Surviving an Active Shooter
An Interview with Michael Janich
Interview by Gila Hayes
eJournal: Several months ago, I read with interest an article from your Martial Blade Concepts Distance Learning Program (http://www.martialbladeconcepts.com/training/mbc-distance-learning-program) in which you addressed survival tactics for one caught up in a mass murder attempt. So much is written on the topic that I wonder, has the frequency of this kind of violence really increased or is the media hyper-focused on what they like to call gun violence?
Janich: I think it is both, but it is a real and increasing problem. You can look at the statistics and trends to figure out what is a plausible threat and how to be realistic in preparing for that threat.
In 2014, the FBI did a study of 160 active shooter incidents (see https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-incidents/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-2000-2013). They found that from 2000 to 2013, the average was 11.4 incidents per year, almost one per month, but that is over that entire 13-year period. When you look at the first seven years, 2000 to 2007, it was 6.4 per year. When you look at the last seven years, there were 16.4 a year. It is becoming a much more substantial and more common problem.
It snowballs when the media gives it coverage, people who might be inclined to do this kind of thing, seeking some kind of attention, say, “Hey, this is an opportunity for me,” but it is not just Columbine and Sandy Hook. Now it is also ISIS. Now we have a much more tangible threat: the lone wolf threat. This is not a figment of our imagination. Incidents like the attacks in Paris are not isolated. This really is a trend.
eJournal: What does the FBI study consider an active shooter incident?
Janich: The study says 40% of the 160 incidents fell within the parameters of the Federal definition of a mass killing, which is three or more people killed in a single incident. If it is three or more people, at that point they consider it an active shooter.
eJournal: How likely is it that we’ll be caught up in an active shooter incident?
Janich: I think it is like anything else: you can look at the statistics, and say, “Statistically, it probably is not going to happen to me.” Statistically, you are probably not going to be present when somebody has a heart attack. Statistically, you are probably not going to be present when a fire starts. Does that mean that you do not take a CPR class? Does that mean that you don’t learn how to work a fire extinguisher? Does it mean that you do not pay attention to where the fire exits are? If you choose not to, then you are willfully reducing your chances of survival.
eJournal: Do you have any sense of how often an armed citizen stops the shooter before lives are lost?
Janich: The FBI study quantified 21 of the 160 incidents–13.1 percent–that ended after unarmed citizens successfully restrained the shooter. Off-duty officers assisted in two incidents, but in five of the 160 incidents, the shooting ended after armed, non-law enforcement personnel exchanged fire with the shooter. So it has happened: armed citizens have stepped up and stopped it.
eJournal: As shooters, we wonder how much to specialize our training and practice toward a skill focused on one potential danger like an active shooter incident.
Janich: As an armed citizen, you need to be primarily concerned with personal defense. The primary difference in specialization would be the distance at which you would take a shot. If you are targeted as the victim of a violent crime, it is not going to be somebody with a bolt-action rifle from 100 yards spotlighting you like you were a deer. It is going to be up close. Your shooting skills are not going to be challenged from a marksmanship viewpoint. It is going to be a problem of combatives: How do I keep from getting my head beaten in? How can I keep from getting stabbed? Or if it happens to be a firearm-related incident, how do I keep from getting shot while I am bringing my gun into play and solving that problem?
With an active shooter incident, typically, the distances are going to be longer, so the primary thing you need to figure out is the limits of your shooting skill. If you are too far away, move closer if you want to take the shot with a greater degree of certainty, then work within the limits of your known skill set.
Look at things in context. If I am being attacked, what am I justified in doing in self defense? One of the things that the Network does exceedingly well is taking things out of just the realm of, “Hey, let’s do some shooting,” and putting it not only into the gun fighting context, but into the legitimate, justifiable self-defense context.
Now, put it into an active shooter context and offensive action is justified. When an armed citizen looks at an active shooter targeting innocent people, there is really very little question that you’d be allowed to intervene. Intervening, from a legal stand point? No big deal.
