How to SURVIVE in an active shooter situation

I recently attended Active Survivor Training (also called Active Shooter training) with my children. What we learned was invaluable and, as our personal story shows, the lessons can be used in real-life situations.

To survive and active shooter situation you cannot count on law enforcement. You must act.
A Study of Active Shooter Incidents between 2000-2013

These types of incidents are not just happening in schools. They are being perpetrated by disgruntled employees, happening at our local Walmarts and more. This is why I encourage everyone to contact their local police department and sign up for this type of training.

Here’s some of what I learned:

You can’t count on law enforcement to save you.

  • Over 60% of active shooting situations are over in less than 5 minutes
  • On average, police take 5 minutes to arrive on scene
  • On average, SWAT takes 50 minutes to arrive on scene

To survive, YOU must take action.

What you should NOT do

Previous active shooting situations have been studied in detail and the findings are clear: Hiding, negotiating, and playing dead will get you killed.

  • Shooters know people “play dead” and target them
  • Shooters go in with the goal of killing as many people as they can and know they won’t make it out alive so negotiating or pleading is futile
  • Shooters look for people who are hiding and they end up being sitting ducks

What you should do

Your goal in an active shooter situation must be to survive until law enforcement arrives. Remember, on average this takes 5 minutes or more. Here are the three strategies that give you the best chance of survival:


If possible, ALWAYS run. This gives you the greatest chance of survival.

  • In every situation know where the exits are
  • Call 911 only when you reach safety
  • Never go back

Remember, it takes time to call 911 and provide information, and even longer for law enforcement to respond. These seconds count so always run to safety first before calling.


Hiding or playing dead is not enough to save you from an active shooter. You must actively barricade yourself in a room while waiting for law enforcement.

  • Lock the door FIRST
  • Use furniture, cords, etc to barricade the door
  • Do NOT remove barricades. Not for other potential victims or even law enforcement*

*Once the police are on scene they will find a way to get into the room. Take no chances.

Remember, active shooters want to kill as many people as possible. If a door not easily breached they will quickly move on so even a simple barricade can be effective.


When in close proximity to a shooter, the best strategy may be to attack.

  • Use deep breathing to ensure you have all your facilities about you
  • Anything can be used as a weapon – throw a stapler, cell phone, or trash can
  • Grab the gun with both hands to either jam it or delay the shooter

Remember, you may not be able to ultimately wrestle the gun away or stop the shooter. However, you may be able to distract them or delay to allow law enforcement to arrive. It may be your only and best chance of survival.

While these strategies all come with inherent risks, previous shootings have been studied in detail. The FBI and other law enforcement groups have found that the likelihood of survival dramatically increases for people who run, barricade, or attack.

Other tips

  • Stanch bullet wounds with tampons, teeshirts – anything is better than nothing.
  • Use a belt or cord to tie a tourniquet above a wound. Tighten until the bleeding stops.
  • When police arrive drop any weapons and put your hands up.

In real life…

Like most people, I never imagined this type of tragedy could happen to me. However, recently, my sister and I were in a life or death situation with a gun (you can read more details of our story here). Fortunately, my sister had been through Active Survival Training.

An “active shooter ” is defined as someone who wants to kill as many people as possible. Based on this definition, our situation did not involve an “active shooter,” but the strategies from this training were effective.

My sister instructed our teenaged children to run, and as a result:

  1. All three of our kids safely escaped
  2. They were able to call 911 and get us help

She also knew our best chance of survival was to attack. She and I both wrestled for the gun, and as a result:

  1. We bought ourselves time for law enforcement to arrive
  2. The scene was disrupted and our attacker moved out into open space where he could be confronted by law enforcement.

Ultimately, these active survival strategies saved our lives.

Remember, in an active shooter situation your goal is to survive while you wait for law enforcement:





Related Posts:

My Response to the Parkland Shooting

Image credit:

I learned this valuable information and more from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s Active Survival Training which I attended on 9/4/2019.

Book Review: The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself

If your child has attachment issues, The Boy who Build a Wall Around Himself is the perfect book to cuddle up with. This lovely story by Ali Redford, an adoptive parent, gently describes the emotional wall some children build to protect themselves and keep safe after experiencing early childhood trauma. On one side of this “wall” is the caregiver, and on the other side the child.

