Emergency Preparedness, FM Perspectives, Safety, Security

The Freeze Component of ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ During Violent Attacks

Editor’s note: FM Perspectives are industry op-eds. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of Facilities Management Advisor.

In April 2021, a 19-year-old male shooter named Brandon Hole opened fire outside a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis. By the time he was done, he had killed eight people and himself.

After the shooting, many distribution centers nationwide began analyzing their own security measures to help prevent another such incident. They conducted both physical security and risk assessments.

A physical security assessment examines such things as access control systems and surveillance cameras and suggests where and how these systems should be updated.

A risk assessment goes further. It involves identifying hazards—natural or manmade—that could impact a facility. This includes everything from a hurricane and fire to an active shooter or other type of workplace violence, all of which could end business operations for a prolonged time.

And these are not the only steps these distribution centers and other facilities are taking. Some are also requiring their staff to learn survival skills to deal with an active shooting event or other violent attack in their facilities. The most common methodology used is called Run, Hide, Fight (RHF).

Used by the FBI for more than 20 years and adopted by many police, law enforcement, and security organizations around the globe, the essence of RHF, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is the following:

Run. If you can safely escape the shooter or attacker, do so. Run to a secure location, preferably outside the facility.

Hide. If you cannot run away, find a place to hide where the shooter is less likely to see you. This could be in a coat closet, under a desk, in a janitor’s closet, in a safe room, or in a bathroom. Barricade the entrance as well as you can and remain quiet.

Fight. As a last resort, you may need to fight back against the shooter. This should be done only if you have no other option. Do all you can to defend yourself.

RHF Limitations

While RHF has served us well for many years, it has limitations that can result in a higher likelihood of injury or death. The biggest problem with RHF is that it focuses on reacting to an attack or violent incident that is already underway. That is often too late, and your life could be in danger.

The key reason for this was discussed in an opinion piece published in the New York Times some years back:

Underlying the idea of “run, hide, fight” is the presumption that choices are readily available in situations of danger. But the fact is, when you are in danger, whether it’s a bicyclist speeding at you or a shooter locked and loaded, you may find yourself frozen, unable to act and think clearly.

Finding yourself frozen when an assailant walks in the door or a violent situation is occurring can happen to anyone, even in the worst of violent attacks.

The following account is by Jonathan Weinberg, who was at his office on the 77th floor of the World Trade Center when it was attacked on 9/11:

It’s hard to express what I felt at that point, because I can only describe it as shock. Your mind cannot really comprehend what is happening—almost an overload state. You see it with your eyes, but you are somehow mentally detached from it at the same time.

In other words, Weinberg was frozen.

Introducing Prepare-React-Recover

Over the years, security experts have voiced concerns about RHF related to a person’s tendency to freeze in a violent situation. Dr. John Leach, a military survival expert and psychologist who has studied the actions of survivors and victims in many threatening situations, concludes the following:

  • Around 75% of people are so bewildered they are unable to think clearly and plot their escape. “They are mentally paralyzed.”
  • About 15% remain calm and rational enough to make decisions.
  • The remaining 10% “freak out” and become a danger to themselves and others.

Leach faults the media for not pointing this out. According to Leach, after a shooting or violent incident, the media focuses on who survived and how they survived. Instead, they should be asking why so many people did not survive.

This is why TAL Global has developed a different approach to deal with active assailant situations: Prepare-React-Recover. The essence of Prepare-React-Recover is this:

Prepare. Identify and assess the risks of active assailant incidents. This includes identifying potential targets, assessing the likelihood of an attack, and evaluating the organization’s vulnerabilities. Further, a threat assessment management team should be created.

React. Activate the threat management team and notify all employees that a threat is taking place. The threat management team should be responsible for coordinating the response to the incident and keeping employees informed. They may also suggest such things as evacuating the facility or locking down certain areas, as appropriate.

Recover. Provide support to victims and their families. Take steps to ensure that individuals and the organization can move forward after the incident as quickly as possible. 

It should be added that the Recover component also includes conducting a post-incident investigation. Documenting how the incident occurred and the responses taken helps better understand the incident occurred and can be used should litigation follow.

As Prepare-React-Recover is being implemented in facilities and organizations around the country, business owners and facilities managers have indicated that they appreciate the fact that the approach is proactive. Instead of waiting like sitting ducks for an incident to happen and hoping people know how to protect themselves, Protect-React-Recovery provides them with a strategy, a methodology to handle the situation.

They also see the Prepare-React-Recover approach as more sensible, laying out an action plan to prevent an incident and steps to take during and immediately after it occurs.

While Prepare-React-Recover can’t prevent every such incident, it can empower businesses and organizations to take action now, before they become the next target.

Oscar Villanueva is a Professional Certified Investigator, private investigator, and the chief operating officer for TAL Global, an international security consulting and risk management firm based in Silicon Valley.

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