“Run, Hide, Fight?”- Not Always the Best Active Killer Response

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz

FireShot Screen Capture #050 - 'Surviving an Active Shooter - YouTube' - www_youtube_com_watch_v=9Z9zkU--FLQ

Last week, the Ohio State University Police Department put out a video titled “Surviving an Active Shooter.”  The crux of the message in the video is that the best chance for surviving an active shooter is to follow the hierarchical advice of running as a first choice, hiding as a second choice, and fighting as a last resort option.  Take a look at the video embedded below:



The video isn’t bad and it contains some very good advice.  I work regularly with the police officers at The Ohio State University and have found them to be a professional and capable crew.  They seem to be trying to teach a large number of people some simple rules of thumb to survive an active killer attack.  That’s an admirable goal.  Most of the information in the video is perfectly fine.  My problem with it is that in their quest to “dumb down” tactics so that the majority of the population can understand and remember them, some essential nuance remains unexplored.  “Run, Hide, Fight” might be appropriate for many situations, but it clearly ISN’T the best plan for many other active shooter events.


The first problem with the video is that it fails to even mention armed resistance as a response option.  Statistically, the absolute best way to survive an active shooter event is not by running, hiding, or fighting with chairs and fire extinguishers.  The best survival results for everyone involved occur when an armed citizen or police officer kills the active shooter.


Active killers have historically stopped their attack as soon as they have been met with EFFECTIVE resistance.  Although many folks have effectively resisted while unarmed, the most effective way to target an armed killer is to use a firearm.  Here is an article that describes numerous incidents when armed citizens have stopped active killers.  Please note that in each of these cases, the armed citizen was not harmed by the killer.  Also, in each example the killer stopped his rampage without shooting another round as soon as he was confronted by the armed citizen.  Having an uninjured citizen responder combined with no further casualties among the killer’s intended victim pool is the best possible outcome during a mass murder event.  That rarely happens unless the courageous resisting citizen is carrying a firearm.


I get it.  The video is produced by a university that happens to be a “gun free zone.”  The chances of students or faculty members being armed are extremely small.  But the reach of the video exceeds university property.  Undoubtedly, many people not affiliated with the university will watch the video.  It is problematic when the “authorities” fail to even mention a potential victim’s BEST course of action.


Besides the issue of not mentioning armed resistance, the “Run, Hide, Fight” model has a few other problems.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Let’s look at each response option and evaluate its potential strengths and weaknesses:


Run:  The officer in the video makes the statement: “Running away should ALWAYS be your first priority.”  This statement is categorically untrue.  While running often yields excellent results in an active killer event and I recommend it as a general tactic, there are many times when running should not be your first choice.


One prime reason running may be a bad option is the lack of physical conditioning among the “target” population.  With more than half of our citizens overweight or obese, why do we think they can run away from the average college age male (the majority of school shooters are young men)?  Our McDonalds guzzling and flip-flop-wearing population stands little chance against a college aged male in a sprint.


If unarmed, you should think about running as a response if there is a good chance you can get away before the killer sees you.  Here are some situations where you may NOT want to make running your top choice:


  • You can’t run (either from being overweight or from some physical infirmity)
  • You have young children in tow who will slow you down
  • The power has been cut and running in the dark may be hazardous
  • You are wearing clothes or footwear that makes running impossible
  • When running towards the building’s exit will take you into the path of the killer
  • When you are within a very close distance of the killer.   You aren’t going to outrun a bullet when you are five feet away from the gunman


If I were in any of the above situations, I would consider another option before I took off running.


Hide:  If running isn’t an option, the video recommends that victims should hide from the killer.  I have very mixed feelings about this advice.  Sometimes hiding is an effective tactic.  Sometimes it fails miserably.  Some examples of failure were the Virginia Tech shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting.  Students tried to hide under desks or in closets in both massacres.  Most of the hiding students were shot down by the killer.  Let’s face it.  There aren’t very many good hiding places in the average school classroom.


Hiding makes good sense only when you have the following conditions:


  • You are in a room that can be effectively barricaded and locked.  That generally means that the door does not have a window the shooter can knock out and that the door contains a quality deadbolt lock.  Most school classroom doors don’t meet this criteria
  • Your hiding place has an alternate escape route.  Locking down, barricading, or hiding in a location that doesn’t have an escape route means that you will be forced to fight the shooter if he breaches your hiding spot.
  • It is a temporary maneuver to buy you a little time because police are on the way.
  • You are unable to escape due to age, infirmity, or proximity to the shooter.
  • “Playing dead” by hiding among other injured and dead bodies has occasionally worked.  It has also failed miserably.  At Virginia Tech, the killer made a second pass and shot everyone a second time if they were laying on the ground without moving.  If you are wounded, can’t run, and the killer is focusing on other targets, hiding by playing dead may be an effective option.


I would place hiding nearly last on the list of options for the majority of active killer events.  As I stated above, there are rarely suitable hiding locations to be found in the average classroom.


