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Podcast With A Blindness Perspective.

Active Shooter Preparedness - for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

Aug 30, 2019

Active Shooter Preparedness - for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

By Pete Lane

August 2019

Purpose

This document is intended to provide suggestions for what to do if we find ourselves in an active shooting event: how to recognize signs of potential violence around us, how we might react, and what to expect after an active shooting takes place. 

Note: This material has been adapted to include a few fundamental actions which blind and visually impaired individuals might find helpful in an active shooter crisis situation. Some are offered as suggestions for consideration, in which case alternativeideas are also offered. Precisely what actions we might take will depend upon a variety of factors, including the specific environment in which we find ourselves during a crisis, our level of usable vision and our mindset at the time.  

Overview 

Based on research done by the FBI, most shootings are concluded within 5minutes or less from start to finish. Accordingly, we don’t have very much time to think about what we should do in such a crisis.  This is why we need to know what to do before it actually happens.

Sometimes there’s nothing we can do to survive, but we may get a chance to act, and will only have seconds to figure out what to do. Our stress will be high, so we should make a plan of action now that we can call upon wherever and whenever we go.

This is especially important when we realize that the human mind tends to process events in terms of our day to day activities, that is, if we hear something that is out of the ordinary, we tend to frame that sound as a routine experience in our minds. This means we might not react to an unusual or foreign sound such as gun shots as quickly as we should. We might chalk it off to being something familiar, like the back firing of a car, or just some unknown loud sound, rather than the truly life-threatening sound that it is. However, if we have a clear plan in mind, our conscious and subconscious thoughts may allow that plan to kick in, over-riding that tendency to mis-characterize the event and allow us to react more quickly. All this to say that it is absolutely crucial that we plan now for what we might do then.

One key step will be to maintain situational awareness wherever we go. If we think about it, as blind or visually impaired individuals, we actually maintain this awareness all the time. When we leave our home, we are taking in our surroundings, listening, smelling, feeling and seeing with any usable vision we can muster to prepare ourselves for what we might encounter. We are actively immersed in each new environment we enter. It is a routine preparedness measure we utilize to carry out even our most basic day to day activities and it may prove beneficial in a crisis situation.  So, let’s stay alert, be aware of our surroundings, trust our instincts and be ready to act quickly.

Remember three actions to follow during an active shooting situation:

RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.


Prepare in advance - Be Informed:

  • Sign up for an active shooter training class when available. These are often offered by employers, community organizations, local law enforcement and other civic groups. Be sure to take advantage of them when they are available.  
  • Get training in CPR and AED techniques - these too are offered by employers, the Red Cross or other civic or similar organizations.  
  •  
  • Take a self-defense class. Note: one self-defense program offered specifically to blind and visually impaired persons is called: 1 Touch Project, the details of which can be found at: www.1TouchProject.Com.
  • Option:  Have you considered arming yourself with a firearm for self-defense at home? If so, attend firearms training immediately. 
  • Option: Some believe that as blind people, arming ourselves with a firearm is unwise and unsafe. Conversely, some of us, particularly those of us who live in the US believe that we have a constitutional right to arm ourselves, and choose to do so, so think long and hard before pursuing this option. 
  • If you see or hear something out of the ordinary which gives you concern, say something to an authority right away. For example: suspicious postings on social media, or odd or unusual behavior of anindividual. Also try to be cognizant of physical changes to your school or church buildings or other locations. To illustrate this last point, we know that the Virginia Tech shooter tested his plan by placing locked chains on doors prior to his actual shooting rampage. Nobody seemed to notice these, and campus security personnel weren’t informed. See something, say something.
  • Sign up to receive local emergency alerts and register your work and personal contact information with any work, school or other sponsored alert systems so you will receive up to date information on these kinds of events. This would include social media feeds for local law enforcement where you would be likely to learn of incidents such as an active shooter situation in your area.
  • Consider traveling with a buddy or companion when going to an unfamiliar area.

