“Pop, Pop, Pop”
Over the course of my law enforcement career I have interviewed hundreds of witnesses and victims of shootings. More often than not, I heard the phrase, “At first, I thought it was fireworks.” Why do you suppose people who are hearing gunfire assume it is fireworks? Well, when we are at work or some other place we presume to be safe, we often interpret our experience via what we want to hear – and what makes the most sense in terms of our context and life experiences. For many people, those experiences don’t regularly include the sound of gunfire. So when we hear a “pop, pop, pop” (or something similar), we default to the assumption that those sounds are fireworks. Fireworks means “no one is shooting”. Fireworks means “I’m not in danger”. Fireworks means “everything will be ok.”
But it’s “never fireworks”. At least that should be our mindset with regard to safety and the possibility of an active shooter.
Denial Can Be Deadly
Statistically, as law enforcement professionals we know the majority of casualties in an “Active Shooter” incident occur in the first three minutes of the beginning of the event. We also know that we have to survive as long as seven to ten minutes while waiting for law enforcement to arrive and stop the shooter. This means that we have precious few seconds to react when we are threatened by nearby gunfire. Assuming “it is fireworks” is denying we could be in danger. Denial wastes time. Trying to convince yourself that the unthinkable is not happening is stealing the time you need to improve your chances of survival. Bottom line: denial can be deadly.
Instead of denial, first tell yourself what you just heard was gunshots. Then react. Create distance or evacuate if you can. If you don’t have time or the ability to get out, find a place to barricade and protect yourself. Remember that the goal is to buy time until law enforcement arrives. Lastly, if the above strategies don’t work, prepare to encounter the shooter. Arm yourself with unconventional weapons. Work with others. Be prepared to fight for your life. After all, if it was fireworks then you probably have nothing to worry about. But as far as our survival in active shooter situation is concerned, the survival mindset needs to be that it’s “never fireworks.”