Active Killer Events | Lessons from the Hood

Today’s guest post comes to us from Samuel Hayes. His formative years took place under decidedly different circumstances than many of us, and thus offers him different insights and perspectives. Today he writes about “Sudden Shooter Events”. Read up. 

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I’ve never been involved in a terrorist incident and may never, in my lifetime, come close. That doesn’t mean it’s not something I don’t think about every day. If you are truly concerned with the safety of yourself and those you love, and you live in a densely-populated urban environment with the other 22,000,000 of us, this is a topic worth considering.

Growing up in New York City during the 70’s and 80’s was the BEST time to be alive. The 70’s were before 2nd Amendment freedoms were attacked on a daily basis, and there was still a strong sense of community and bonding in neighborhoods. The 80’s were even more incredible as this was the point in history when Hip Hop went mainstream and a cultural phenomenon was born. Hip-hop was a way for inner-city black and Latino youths to express themselves and give the rest of the world a glimpse of what street life was really like. Jams in the parks where many rap legends cut their teeth rap battling each other were common. Gangs in NYC redirected their energy into what became known as “B-Boy crews” and exchanged the “Colors” (vest with gang affiliations sewn on or embroidered) for Adidas sweat suits and break dancing moves, but rivalries still existed and not everyone could rap or dance.

Little did I know that hip-hop culture and growing up during those times would lay the groundwork for me to prepare for the ever-increasing threat of Active Killer and ISIS terrorist attacks. Like many who grew up in these areas during that time, I’ve personally experienced being at a house party, park jam or basketball game when all of a sudden, gunfire. Instantly, in a panic, people began to run in all directions, shouting and screaming with no clear thought other than “escape”, furthering the chaos of whatever violence sparked the frenzy.

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In a recent conversation with Claude Werner, I coined the term “Sudden Shooter Events” (SSE) and can think of no less than eight I was caught smack dab in the middle of. Now, fast forward 25-30 years later, and I see correlations between these events and news accounts of active killer and terrorist events. Some things I learned I see repeated in many of the terrorist attacks and active killing events happening today:

1) There’s a good chance you’ll be separated from loved ones in the chaos with no way to communicate;

2) you won’t be able to easily identify the source of the threat, or know where the “safe direction” is;

3) the “Exit” may not be your best option for survival;

4) your first reaction will probably not be any of the cool shit you did in that Active Shooter Sims course;

5) whether you carry a gun or not, you need some type of trauma response training and kit because help is not coming before you or someone you care about bleeds to death; and last,

6) you’re probably not in good enough shape to be much assistance if you don’t work on it daily. You might wind up running as fast as you can to get out of the field of fire/ blast zone or carrying/dragging a loved one to safety.

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During Sudden Shooter Events in NYC, crews were often split up, friends would have to regroup as best they could after the activity died down. The dead and those who were shot or injured as a result of crowd swell were often abandoned until help arrived. If you experience an SSE, it could be hours before you know if the people you were with are okay, or had become victims and couldn’t communicate (back in my NYC childhood there were no cell phones to call homies). Have a communication plan and a rallying point if something goes down and you get separated. Even if cellular lines are down, texting often still works. Or find a WiFi hotspot and maybe use social media to send messages.

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What we know about active killers and terrorist is that their attacks are often calculated and planned in advance. Although I don’t believe all of these “Sudden Shooter Events” were as calculated, the outcomes and psychological effects they would have on those in the immediate vicinity were very similar. Before I knew what “Fight, Flight or Freeze” was, I was seeing it in real life. As much as we’d like to think, as armed citizens, that we will sweep in and save the day, I can tell you from first-hand experience, a few things will probably block your Bat signal. The human brain doesn’t like chaos and confusion. The calmer you can remain, the better you’ll be able to focus on your next move. Dave Grossman’s Combat or Tactical breathing method can assist with that.

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The exact location of the threat, unless you are standing right next to the shooter, is often obscured from view because too many people are moving about in panic. Standing still and trying to identify the threat will likely get you trampled and stomped. The best thing to do in these situations is to move with the crowd to a position of safety. Notice, I did not say towards the exit. I for one, would not want to get caught up in that bottleneck of everyone trying to squeeze through the same 36” hole in the wall known as a door. That is a formula for injury and disaster, and as we saw in the Colorado movie theater shooting, it gave the gunman a focused target. Consider where you are and what other options exist to get out of the shooter’s line of sight.

Are you in the mall? Duck into a store and head for the stock room or rear exit door/employee entrance. In a restaurant? Head for the kitchen, look for the back door, and at the very least, arm yourself with the largest knife you can find and hide until you can figure out the best course of action. I think you get the idea.

Security officers secure an area inside Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi

For those of us who carry concealed, pulling your gun without a clearly identified target (and maybe even with a clearly identified target) is probably not the best thing to do in a sudden attack where there’s gunfire and the shooter/shooters are unknown. You could easily be mistaken for a terrorist/killer and be shot by another citizen, off-duty cop, etc. Perhaps someone reading this just like you might be there and decide to tackle and subdue you, as happened when Gabby Giffords was shot. In a situation like this, Citizen intervention becomes a hazard in addition to the real threat. On top of all of that, how many of us can truly say we train to take the shot amidst the chaos and confusion I described in the last paragraph and possess the skill under pressure to make that shot count?

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Next, what if you or someone you love or know personally is injured? Do you possess the training and skills to render aid under fire? Where’s your med kit from Dark Angel Medical? Does your gym routine include Prowler Pushes or one-handed sled dragging to simulate evacuating the injured? Have you practiced applying a tourniquet under pressure? These are all things to consider when prepping for the threat. Video footage from the Westgate Mall terror attack in Kenya shows that many people bled out and died from wounds they could have survived if someone, anyone, had been prepared. Having seen these incidents take place in the context I described in NY and watching someone bleed to death, not knowing what to do, is a pretty fucked up feeling. Now, imagine that’s someone you love.

Think about it. We are slowly approaching a society where being a “Civilian Defender” (credited to Sherman House) may become the responsibility, on some level, of every able-bodied person in America. Whether it be intel collection via the “See something, say something” campaign, or the off chance that you may have to engage a threat live and in living color (or as a colorful real-life badass recently said in a Matt Landfair’s Youtube video, “punch a bad guy in the head with a hammer”), you could become the first line of defense against terrorism. Many of us have life experiences we may not realize taught us valuable lessons that could, one day, keep us in the fight and save lives.

Think about it, do the work, and be hard to kill.

Samuel Hayes

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