Make a Plan

  • Make a plan with your family and ensure everyone knows what they would do, if confronted with an active shooter, whether at home or elsewhere.
  • Whenever possible, locate the two nearest exits anywhere you go, have an escape path in mind & identify places you could hide. We know this is not often practical or even possible but keep it in mind whenever visiting a new location. Don’t hesitate to ask someone. In this day and age, people aren’t likely to think you are being nosey or unnecessarily curious if you wish to identify possible exits from the facility or area where you are.
  • Familiarize yourself with the building, store, mall or outdoor area when you have the time. Download a map or take time to practice walking the area to learn the layout and find the exits.
  • In a Mall, the anchor stores will have rear exits behind their business offices, as will theaters, stand-alone grocery stores, restaurants, and other stores. 
  • If in a school, college, public building or other similar facility, there will likely be an Emergency Preparedness and an Active Shooter Plan in place. Check it out in advance on their web site if possible or ask about it when entering the facility. 
  • When practical, find out if an emergency preparedness plan for individuals with disabilities exists at the location and become familiar with it. Their web site may include such a resource
  • During an incident - Run - Escape, if possible.
  • Getting away from the shooter or shooters is your top priority.
  • Run away from the sounds of danger if you can gauge their whereabouts. Do not move closer to the sounds in order to assess what is happening or attempt to help. Trust your instincts and run away from the sounds.
  • Leave your belongings behind and get away.
  • Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
  • It may be that running is dangerous to you and/or others. Here are some options to consider: 
  • Option 1. If you are unable to run safely by yourself, ask for help from others. Grab an elbow or something else to allow you to run with a sighted individual. If nobody agrees to help, then don’t ask, just grab an elbow and run. Courtesy is secondary to survival, Pride in your independence goes out the window in these situations, and survival takes top priority. Keep running until you are out of the building, store, mall, or other location, or until you are absolutely sure you are free and out of danger.
  • Option 2. The shooter is oriented to looking for people who are running, so find a place to drop down and hide. Offer a low profile that may be out of the shooter’s line of sight in hopes of avoiding his gaze. (See the discussion later in this document which describes the actions to take when hiding).
  •  Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Call 911 when you are safe, and describe the shooter, location, and weapons to the extent possible

HIDE, if escape is not possible.

  • Get out of the shooter’s view and stay very quiet, preferably out of the main aisle or hallway, and the primary line of sight of the shooter.
  • Silence all electronic devices and make sure they won’t vibrate. 
    • Note, this would include silencing Voiceover, Talk Back or other speech system you may utilize.
  • If in an open area, don’t hide in groups. Spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. It may be that adding an extra step or two for the shooter to find or reach you may cause them to move on to more fruitful convenient targets. Remember, active shooters are looking for the most victims in the shortest amount of time.
  • If in a store or restaurant, and a solid structure is not available, pull a clothes rack, display, table and chairs, food cart, or other similar covering over yourself to block you from the shooters view.
  • If in a separate room, don’t hide on a wall facing the door where the gunman may come in. hide on left or right wall, out of his line of sight where he is not looking.
  • Secure the room: Lock doors, close blinds, and turn off lights.
  • Barricade the door with heavy furniture, a chair under the doorknob, boxes, etc. which may add a layer for the shooter to have to overcome, or which might stop a bullet.   
  • Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction. 
  • Get into offices, rest rooms, or other rooms with lockable doors if possible. Get behind heavy doors, walls, credenzas, file cabinets, desks, tables, counters, large vending machines, etc. which offer protection if possible.
  • If outdoors, try to hide behind structures or solid objects. These may include walls, barricades, power boxes, pillars or poles. You can even hide behind a curb, which while low, may offer sufficient protection against bullets. 

Option:If no solid hiding place is available, asa last resort, consider “playing dead” if the shooter approaches you while hiding. Lie face down, calm or stop your breathing, don’t move a muscle, keep your eyes open and try not to move your eyes or eyelids. 

