Expert advice for surviving a school shooting

For most of us, schools are a sanctuary of safety, but sometimes incidents can occur which make them a killing zone. If confronted with a school shooting situation, you must be able to make decisions that can keep yourself and others safe from harm. These suggestions are based on research from four decades of shootings, and the successful actions taken by those who survived these horrific events.


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  • exit if safe to do so
  • find cover
  • conceal yourself
  • present a small target
  • call or text for help

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  • carry anything while running
  • hide in shooter’s line of sight
  • plead for your life
  • fight the offender by yourself
  • draw attention to yourself

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do exit if safe to do so

Stay out of the shooter's direct line of sight and do not present a target by running in front of him. Instead, stay low, crawl if you have to do so, and use furniture to obstruct the shooter's view. Use a zigzag motion when you run, or move from one protective object to another until you can safely run far from the scene.

Do find cover

Find cover that will protect you from bullets. Cover includes items like brick walls, steel beams, or large pieces of furniture or equipment that will stop a bullet. Outside examples of cover include large trees, concrete tables, or steel drainage culverts.

Do conceal yourself

Conceal yourself from the shooter’s line of sight. Make yourself difficult to see by hiding behind copiers, in closets, cabinets or other secure rooms. In gymnasiums, hide under the bleachers or in auditoriums and conceal yourself behind curtains or between rows of seats. Outdoors, thick bushes or tree lines,  or even large trash cans or storage containers may hide you.

Do present a small target

Present a small target whether you are exiting the scene, hiding behind protective cover, or concealing yourself from the offender. If exiting, crawl or run in a crouched position if necessary. When hiding you should make yourself as small a target as possible.

Do call or text for help

As soon as you can safely do so, call or text for help to ensure that first responders are notified. Provide the police with the location of the incident, your location, and any other important information such as a description of the shooter, types of weapons used, and his last known location.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not carry anything while running

When your life is at stake, you need to be able to run as fast as you can when the time is right. Be ready to run by dropping all backpacks, books, laptops or other items that will slow you down. Don’t worry about your food on the lunch table or homework assignment on the desk. You want to be able to leave the area as quickly as possible.

Do not hide in shooter’s line of sight

Just ducking under a table in an otherwise open cafeteria or classroom is usually not a successful tactic if you remain in the shooter’s primary line of sight. A much better option is to keep moving from table to table in the opposite direction of where the shooter is moving. Stay low and as concealed as possible while looking for an opportunity to exit.

Do not plead for your life

Pleading for your life may seem like a good tactic, but because of the lack of empathy of most shooters, pleading rarely works. If you have no other options, playing dead has actually been successful on a number of occasions.

Do not fight the offender by yourself

Research of mass shootings, including school shootings, clearly indicates that when one or even two unarmed and untrained individuals attempt to stop a shooter, they are more likely to become a victim than a hero. If all other choices are exhausted, attack with multiple people while the shooter is occupied with other activities such as reloading or changing out equipment.

Do not draw attention to yourself

Standing up in front of the shooter, shouting, or otherwise drawing the attention of the shooter is not a good option for survival. Stay calm, keep quiet, and stay out of sight. If possible, allow the shooter to pass you by without noticing you and hopefully he will move on to other targets. If you draw his attention, even to save someone else, he will likely turn on you and then continue his rampage.


A school shooting incident is dynamic and ever-changing. Actions taken by victims must be based on the information they have at the time of the event, making the best decisions possible based on the circumstances and the totality of the information available. Being confronted by an active shooter is a traumatic event, but one that can be survived given the right circumstances, proper training, and correct actions taken by those involved.

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