It is a different mindset when all of your training is geared toward, this guy is attacking me and I’m defending myself, compared to, “Have I got a clean shot? I am going to proactively assassinate somebody to keep him from shooting somebody else.” Once they are in danger, some people feel completely justified, but if what they see is somebody shooting somebody else, and they’ve got a clean shot from an oblique angle, can they take that shot, and say, “I am going to kill another person for the greater good?” From a mindset standpoint, it is definitely a paradigm shift.
eJournal: What influences when we should hunker down and try not to become a target, when we should run, and when we should engage?
Janich: I think that is very situational. Let’s say that you are a teacher working in a school and because of state laws and everything else, the system works against you in the sense that you cannot be legally armed while you are performing your profession. Put yourself in that context. You can’t take on the sheep dog role in its fullest potential; you can’t draw a firearm and return fire.
That doesn’t mean you can’t still be a sheep dog. You have to look at what resources you have and ask, if this happens, contextually, what can I realistically work with? How do I maximize survival and take responsibility for a classroom full of kids? It doesn’t have to be black or white, asking do I hunker down and hope for the best? Instead, ask, “What kinds of actions can I take?”
There are a lot of actions you can take to make hunkering down a lot more effective. First, you have to look at what resources you have. I think the teacher, duty bound to work in a non-permissive environment, is a good example. So, what does a teacher do?
The naysayers are vehemently anti-gun and say they don’t want to know anything about guns. Well, that’s stupid; you need to understand the threat that you are up against. That would be like saying, I don’t want to know about heart attacks, but I want to learn CPR. Well, you have to understand the problem first.
Look at your classroom environment and ask what constitutes cover. Ballistically, what will stop a rifle round? How big is the cover? How many kids can you get behind it? What angles of fire are available if we are behind that cover? You begin war-gaming the entire situation.
Let’s say you have two entrances to the room and a cement wall in between the front door and the back door. That constitutes very good concealment at least and pretty good cover. If it is cinder block, it should at least stop handgun rounds. Then you say, “If I could just secure these two doors so someone could not gain entrance to the room, what are the available fields of fire? If we were to hunker down on that wall, could a shooter get an angle on us to be able to target any of us?”
It may be that the wall becomes the best barrier you have. Now securing the doors becomes the issue, so you look at the physical make up of the doors. Do you have a lockable door? Is it something that you can control and lock securely and present a physically impermeable barrier that the shooter can’t get through?
If you can’t, how can you create that; what can you do? Let’s say you have one of the push style doors with the panic bar across it. Can you take a 2x4 and fashion something with a metal hook so you can drop it down and hook it across the doorway to prevent someone from coming in through the door?
It is all situation-specific, but the question is, is there some way to create a barrier? If the door opens inward, it is as simple has having a hammer and some wooden door wedges with non-skid tape on them. So now, you hear gun shots, you hammer the door wedges under the door, basically wedging the doors closed, and you’ve also got a hammer as an impact weapon and you have plausible deniability: “Oh, I was hanging pictures in the classroom.” A hammer is a tool, but it is also a potent weapon.
For years, I have recommended the dry chemical fire extinguisher. Knowing where the fire extinguishers are gives you access to something that allows you to engage at a distance and take away the threat’s vision. Against a shooter, you spray him with the dry chemical fire extinguisher, you blind him and he can’t target people effectively. He may still be squeezing the trigger, but not with nearly the degree of accuracy and lethality that he was before. There is nothing wrong with having a dry chemical fire extinguisher of your own in your classroom.
“Hey, why do you have that fire extinguisher?”
“In case there is a fire. I’m sorry – am I being too safe?” I’ll get over it.
Having a fire extinguisher in your room instead of running into the hallway to grab one means you don’t have to expose yourself to gunfire. So it’s that simple–have a dry chemical fire extinguisher in the room and have some door wedges and a hammer, depending on how the classroom is set up. There are a lot of things you can do if you just say, “You know what? I am going to prepare. I am going to take this threat seriously and I am going to do things that go beyond whatever I am required to do.”
eJournal: When people discuss active shooters many say, “I am going to run away,” but isn’t some advance planning desperately needed, so we don’t just run into the open and become the first fatality?