Fight: The video suggested that this option is a “reaction that should only be used as a last resort.”  I vehemently disagree with this statement.  There are many situations where fighting should be your FIRST option.  Researcher and trainer Ron Borsch has been studying active killer incidents for years.  In his research, he has found that in roughly 2/3 of all active killer events that are stopped on scene, an UNARMED citizen stopped the killer.  That citizen stopped the killer by FIGHTING.  Imagine what the fatality statistics would be if all of these fighters chose to run instead.  Fighting is a viable option (and potentially a first choice of action) when:


  • The killer is very close (within arms reach).  Very few other tactics will work at this range.
  • You are armed…even with a pocket knife or pepper spray
  • You can set up an effective ambush
  • Your lockdown has been breached.
  • You have fighting skills or are among a large group of people who are willing to act together
  • You notice that the killer has a weapon malfunction or is in the act of reloading and his weapon is not immediately available
  • The killer sets down or drops his weapon


Proper response tactics for an active killer require an analysis of your own abilities, the environment where the violence is occurring, the presence of help, the response time of the local police, and the killer’s weapons/tactics.  They can’t be codified into a simple “Run, Hide, Fight” playbook.  “Run, Hide, Fight” is certainly a better response option than passively freezing, but anyone who is truly interested in his own safety must ignore this simple, dumbed-down dictum and think for himself.


FireShot Screen Capture #048 - 'Surviving an Active Shooter - YouTube' - www_youtube_com_watch_v=9Z9zkU--FLQ


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6 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Ron Borsch says:

    Great article! It is a keeper for me, and I have already forwarded the link to a couple young ladies in college.

    I suggest others do as well to parents and teachers they know who have children in schools.

    Gregs advice is about the best information on the subject that I have seen, including some of my own.

    Like he points out, a truly safe-room is only one that cannot be forced open easily. Older education buildings may have doors that do not lock at all.

    Newer buildings may lock, but can be too quickly and easily entered by those with no concern about damage. Schools need to address this hardware issue.

    I totally agree with armed good guys being the best countermeasure to an armed bad guy, Active killers are almost 99 percent alone.

    Using the last decade from my Stopwatch of Death database, we may be due for one or two more Rapid Mass Murders before 2016.

  2. jimmy says:

    Yoou left out another time running won’t work: when you are trapped in a classrooom by the shooter standing in the doorway and shooting at your classmates. Fish in a barrel…

  3. sherrykay50 says:

    I really appreciate this. Two weeks ago I walked into the recreation center at our university and saw a large poster “Run, Hide, Fight” and I had no idea what it was for, but surmised it might have something to do with the idea of “active shooters” on campus. However, I did not get it-even in the circumstances where each of these three orders might have merit, I could see so many potential problems with blanket instructions. Run…where? Hide…where? Fight…When and how? I had even decided to write to the office that these instructions were vague and counterintuitive unless there were caveats. There is a big difference between being 3 feet away or in another building. And of course, doors cannot be locked (because of…potential violent situations!). Many lecture halls do not have moveable furniture, are often overcrowded, and seating is theater style.Female students often wear flip flops or high heels. I’ll stop here. But I will send this post on after I figure out who was responsible for enacting this policy.

  4. Jim Dick says:

    Excellent article, Greg. Like you, I just can’t stomach the “Run, Hide, Fight” mantra.

    I work in Building 197 on the Washington Navy Yard, where we had the shooting in Sep 2013. I wasn’t there that day, but it happened in the area near my office. My immediate reaction on hearing the stories was to wonder why no one tried to intervene and stop him — but I wasn’t there and I don’t like to arm chair quarterback.

    On July 2 this year, we had another “report” of an armed intruder (it turned out to be a false alarm). This time I was in my office — but I immediately moved into a position where I could observe the hallway surreptitiously and be in a position to attack anyone coming in. (We can’t carry much in the building — I have a small 2-in folder that I carry in my pocket at work). It turned out to be a non-event, but it validated my belief (hope) that in a real situation I would be ready to do *something*. (BTW, our Active Shooter Response “training” teaches the same thing – Run, Hide, Fight.)

    I make my wife watch the scene in The Bourne Legacy where the lab worker locks everyone in and goes on his rampage. I point out every opportunity to attack the shooter (reloads) and emphasize why “hiding” is a poor strategy. To me, Hollywood has given us a classic “training” film to highlight why the answer isn’t as simple as “Run, hide, fight”.

  5. Mustascheo says:

    It’s too bad that the fight back part doesn’t enable staff or students to shoot back at one of these nuts.

  6. LD Mortenson says:

    I agree it may not be the best for all situations, but what is. There is no generic one size fits all for active shooter situations. This is for the soft target areas that do not allow weapons. His first problem with this is mute as the last part of Run, Hide, Fight is FIGHT. He stated it does not talk about resistance. It does. But what this video and program is supposed to do, is make people actually THINK of what could happen and how would they respond. Most people in the United States feel it can’t happen to them. They need to change their thought pattern to, what if it did happen, what will I do. If someone comes up with a one size fits all, tell me. But until then this is informative and it is hopefully going to make people aware of what can and will happen and what they are going to do. As law enforcement I am trained. I train my family to be on the look out. Not everyone does. I hope this never happens to anyone, but if it does, hopefully they will have thought of it and they are constantly being observant and vigilant.

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