The beautiful illustrations in this book will help even young children begin to reflect on how this “wall” is negatively affecting their lives, by keeping them from getting support and having fun with people who care for them.

This book will not only be thought provoking for children, but also paradigm shifting for caregivers. It’s a gentle reminder that our children’s behaviors are deeply rooted in trauma. Their unwillingness to attach to us is out of fear and the need to control everything around them because they view the world as an unsafe and uncaring place.

When I read this book I thought of my daughter Kayla. We adopted her out of foster care at the age of three and she’d been neglected. The she came to us, she spent hours screaming and could never get enough to eat. No doubt her needs had not been met up to that point and she was desperately trying to survive. She’s healed over the years, but the scars of early childhood trauma are forever etched on her core.

Kayla is now 15, but still my sweet baby girl. So I recently read her The Boy who Build a Wall Around Himself substituting “girl” for the word “boy.” It was a truly touching moment for us even though she’s a teenager and it’s a picture book. Always keep in mind that for traumatized kids, connecting at an earlier emotional level can be a powerful way to rebuild those connections they may have missed.

If you pick up this book and read it with your child please be sure to come back and share about the experience in the comments. I’m looking forward to hearing about your beautiful moments.

A Dangerous Son

This HBO documentary explores the struggle of three moms who are trying to find mental health services for their aggressive sons.

A Dangerous Son tells the story of families with sons who have disorders that lead to explosive, violent behaviors. These kids are a danger to their families and themselves – but there are few options for mental health services. The documentary doesn’t go into the diagnoses of the children but does mention the autism spectrum, intellectual disability, and schizoaffective disorder.

While our children may have different diagnoses, the issues are the same for every parent struggling with a child who has violent behaviors. The themes are eerily familiar:

The documentary is headlined by Liza Long who wrote the viral blog post, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. If you haven’t read it, here’s an excerpt:

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me…In the wake of another horrific national tragedy [Sandy Hook], it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

Liza Long, I am Adam lanza’s mother

If you haven’t read it I highly recommend Liza Long’s book, The Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness.

The lack of mental health treatment for kids with a propensity for violence is a national tragedy. It’s impacted Liza Long’s family and my own. And in some cases it spills out into our schools and communities. A Dangerous Son is a well made, compelling documentary that helps raise awareness around the difficulties of parenting a child who has violent behavior and the struggle to find help.

Have you seen it? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts.

What I Wish People Knew About These Popular Social Media Quotes…

Everyday I see quotes like these on social media:

Behavior is not a kid being bad, it’s a form of communication.

My behavior is a symptom of my trauma, not willful non-compliance.

These types of sentiments garner thousands of likes, shares, and re-tweets. But for families like mine, they simply don’t ring true.

My son, Devon, has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a result of early childhood trauma. My husband and I adopted him out of foster care when he was 4 and prior to that he was neglected and did not form a close attachment with a caregiver. This is called “developmental trauma,” a term coined by leading expert Bessel van der Kolk.

Kids who experience chronic neglect and abuse may begin to default to fight-or-flight mode in even minimally threatening situations. Developmental trauma can also disrupt the brain’s development causing impaired or under developed cortical brain functions including cause-and-effect thinking and abstract thinking. RAD is a common diagnoses for these kids.

I liken RAD to a tug-of-war. For example, Devon will become belligerent over anything from what color socks he’ll wear to if he’ll use a seat belt. His screaming fits last for hours – literally hours – and often include property damage and dangerous physical aggression. Devon treats every situation as though it’s life-or-death, in a desperate attempt to control the people and situations around him.

Are Devon’s extreme behaviors related to his developmental trauma? Of course. He’s driven by the unconscious trauma scars etched on his psyche.

His behavior IS communication.

His behavior IS a symptom of his trauma.

That doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t also willful.

Devon makes a choice when he refuses to buckle his seatbelt. He chooses to tip desks over in his classroom. He chooses to break windows and chase his siblings with a baseball bat.

Certainly, there are some disorders where symptoms are involuntary such as schizophrenia and alzheimer’s. However, RAD is a behavioral disorder. Control and anger issues are symptoms of this disorder.

Kids with RAD can be both unconsciously motivated by underlying trauma scars and willful. These two things can and do coexist. In fact, this is what makes parenting a child diagnosed with RAD so challenging.

