We’ve all been hearing of the recent atrocities covered by our media. Mass shootings in New Zealand, in Europe, and mass shootings including in schools in the USA. Not to mention mass shootings from other parts of the world barely getting a mention from Western media. It’s time for me to write this article to further the one I wrote a while ago, now further down the blog, centered on A FORMULA FOR SURVIVING A SCHOOL SHOOTING.

Further to this again, in the last three mass shootings in the USA covered by the national media, the “first responders,” (cops first to the scene), have been killed or wounded. Thus slowing the assault by remaining responders to eliminate the shooter to several minutes, and in one case out of these past three scenarios, to well over an hour.

My main concern therefore, as I describe in detail below, is the fact that each and every one of us from the onset of the shooting has to realize that we are on our own. And therefore require a mind set to have an immediate action plan in order to survive.

This is today’s living in a world that’s not getting any safer, no matter where we  are. There will be another mass shooting somewhere soon, followed by another…and another…without doubt!


Walk into any wooded area, clap your hands, and watch the local wildlife run, fly or swim away. For wildlife it’s all about their survival instinct kicking in instantly.

It’s no different for us humans either. If we move into survival mode due to a predator, speed and distance gives us the greatest chance to survive. Therefore, here is a simple, proven formula that can dramatically increase the odds of surviving an active shooting:

  Speed + Distance = Survival.     


No one wants to think about someone opening fire at your child’s school, at your place of worship, at work, at play, or even perhaps simply booking in for a flight at an airport, and I’m no exception.

That’s why I’ve harnessed the knowledge and experience I’ve gleaned through two decades of Special Forces soldiering, and nearly twenty years as a private security adviser working in conflict zones around the world to advocate for a formula-guided, options-based response plan to these kind of shootings.  I’ve taught these techniques to diplomats, their families and others.  These clients were at risk of getting caught in a shooting incident at a hotel complex, airport, shopping mall, cinema, restaurant or other public venues where people gather. A setting that sadly today, we could all get caught up in.    


When a shooting happens, it happens without warning, so we all need to be prepared.

I’m a great believer in only teaching proven techniques. In the case of a mass shooting, the lesson begins with identifying the first responders.

When people talk about first responders, they’re usually referring to law enforcement or the health and fire services. But in an active shooting, those professionals are minutes away – enough time for the attacker to kill and wound dozens of people.  That’s why it’s crucial to understand that waiting for the cavalry to come to the rescue is often a mistake. Because the real first responders are not the security services, but those in closest proximity to the shooter—namely those caught on the same floor space almost within arms reach of the shooter. In this case I would like to refer to the police, fire and paramedics as the professional responders.


The four main options-based approaches for responding to an active shooting include Lockdown; ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate); Run, Hide, Fight; and Run or Fight.

The internet is full of videos and instructions on what these various options entail mainly at work places and/or schools. But based on my experience, the most effective is Run, Hide, Fight.  Once the bullets start flying the faster and further you get away from the shooter, the safer you are.  Hence the simple formula for increasing the odds of surviving a shooting: Speed + Distance = Survival.

Run, Hide, Fight are not disconnected responses. They’re fluid and different scenarios can illustrate how one response can open the door to another, increasing your odds of survival with each evolution.

Scenario 1 – Best Case. There’s no safer place to be during a shooting than off the premises. Maybe you’re home sick or away on a field trip or just out on a lunch break. Whatever the reason, not being present at the time of a shooting is the best case scenario. You have the physical distance you need so stay well away from the location and count yourself lucky. Do not be inquisitive and move towards the sound of gun shots.

Scenario 2 – Run. In this scenario, you are at the location but have some distance from the shooter. Maybe you’re at the opposite end of the building to where the attack is happening.  The best response in this case is to RUN. Go to the nearest exit – a door or window—and escape to safety, running as fast as you can until you’re well away from the building (hopefully others have taken your lead and are right behind you).

Scenario 3 – Hide.  In this scenario, you’re caught fairly close to the shooter. On the same floor, only a room or two away.  You don’t want to run into the line of fire, so your best option is to HIDE. You barricade yourself; lock the doors, close the curtains or blinds on any doors and windows facing the hallway, pile and wedge furniture and other items against the door (remember that hiding from view does not protect you from bullets ripping through windows, doors, soft walls, and furniture). Once you’re hidden, start assessing options for getting as far away from the shooter as quickly as possible.

Scenario 3A- Hide & Run. Once you’re safely barricaded, assess whether you can exit the building through a window (for higher floors, offices and schools should consider stocking escape ladders. They’re inexpensive and can be a life saver). Once you’ve escaped through the window, switch into RUN mode. If a group of you can escape – great. But if you’re being hotly pursued by a shooter don’t wait around for your friends or anyone else. Delaying even a few seconds could cost you your life. Remember the formula: Speed + Distance = Survival.

Scenario 3B – Hide & Prepare To Fight. If you can’t get out through a window, then start looking for items that can help you in a fight. Fire extinguishers (which can be used to first blind and then bludgeon a shooter), a broken beer glass, scalding hot coffee, chairs, tables, table umbrellas, books, even computers. Basically, anything that can be used as a missile should be grabbed and at the ready to tackle a shooter should they breach the door.