  • Try to communicate with authorities silently. Use a headset or ear buds to silence your device, using text, email or social media. If possible when speaking on a 911 call, let the operator know you may be near the shooter so you may not speak or respond to questions. However, don’t risk revealing yourself to the shooter in order to do so.
  • Stay in place until law enforcement tells you it’s clear and safe to move.

FIGHT - As an absolute last resort.

We realize this suggestion is extreme, and certainly not an ideal course of action, but there may be a time during the incident when there are no other options short of fighting the shooter in order to prevent him from harming or killing others, or you. This is a last resort, but if faced with such a circumstance, commit to it fully as it may mean survival.  

Just because you don’t have a gun, doesn’t mean you don’t have a weapon. A weapon can offer valuable force and may mean the difference in these drastic situations, and almost anything in your environment can be turned into a weapon: chairs, fire extinguishers, lamps, umbrellas, belts, paper weights, books, coffee mugs, even a pen can be used as an improvised weapon.

If possible, spray a fire extinguisher or chemicals in his direction, trying to aim for his face and eyes. Or throw a pot of scalding hot coffee his way. Be creative! Once the shooter is disoriented, rush him and take him down. We recognize that this may be easier said than done but remember at this point we’re considering our last resort.

Commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter.

Be prepared to cause severe or lethal injury to the shooter in order to save yourself and others. Don’t worry about fighting “fairly”. All is fair in such situations: bite him, poke him in the eyes, kick him, stab him with your improvised weapon, attack his soft tissue such as his throat, eyes, stomach, ears, etc. Instill whatever pain or injury you can, even disorientation if that is all that is possible.

Team up: Recruit others to help you ambush the shooter to confuse, distract or disorient him. Use weapons like scissors, letter openers, knives etc. to fight with.

Afterwards

  • Keep hands visible and empty so law enforcement doesn’t perceive you as a threat. Do not hold on to your cell phone as this may be perceived as a weapon - keep your hands visible and completely empty.
  • Know that law enforcement’s first task is to end the incident, and they may have to pass injured along the way.
  • Officers may arrive in groups, will likely be armed with rifles, shotguns, and/or handguns and may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation.
  • Officers will be very aggressive, shout commands and may push individuals to the ground for their safety. Try not to let this disorient you or cause you to disregard their instructions. If practical, show them your white cane, or otherwise let them know you are visually impaired.  
  • Follow law enforcement instructions and evacuate in the direction they come from, unless otherwise instructed.
  • Take care of yourself first, and then you may be able to help the wounded before first responders arrive.
  • If the injured are in immediate danger, help get them to safety, but not at the risk of your own life.
  • While you wait for first responders to arrive, provide first aid. Apply direct pressure to wounded areas and use tourniquets if you have been trained to do so.
  • Turn wounded people onto their sides if they are unconscious and keep them warm.
  • Consider seeking professional help for you and your family to cope with the long-term effects of the trauma.

Conclusion

We hope to never find ourselves in an active shooter situation, but if we do, we can prepare to some extent to increase the chances of surviving such an experience.

If at all possible, be prepared by making a plan as outlined in this document. Try to recall some of the suggestions offered in this document if and when you find yourself in an active shooter crisis.

Remember the three components of the active shooter plan: Run. Hide. Fight.

Comment

You can respond to this article by contacting Pete Lane by email.

Additional resources:

RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. ®Surviving an Active Shooter Event - English (video)

Active Shooter Information Sheet (PDF)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Active shooter preparedness resources translated (link)

Conducting Security Assessments: A Guide for Schools and Houses of Worship Webinar (link)

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Contact Your State Services

If you reside in Minnesota, and you would like to know more about Transition Services from State Services contact Transition Coordinator Sheila Koenig by email or contact her via phone at 651-539-2361.
To find your State Services in your State you can go to www.AFB.org and search the directory for your agency.

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