Our child enjoys pushing our buttons because it gives them a feeling of control, which they unconsciously crave. That’s the underlying motivation and the pay off, but that doesn’t negate the child’s role in making a choice to engage in certain behaviors.

The idea that a person has no control over their behaviors is not healthy for anyone. I refuse to take away my son’s agency. If he has no control over his behaviors. then he has no hope for a better life and no hope for the future.

As a parent in the trenches, here’s my take on the social media quotes I listed above:

  • I recognize my son’s behavior is a symptom of his trauma, but also as willful non-compliance.
  • I listen to the communication behind my son’s behavior, but I also tell him his behavior is bad.

As I like to tell Devon, a sneeze is involuntary – stabbing someone with a pencil is not.

Let’s acknowledge that our children’s mental health is complex and nuanced. Let’s stop painting with such a broad brush. Causes behind our children’s behaviors aren’t always simple enough to be encapsulated in a snappy social media quote.

When Insurers Deny Mental Health Coverage, Families In Crisis Struggle Even More

By Christine Herman

When Matthew Timion needed to get his son treatment for mental illness, he did not anticipate it would be so hard to get the insurance company to pay for it.

Timion adopted his son out of foster care when he was 3. He says the trauma and neglect his son experienced in his early childhood led to mental health issues later in life.

At age 10, Timion’s son began to act out aggressively and threaten violence. At one point, Timion was bringing his son to an inpatient psychiatric hospital in the Chicago area every few weeks.

At times, the insurance company and the hospital staff disagreed over whether treatment was necessary.

“He was cutting himself and he’s hearing voices and he is threatening to run away and kill me,” Timion says. “The insurance company says, ‘Well, he hasn’t done that in three or four days now, he’s good to go home.’ And the hospital said, ‘No, he has to stay.’”

Timion filed multiple appeals and won. But months later, when his son needed even more costly residential treatment, Timion almost relinquished parental custody to force the state to step in and pay for treatment he couldn’t afford.

But data from Illinois shows not all parents can navigate insurance for their children like Timion. Dozens of children a year enter state custody when parents run out of options for getting them the mental health care they need. Fundamentally this issue of who pays for mental health treatment comes down to a law that requires insurance companies to cover mental health care at the same level as other medical conditions.

The Complicated Battle for Coverage

To get an insurance company to pay for a claim they’ve denied, patients can file an appeal. But if the internal reviewer—a medical doctor employed by the insurance company—agrees the treatment isn’t needed, the patient has to pay the bill.

When this happened to Timion, he appealed to the state agency that regulates insurers. The case was reviewed by a psychiatrist, who determined Timion’s son needed to be at the hospital, and the insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, must pay for it.

“So in our case it worked out,” Timion says. “Most people don’t have the tenacity to go through this process,” especially if they’re in the middle of a crisis with their child.”

A 2015 survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests Timion’s experience is not unique.

NAMI asked consumers across the country about their experience with private insurers, and found that people seeking coverage for mental health services report being denied at a rate double those wanting coverage for other medical services.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois declined an interview but sent a statement saying the level of care they cover for group, individual and family health insurance policies is based on medical necessity, which includes looking at national guidelines and the needs of individual members. For members who receive health coverage through a government-sponsored program, BCBSIL says coverage is determined by the state or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Locked Out: Listen to the episode of The Workaround related to this story

Laws On The Books

Ten years ago, Congress enacted the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. It requires most insurance companies to cover mental illness on par with other medical issues.

But the law doesn’t require insurers to cover all mental health treatments. Rather, they must demonstrate they cover mental and physical health equally.

David Lloyd, national senior policy adviser for the mental health advocacy group the Kennedy Forum, says insurance companies have made some progress toward compliance with parity laws. They no longer charge higher deductibles or have stricter limits on mental health services. But potential violations include denying coverage they deem unnecessary.

John Foley, CEO of Benefit Consulting Group in Northbrook, Ill., says during a time of rising health care costs, insurers don’t want to spend money on expensive treatments that aren’t absolutely needed.

Foley says hypothetically, if an insurance company is asked to pay for a mental health treatment that will cost $600,000, they want to know: “Is there another way to treat this, to handle it for $75,000 and get the same outcome?”

Part of the challenge is that what’s medically necessary is sometimes up for debate, says Foley. If someone breaks a bone, they need a cast. But with issues pertaining to mental health, it’s not always as clear-cut.

