One of the most important survival skills in modern times is understanding how to survive an active shooter attack. With the number of mass shootings continuing to increase in the United States, it’s important to know what experts recommend to give yourself the best chance of survival.

Much like preparing for a financial collapse or other SHTF scenarios, the best way to survive an active shooter attack is to plan ahead of time. By their very nature, an active shooter situation is unpredictable and evolves quickly. By preparing yourself mentally and physically now, you have the best chance of survival if you get caught in a dangerous situation.

Avoiding Dangerous Situations

Before understanding the best strategies to survive an active shooter attack, it’s important to know that the first, best step is to hone the ability to avoid dangerous situations. Admittedly, avoiding an active shooter is more difficult than avoiding areas known for criminal activity, since shootings can happen in many different locations.

Still, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Take note of anyone acting in an erratic manner. Avoid large crowds if they have been the scene of past violence (some shootings, such as a recent one in Philadelphia, evolve from a fight between groups of people).

It always pays to keep alert. In its guide to how to respond to an active shooter, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advises people to stay aware of potential dangers and to find two exits when they first enter an enclosed area.

Advice on Surviving Mass Shootings

DHS offers a series of steps to take if you get caught in an active shooter situation. For example, for those in a building, they advise people to stay in an office and lock the door. If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door.

They only recommend taking on the shooter as a last resort. “When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her,” DHS wrote.

The following looks at advice from both DHS and the Ready Campaign from the U.S. government designed to help people survive disasters and attacks, including attacks in crowds and public spaces.

Before An Attack

In addition to marking the exits and staying alert for signs of danger, you should always “say something if you see something,” including suspicious packages, strange behavior or unusual communication between two people. Other warning signs include people who express anger or an intent to harm others.

It also helps to know First Aid so you can assist any wounded people before law enforcement and paramedics arrive. Most active shooter attacks last only 10 to 15 minutes.

Responding to Active Shooter

Keep the following in mind to survive an active shooter attack.


If there is an accessible escape path, use it to evacuate the premises as quickly as possible. DHS reminded people to:

  • Evacuate whether others agree to follow or not
  • Leave belongings behind
  • If possible, help others escape
  • Stop people from entering an area where the active shooter may be
  • Keep hands visible
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people
  • Call 911 when you are safe

Remember, getting away from the shooter is the top priority.


If there is no clear route to safety, then you must find a place to hide. Find a place to hide that is out of view of the attacker, and place a barrier between yourself and them, if possible. If you can move into a room behind a locked door, do so quickly. Turn off the lights, close the blinds and remain silent. Remember to silence your cell phone.

If you cannot hide and there is no evacuation route available, DHS advises calling 911 and giving your location, or leaving the line open so that the operator can hear what is happening if you cannot speak.

Take Action Against the Shooter

Again, this is the absolute last course of action. However, if you are in a situation where you cannot escape or hide and are near the shooter, acting gives you a better chance of survival. It’s important to commit to your actions if put in this situation. You must prepare yourself to cause severe or lethal damage to the attacker.

DHS recommends attempting to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by acting as aggressively as possible against the attacker, throwing items and improvising weapons (or using a self-defense weapon if you have one), yelling and “committing to your actions.”

Ready further advises to “recruit others to ambush the attacker with makeshift weapons such as chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc.”

After Law Enforcement Arrives

When law enforcement arrives, stay calm and keep your hands empty and visible. Follow instructions from the police, moving only when told to go to a certain area. Avoid making quick moves toward the officers or shouting, pointing or screaming. Information to provide officers should include:

  • Location of the active shooter
  • Number of shooters, if more than one
  • Physical description of the shooter
  • Number and type of weapons held by the shooter
  • Number of potential victims at the location

Surviving an active shooter is, unfortunately, something that everyone must plan for, especially when in crowded locations. By planning ahead and knowing what to do if caught in a mass shooting situation, you and your loved ones stand a much better chance of getting out alive.