Janich: Statistically, the two most common locations for active shooter incidents are, first, some kind of work place, a commercial institution. The second one is going to be a school. Why? Workplace violence, the whole idea of a disgruntled worker coming back to the workplace and seeking vengeance, is classic. The phrase “going postal,” goes back to some of the earlier active shooter incidents, which were actually workplace violence.
Well, second to being at home, the workplace is probably the place where you spend the most time, so you should know it like the back of your hand. You go through the same exact process we just talked about.
If you have your own office, does the door lock? Can you create a physical barrier and how durable is that barrier? What sources of cover, if any, do you have? If you don’t have them, can you create them? I think everybody at some point in time, has had a bundle of newspapers that they used as a backstop for a .22 rifle, so the idea is having a filing cabinet that is packed with papers, old phone books or catalogs or anything that is thick, put into the back of the drawers, so now you have got some solid, ballistic cover. You can set up a filing cabinet next to your desk and at least have something that you can hunker down behind.
As far as fleeing, you ask, “From my office, what avenues of escape do I have and very importantly, what sources of cover do I have along the way so I can leapfrog from one to the other?” I don’t want to just blindly run, because motion attracts attention and I don’t want to become a target. How can I leapfrog from one point to another? What avenues of escape do I have? If the shots are coming from this side of the building how can I run out the other side? If it comes from the opposite side, where do I go?
Look at all those things, and if you don’t have any resources inside your office, what about the mop closet down the hallway that has a lockable door? You could look at it with an eye to relative size, but if you had a mop closet with one of those old cast iron sinks in it, something like that is not necessarily bad cover. Even if you were to get part of your body into it, something that would stop bullets is a good thing. If nothing else, if you have an active shooter who is looking to run up a body count, if he comes to a locked door, he is probably just going to move on.
You have to look at your options, and when you run, you have to figure out to where you are going to run. Let’s say you decide, I am going to run out of the building.
If you go out the back door, is there a dumpster area that has a brick wall? Can you leapfrog to that, if that is your next source of cover? Where do you go to actually find safety? OK, great, once you are out, where are you going to go?
And very importantly, before you break cover as you exit the building, make sure there is not a secondary threat. Look for things like trucks. If you think like the terrorist, you think of vehicle IEDs. If you run out and you see a moving truck that wasn’t there before, you have to ask is it waiting for everybody to come out and mass in the parking lot and then, God forbid, there’s an explosion.
eJournal: How often do active shooter attacks include two or more assailants?
Janich: Statistically, all but two of the 160 incidents that the FBI studied involved a single shooter, but that study was 2000-2013. Now, look at the Paris attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack. The San Bernardino incident had two shooters that wreaked a lot of havoc.
eJournal: As did the two shooters in 2014 in Las Vegas when the armed citizen tried to stop the killings in that Wal-Mart, but was shot and killed by the woman. Understanding how many different settings these incidents have happened in raises concern about situations in which I can’t set up the environment to my specifications. When entering an unfamiliar area, I need, at a quick glance, to choose the safest place to sit or stand. Could you address principles of positioning?
Janich: We talk about awareness, but there are so many different levels of awareness and so many different things to be aware of. Be aware, but be aware of what? Everyone thinks of awareness as looking for pre-incident indicators, looking at people coming toward me. In this season of The Best Defense (http://outdoorchannel.com/the-best-defense), one of the episodes focuses on pre-incident indicators. We look at the things that happen before somebody attacks, but even before we do that, we talk about positioning. It is never going to be perfect! You always get the hard-core guys who say, “Well, I have to have my back to the wall.”
eJournal: Sometimes hard core goes too far and all you think about is the threat and seeing it before it gets you. That gets old fast, especially for those associated with you.
Janich: A lot of people will train to keep themselves safe and they will also train to protect their family. Well, the less extreme you are in what you do, the more your family will see what you do as normal, and they will follow suit. So instead of saying, “We can’t sit at this table if I can’t have my back against the wall!” you say, “Can we sit at the table with the great view? I want to enjoy the view and I like people-watching.”
It’s a lower key way to approach things, but then when you see something, you say, “Hey, um, look at that guy over there. That doesn’t look quite right. It is really hot outside and he is wearing an overcoat. That is kind of strange. It makes me feel uncomfortable.” You look at things like that and you point things out and you get your family’s head in the game, but you do it in a way that is not alarmist and they see it and they say, “Cool, Dad is not so weird after all.”
