Over the past two weeks, a rash of mass shootings took place at “soft target” locations across the United States. Law enforcement officers refer to these locations — a garlic festival, Walmart and a nightclub — as “soft targets” due to the fact there’s generally little security provided to protect visitors, patrons or employees from attack.
These deadly shootings have left anxious parents worried about what they should do if they ever find themselves caught in the crosshairs while out with their children. The experts we spoke with both agree this scenario is highly unlikely to happen, however, they offered some tips for parents looking for information on how to keep their families safe if ever find face-to-face with an active shooter.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
If you’re out with your young children, you may already be keeping track of several things at once — kids who like to run, a diaper bag, stroller — but you shouldn’t let that distract you from keeping an eye out for anything that looks out of place.
“Situational awareness is the number one life-saving tool anyone, including law enforcement, has in an active shooter situation,” Steve Muntean, a State Law Enforcement Veteran and Active Shooter Instructor, explains to Parentology. “Being aware of your surroundings will help avoid and escape a mass shooting.”
Muntean advises parents make note of the nearest exits, to try and sit with a clear view of the main entry point and to look for things that appear out of place, like someone wearing a large jacket in the middle of the summer or carrying big bags in a restaurant.
Leave Your Stuff Behind
As you would in the event of a fire, if there’s an active shooter, leave personal belongings behind. This includes any baby gear, like diaper bags or strollers. Muntean says that most of this gear will only serve to slow you down while you’re trying to get to safety.
“In several active shooter case studies, the parents are shot first since they’re trying to protect their kids and moving slowly,” Muntean says. “If the parents are incapacitated, there’s often no one to protect their children.” The good news, Muntean says, is that children are less likely to be the target in these types of shootings.
Run, Don’t Hide
Every parent knows it’s hard to keep your child quiet under the best of circumstances. Trying to silence them while hiding during an active shooter would be next to impossible.
“The average law enforcement response time during an active shooter situation is three minutes,” Muntean says. “Running, escaping, is a better option as long as you have enough distance between you and the shooter.”
In an active shooter situation Muntean advises the avoid, deny and defend method. Avoid the situation, deny the shooter access to you or your family (which can include barricading yourself somewhere safe or creating distance between the two of you), and defending your family by fighting when you are left with no other options.
“Shooters will go after the path of least resistance and distance themselves from conflict,” he says, adding that most shooters have little to no tactical experience.
Leonard A. Sipes Jr, the Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse and a former police officer and former Director of Public Information for the National Crime Prevention Council, agrees, telling Parentology most shooters will have terrible aim.
“Seek cover first and leave the area as quickly as possible, seeking more cover along the way.”
The Time to Talk is Now
Age-appropriate conversations should begin before finding yourself in a situation where you need to act. Muntean advises parents use the following steps:
- Role Play: When you enter a mall, movie theater, grocery store, school, etc, play a game to see if your kids can find the nearest marked exit. This will help with any emergency situation. Make sure they understand the basics of 911. Depending on their age, you can teach them how to improvise exits out of windows and first escapes. Teach them about law enforcement and their role during emergencies. Children are often scared of a uniform, weapons, and loud noises during a traumatic event.
- Independence: Depending on your child’s age, you can teach them how to break free from you, regardless of the situation, if you employ a “code word.” The code word is something you can use within your family to let them know that it’s time to run to the nearest “safe zone” (i.e outside), which can be especially important if you’ve been wounded.
- Train: Repetition builds muscle memory. During a stressful situation, all common sense and fine motor skills will dissipate into what we call “condition black”. Your gross motor skills (like running and kicking) will likely still work while your fine motor skills (like dialing a phone or finding your keys) will not. Training your family on how to communicate situational information by using easy to understand words and actions will be helpful during any emergency.
In addition to these things, Sipes suggests having age-appropriate conversations about the fact that sometimes bad people do bad things. He suggests having the conversation in a way that empowers your child instead of scares them by avoiding phrases like “mass shooting.”
Sipes says these conversations are no different than the generic conversations the justice department has been encouraging parents to have with their children for years about things like inappropriate touching or getting into a stranger’s car.
One final tip Sipes has for parents, is to remember that although it may seem like shootings are happening everywhere, it’s still very unlikely to happen to you and your family.
Steve Muntean, State Law Enforcement Veteran and Active Shooter Instructor
Leonard A. Sipes Jr, Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse, former police officer and former Director of Public Information for the National Crime Prevention Council.