Scenario 4 – Fight.  The last place you want to be when a shooter or shooters opens fire is next to them on the same floor space.  It is the worst case scenario because the danger to you is immediate and critical. If this happens, the only real option is to FIGHT (If it’s a school, I don’t expect students under the age of thirteen to fight).  Attack the shooter with anything you can get your hands on. Ideally, those around you join the fight and the attack is mob handed. Speed, unbridled aggression and surprise are your greatest assets in this fight. You want to put the shooter off their aim and cause them to go on the defensive with you on the attack. Once you’ve gained the upper hand, take the shooter out completely. And by completely, I mean kill them. They were about to kill you and may already have killed and wounded others around you. If you let your guard down, the shooter could regain the upper hand and start the killing spree all over again – beginning with you. Better to eliminate that possibility if you get the chance. Once the shooter is taken out, remove their gun/guns and place them safely to one side. You don’t want the police and armed response rushing in and mistaking you for the shooter. Then sit on the floor with your hands in the air, or if asked, help those with first aid training attend to the wounded.

Every second counts. Do appreciate that in each of these scenarios, we’re assuming that only one or two minutes have elapsed from when the shooter opens fire. At this point, the police may just have been notified and are scrambling to respond to the threat. In the meantime, you are responding. Because you are the first responder. At all times be totally aware of your surroundings.


I’ve been keeping individuals safe and alive in hostile environments for almost four decades. First as a Special Forces soldier and later as a private security adviser. I’m sure along the way I’ve benefited from a wee bit of luck here and there. But my success is largely down to the professionalism of the people who mentored me as a young SF soldier from the mid-1970s. Men who ingrained in me the importance of the “Six P’s” —prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

If you follow this rule, your brain never stops. And indeed, I’ve spent countless hours over the years thinking through all the “what ifs” that could jeopardize the lives of my fellow soldiers or my clients, and comparing notes with my colleagues to ensure that no variable has been overlooked. Again, today’s world isn’t safe, spend time with your family, co-workers and friends, where ever you may be, run through a simple plan fitting in with the location you are at.

Remember hope alone is not a plan.


Absent from many public discussions of response plans is how to support individuals who are physically, mentally or emotionally impaired. For example, able-bodied people could help someone wheelchair bound escape through a window by placing them in a soft carry stretcher (provided the extra time does not place those carrying the stretcher in imminent danger). Like escape ladders for higher floor offices or classrooms, stretchers are inexpensive and could prove a lifesaver. If the shooter is moving through a complex, stretchers can also be used to carry the wounded out of harm’s way.

That’s what happens when you start ticking through the endless list of “what ifs.” You identify weaknesses in a plan and take steps to address them.

Too many people lull themselves into a false sense of security by believing a shooting will never happen at their location. Even for those who do recognize the possibility, as one day flows into the next without incident, the easier it is to grow complacent.  Amazingly, that also includes the mindset of way too many people working in hostile environments. Don’t let it happen to you. You must remain relentlessly proactive, and constantly be aware of your surroundings.


Having read through the scenarios, some individuals may consider training in how to fight off an attacker. There are a range of option for unarmed combat training; boxing, jiu jitzu, karate and other martial arts. But in my opinion, street fighting techniques are best for taking on an armed shooter. Unlike martial arts, street fighting is not a sport. It’s a survival technique that teaches you to keep both feet on the ground at all times to ensure stability and balance, grab anything you can use as a weapon, and attack with speed and shocking, barbaric aggression. It’s not pretty, in fact it’s really ugly…but it’s extremely effective.

Of course, how well someone does in training is no indication of how they’ll react when confronted with the sheer, bloody violence of an active shooter. Some people will fight, some will forgo the fight and try to run, while others will simply freeze. It’s more a matter of adrenaline than character. I’ve seen big, tough soldiers whither under fire, and the shyest and most reserved step up and take out an assailant. That’s the thing about drills vs. reality. It’s paramount to be prepared but it’s not a guarantee of performance when faced with the real thing.


Lots of work places and schools provide limited medical training to staff. But in my opinion, every individual over the age of twelve should be trained in emergency first aid; lifesaving basics like First Aid Priorities, CPR, and how to use a tourniquet on yourself or others. I’ve instructed my child on the use of a tourniquet and I make sure she always has one in her school bag. I have carried one for years, and also carry a second in my vehicle with a basic trauma kit. Too many people in mass shootings have bled out and died waiting for medical help, when someone close by or even the individual could have applied pressure to the limb with a tourniquet…and saved a life!

I would love to see police stations, fire stations and ambulance stations run these courses whenever possible free of charge…with positive community help it can be done.


Run, Hide, Fight is not a new idea. I was taught this protocol as a young SF soldier and have been teaching it for decades to others, including diplomats, executives, the media, NGOs, students on gap years etc. I stick with Run, Hide, Fight not out of habit but because I’ve seen it work again and again in conflict areas around the world. It is a proven, best practice, options-based method for surviving an active shooting incident. Because it’s grounded in the formula: Speed + Distance = Survival.

When you commit that formula to memory, the drawbacks of lockdown-only response plans become apparent. Sheltering in place only, affords neither speed nor distance from a shooter. All it does is contain individuals, and in my mind the scenario could be seen as tantamount to shooting fish in a barrel!

As I’ve illustrated, a lot of carnage can happen in those precious seconds to minutes between the shooter initiating his attack, the call going out, and the cavalry arriving. Remember what I said about the professional responders getting killed or wounded in recent mass shootings in the USA, thereby elongating the process of eliminating the shooter.

When a shooter opens fire, you have one chance, and one chance only to get it right. So I’ll keep screaming it out loud… Speed + Distance = Survival.


Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com

Categories Uncategorized2 Comments


  1. Bob,
    I’ve just spent a most enjoyable hour reading your past posts! Excellent advice!
    Especially your “How to Survive a Mass Shooting”. Should be mandatory reading for every teacher in the U.S.!

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