Active Shooter: Evading & Escaping When Unarmed

How do you survive when shots ring out and you are unarmed and waiting for authorities.

By James Copenhaver

History shows us in most cases that active shooters use firearms(s) and that the killer has an agenda for these mass shootings.

Any active shooter situations are unpredictable and happen very quickly, sometimes in just minutes, as the shooters have their targets identified and they have their plan of action laid out.

Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

So, as a former law enforcement officer, here are a couple of my thoughts on how to act or respond during an active shooting when you are unarmed and waiting for law enforcement or others to neutralize the threat.

First, you must determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. If there is an escape route, try to evacuate the area, separating from the shooter. Always have your plan in place and consider the following five tips:

*When going out in public, evaluate your surroundings and identify multiple exit points in case something happens.

*If someone starts shooting, act quickly and evacuate the area, even if others are too frightened or unable to do so. Your escape might be their only hope for getting help.

*As you exit the scene of the shooting, aid others who are willing to leave.

*Move wounded people to safety or help them conceal themselves as you leave to get help. Again, only if you can do so safely and swiftly.

*Once you are in a place where you can safely alert the authorities and give them a detailed assessment of what is happening.

If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you and consider the following:

Move to a location or space out of the active shooter’s path and view. Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction and secure the area if you are able to flee to a location where you can barricade or lock the entry.

If in an office or room with a door, consider using heavy items as a blockade stacked up against the door. Silence your cell phone. Hide behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks) and remain quiet

Once law enforcement arrives, they are trained to proceed directly to the area in which the last shots were heard, to stop the threat of the shooter. Law enforcement responds to active shooting scenes with the focus and mission of stopping the threat of the shooter first.

Keep this in mind if you have moved from the main location being targeted by the shooter.

Once at the scene, law enforcement will act fast and will be armed with rifles, shotguns and handguns to use against the threat of the shooter. Officers may shout commands, and may push individuals to the ground for their safety.

Remain calm and follow their instructions. Put down any items in your hands (i.e., bags, jackets, blunt objects) immediately raise hands, spread fingers and keep your hands visible at all times.

Law enforcement does not always immediately know who the active shooter is and need to make sure the assailant is not concealing themselves among the victims.

Keeping these things in mind and having even a basic plan to escape and evade could mean the difference between life and death. Active shooter situations happen quickly and if you are thinking about what to do at the moment the first shot rings out, it may be too late.

Be prepared and let others in your party or group know that you have taken the responsibility of keeping everyone safe if something were to happen.

While it is impossible to know what exactly could happen, these tips will greatly improve your chances of staying alive.


Mr. Copenhaver has over 25 years of experience in law enforcement, having served as an undercover officer in the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation – and also working in the Robbery, Homicide & Sex Crimes units. James has conducted investigations with the F.B.I. Special Task Force & United States Marshall Service. He now runs his own private investigation & security firm and appears regularly on CNN, HLN, Fox35, CF News 13 to provide expert commentary on current events. You can contact him by visiting his website,