Foley says there are also financial incentives on both sides: Providers make more money on expensive treatments, while insurers save money by denying that same care.

“Providers are not angels and neither are the payers. I just want to make that clear,” Foley says. “Neither side is, shall we say, virtuous.”

Stepping Up Enforcement

Advocates say regulators need to step up and do a better job enforcing existing laws so that the burden doesn’t fall to patients in crisis—or their families—to battle insurers when mental health coverage gets denied.

In recent years, state and federal regulators have taken steps to improve compliance with parity laws.

A 2014 investigation led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman uncovered numerous parity violations by private insurers, resulting in settlements that forced the companies to return millions of dollars to consumers. In 2014 and again in 2017, the state of California fined Kaiser Permanente for failing to provide members with timely access to mental health care.

In Illinois, where Timion is, Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed into law a measure advocates say will enable greater enforcement of parity laws by increasing transparency and accountability for health plans.

Lloyd says Illinois now has the strictest mental health parity laws in the country, and he hopes other states will follow suit.

The Price Of Coverage Denial

Mental health coverage denials can have dire consequences on families.

When Timion’s son was hospitalized again at age 13, doctors said it wasn’t safe for him to return home. He needed to go to a residential treatment center to receive 24/7 care, which can cost up to $200,000 a year.

Timion’s insurance company said they would cover one month. But many facilities won’t accept a patient without proof of payment for at least six months, which Timion did not have.

While his son remained at the psychiatric hospital, Timion says he spent eight hours a day for more than a month on the phone with his insurance company, state agencies, even lawmakers, trying to figure out how to pay for residential treatment.

Thanks to a family connection with a mental health facility nearby, Timion moved his son from the hospital into residential treatment. The month covered by his insurance company ran out, but he convinced the child welfare agency to cover treatment until a state grant would kick in to pay for the remainder of his son’s treatment.

“Mental health care is not treated the same way as cancer or anything else,” Timion says. “So people have to go through these ridiculous hoops” to get treatments covered.

The Kennedy Forum’s David Lloyd says Timion’s story is an example of why it’s in states’ best interests to ensure parity laws are enforced.

“Costs are going to be picked up by taxpayers in one way or another,” he says.

A Father’s Worry

Timion’s son is now 15 and just moved home to Illinois after a year-and-a-half at another residential facility in Missouri.

His son is doing much better, Timion says, but there’s still a long road ahead.

“Parenting never stops,” Timion says. “In his case, it’s just a lot harder.”

He worries about parents who aren’t able to access mental health treatment for their child.

“Most of the parents I talk to, they’re looking at their kids ending up in jail soon, or dead,” Timions says. “That’s just how bad the behaviors are getting.”

This story is part of a podcast from Side Effects Public Media called The Workaround. You can listen and subscribe to the show here.

Christine Herman is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

A white mother on her black son: He’s treated differently

My Op-ed published by The Charlotte Observer

My biracial son Amias and his white cousin Jacob – middle school honors students – stood a few paces apart at a local shoe store . Clutching my debit card, Amias glanced at a Nike price tag as a store clerk approached. “You can’t be in here without a parent,” he said. Apologetically placing the shoe back on the display, Amias jogged to the exit then sat on a bench waiting while Jacob continued to browse uninterrupted.

When Amias asked why he was treated differently than his cousin, overt racism was an easy, but insufficient, answer. The clerk probably didn’t attend neo-Nazi rallies on his days off It probably wasn’t intentional at all. Instead he likely acted on an unconscious gut reaction. This type of implicit bias, the unconscious prejudice that underlies our actions, is tricky because it’s often subtle and ambiguous. Some argue it doesn’t exist. As the white mother of a black son, I assure you it does.

The compounding effect of implicit bias sets Amias’ future on an entirely different trajectory than that of his white cousin. According to a new study, Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States, even though Amias and Jacob started life on the same rung, Jacob has upward mobility while Amias is far more likely to fall down the ladder than climb up it.  Read more here.

Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys – The New York Times

Amazing study that shows kids who live on the same block–grow up in the same social class and schools–do not have the same upward mobility. Black boys are significantly more likely to drop to lower income brackets.

My biracial son is one of the boys represented by the little blue blocks. He’s far more likely to fall down the income ladder than go up.

Amazing graphics on this article.

via Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys – The New York Times