If you’re sitting in the middle of a crowd, you have a 360-degree area of responsibility, a lot to keep your eye on, but you also have unlimited avenues of escape. So you look at the positives and the negatives, you say, “OK, if I put my back against the wall, now I have cut my area of responsibility in half: it is 180-degrees, and I still have good avenues of escape. Now, if I put myself in a corner, it is 90 degrees, so I have less to pay attention to, but I don’t have that much option about how to escape.” So it is a trade off.
Say you are going into a restaurant and they ask, “Where would you want to sit?” and you pick a corner, but you don’t paint yourself in. Ask for a corner, but one near the exit or near the kitchen. A lot of people forget that the kitchen is always an exit, too, because they have to have a rear exit to take deliveries and dump the garbage outside. A lot of people don’t want to sit near the kitchen, but knowing where it is or positioning yourself close enough to it, you may limit your area of responsibility that you have to pay attention to, but you’ve also got an avenue of escape.
It is one of those aspects of awareness you want to think about and have general concepts you try to work with. If you can’t be in that perfect position, look for reflective surfaces. If I sit facing a mirror, then I have a rear view mirror to look behind me. If it’s dark outside and I have a window, it is still very reflective, so I can see what’s going on behind me if somebody’s approaching. Just do whatever you can to keep your head in the game.
eJournal: These are great suggestions because they show exactly how to make safer choices while honing the habit of being aware.
Janich: Keeping your head in the game takes hard work. A lot of people say, “Condition Yellow? I don’t really know what it is!” An analogy I use is if you’re driving and it is five o’clock in the morning and nobody is on the road, no big deal. Now put yourself in the middle of Manhattan, not necessarily at rush hour, but a lot more people around, and not people who are necessarily the most cordial drivers, so if you’re driving, you really have got to have your antennae up, pay attention to what’s going on, and if you’re going to change lanes, check your mirrors, and use all of your resources. You are not paranoid, not freaking out, but you definitely have your head in the game.
Most people can relate to that and know they just need to maintain that awareness. Everyone drifts off every once in a while, but just like as we are talking here, I need to think, “OK, cool, let me just put my head up, scan a little bit.” If nothing else, just loosen up your neck and scan around you.
eJournal: That’s different than constantly searching the crowd, which makes enjoying a conversation together difficult. I’d hate to live in such a state of worry that having a cup of coffee with a friend out in public had to be an exercise in threat detection.
Janich: It’s a scary world, but you don’t want to fall into paranoia of “Oh, my God! Everyone’s going to die!” No, that’s not going to happen. You look at it as, “Statistically, it is probably not going to happen to me, but if it does I want to be smart enough to have skills and resources that I can trust to maximize my chances of survival.”
It is like in self defense, “What would a reasonable person do?” Well, be reasonable. You aren’t trying to get a concealed carry permit to carry a machine gun. You’re not going over board, you’re saying, “OK, I want to be reasonable and look at what threats I might actually have to face and what can I do on a regular basis that becomes a comfortable part of my lifestyle, that is not overboard, that’s not unreasonable, but that gives me resources that the average person might not have.”
eJournal: And reasonable includes some preparations like carrying a gun, having alternative weapons and skills to use them, and even knowing what improvised weapons you could put to best use in an emergency. You have so much good information on that subject that we are going to break this interview here and come back with questions about improvised weapons use next month.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this timely topic with us. I look forward to exploring more of these topics with you next month.
Click here to return to March 2016 Journal to read more.
Training with Michael Janich
Michael, through his company Martial Blade Concepts, holds seminars across the country. To find out about these seminars, please consult his website, http://www.martialbladeconcepts.com/training/michael-janich-seminar-schedule. The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. is hosting Michael for a special two-day training course at its’ facility, located between Portland OR and Seattle, WA. For more information about that class, scheduled for the first weekend in June, see http://firearmsacademy.com/guest-instructors/112-martial-blade-concepts-critical-skills-of-self-defense-with-knives.