One thing to consider in a crowd, he said, is heading toward an exit that’s out of the way.

“Most people run for the main exit in such events,” Frycek said. “This causes trampling and makes them easy targets for the shooter.”

I asked Clark and Frycek whether a civilian who is carrying a gun should attempt to fire at the shooter.

“I cannot judge a situation,” Clark said. “It all comes down to that individual’s perception of imminent danger.”

But he said things can get tricky if an officer who’s looking for a gunman shows up as you’re armed. How is he supposed to distinguish a bad guy from a victim?

Frycek agreed that would be a very difficult situation, and you would “need some kind of sign or something to yell out to let officers know (you’re) not the perpetrator,” he said.



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