On the need for direct personal action in emergencies.

As I look at the Virginia Tech tragedy, and reflect too on other recent events, it becomes clear to me that it is imperative that we all be prepared to act ourselves when emergencies happen. Panic and inaction only gets more people killed, and waiting for cops and paramedics can similarly leave you dead.

Now, I do not want to turn this into another gun control debate, although I do believe firearms figure into this. I will discuss that in a future thread, so do not bring it up here.

What comes to mind right now is not only the well known case of Professor Liviu Librescu, who blocked the door to his classroom and was shot while his students all fled and survives, but also some lesser known stories like that of Kevin Sterne. He grew up only a few miles from my hometown, in a little crossroads called Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, and graduated from my high school. I think my brother taught him - he was a teacher there for a while.

His picture was shown rather quickly - he was the one being carried away with firefighters on all four of his limbs. Turns out he was hit in the femoral artery and was bleeding badly. He would have bled to death had he not grabbed an electrical cord and applied a tourniquet to his own leg.

This quick thinking was the difference between making it out in a fireman’s carry and making it out in a body bag.

Other students were reported to barricade doors with desks or even their own feet. Cho would try these doors and move on after not getting in. That made the difference between 32 dead students and faculty and perhaps many, many more.

So, in the future, when your communities, schools and workplaces are formulating their emergency plans, work on your own. Gather the materials needed for you and your family to survive multiple disaster scenarios. Train up on first aid techniques and even some basic self defense. Stay in shape - a sizable percentage of the people who died in Hurricane Katrina did so because they could not climb to safety.

Most importantly, when the next disaster hits, don’t just wait for the cops to show up. Without being suicidal, see what you can do to directly help yourself and those around you. Do not interfere with the professionals who are on hand to deal with the disaster, but do not count on them for everything, especially in the first few minutes of a crime or the first few days of a natural disaster.

It is in these disasters that our responsibilities as citizens become most clear. If they touch you directly, your proper role isn’t to say that your taxes pay the cops, firefighters and paramedics. Your proper role is to help in such a way as the situation warrants, and in such a way as your abilities and talents allow.

In disaster training at my last company we were asked what we’d do if a crazed gunman came through the door. As a group we pointed the way to the president’s office.

That out of my system, I was struck this morning when I heard a student describe how they heard the shots and recognized what they were but it wasn’t until AFTER Cho came in and killed a dozen people in the classroom, which was TWO FREAKING MINUTES AFTER THEY HEARD THE FIRST SHOTS, that they blocked the door. While I’m not one to panic and turn this isolated incident into a call for the arming of every man, woman, and child in the nation, I think that a little action on the part of those people could have reduced the death toll. How hard would it have been for the teacher to lock or block the door?

I find it hard to fault people for not reacting by instinct to something they have no reason to prepare for. If they had blocked all the doors as you suggest, perhaps someone would have been trapped in a hallway with the killer. Maybe you have a few less dead, maybe a few different people dead, but again it may not be reasonable to assume that any of us would react in the optimum way, facing such a rare event.

A bag of Baseballs in every room.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming any victims here.

Still, it is true that if Kevin Sterne hadn’t thrown a tourniquet over his own leg, he would likely have bled to death before firefighters or paramedics could have found him. The first aid training he received as a teenager saved his life as a young adult.

I believe this is the point being made by the OP. He is suggesting that we think about these rare events now, consider how we might respond to them, perhaps drill for some of these responses, so that if the rare event does come to pass, we may face it with perhaps a bit more measured reaction.

They were saying last night that the doors didn’t have locks.

When danger erupts, people have either a ‘fight’ impulse or a ‘flight’ impulse. Some people leap into action and others are frozen in place.

Lots of people don’t think ahead about these situations and what to do in them.
Years ago, I was walking with a friend when we had to stop suddenly to let a car pass (we should have had the right of way at a crosswalk). My friend said “I would jump up”. I never thought of it before, but of course he’s right - if a vehicle is bearing down on you, you might suffer fewer injuries if you jumped into the air and risked being hit in the legs (or maybe landing on the hood) rather than in the middle of your torso. With SUVs these days, you’d have to make a pretty hefty leap but that’s still lodged in my brain and it will be what I do should I ever see a vehicle heading for me.

Similarly, I might not have thought of barricading a door if I heard shots (the normal instinct is to hide/duck/run since ‘fight’ isn’t that much of an option) but certainly if several students were able to pile several desks against the door and then hold the desks there, they might have been saved.

Remember hearing about ‘stop, drop, and roll’ for fires and ‘duck and cover’ for air raid attacks? Well maybe there should be another similar campaign based on ‘barricade and fight’ or some such things for events like this so that people have it implanted in their noggins and are ready to use that knowledge should (heaven forbid) the occasion arise.

Same goes, for instance, for instances of car hijackings or attempted kidnappings - I think many people have heard and now know that you’re much better to refuse to get into a car and to try to run when someone brandishes a weapon at you because if you allow them to take you, you’re worse off. Those kinds of things should be taught by anyone who knows them to anyone who doesn’t.

Like in the 60’s when they taught kids to hide under their desk and kiss their ass goodbye because the school might get bombed? The what if scenarios are never ending.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea to teach kids first aid. Lock the door when class is in session. Lots of Profs do that. Hire a guard.

That’s not a bad idea.

That’s fucking hilarious!

I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for every situation that arises. People simply aren’t built like that. We react for self preservation and to protect others when we can. That kid who was shot in the leg saved himself because he was able to, and I believe most people who weren’t busy collecting their brains off the wall would do the same. Realistically, I think most people would be horrified at the prospect of arming themselves 24/7 “just in case.” We don’t live in a war zone. Let’s not pretend we do.

I’ve mentally put myself in that situation and I wonder how I would have reacted. I like to think I would have picked up desks or chairs and threw that at him in an effort to either get him to leave or get him disoriented enough that he could be overpowered.

Even at close range, it is very easy to miss with a handgun. Getting a desk in the face might be all it would take to screw up his next couple of shots until he could be subdued.

Of course, this is what I like to think I would’ve done. I may have cowered in a corner.

I agree with Moto; a lot of times you hear about people in some crisis simply sitting there and letting themselves be swept under. A lot of people are afraid to take any initiative - they may recognize there’s an emergency but their response is to wait for somebody else to tell them what to do. Ironically, this lack of initiative is worse in a crowd - a person alone in the room will realize they have to take action on their own while individuals in a crowd will wait for somebody else to take charge.

Personally, I work in an environment where emergencies happen on a regular basis and I’m the person in charge (albeit often not the person at the immediate scene of the emergency) - so I’ve learned how to jump in and take charge. And I’ve noticed that in non-job related situations (emergency or otherwise) I’m usually more willing to take initiative than other people are.

I asked that we leave guns out of the discussion, please.

And while we don’t live in a war zone, most of us live in hurricane zones, or tornado zones, or flood zones. Some of us live in high crime areas.

Since I left the Navy, I’ve personally had to get through a terrorist attack and a hurricane. Now, neither of these events left me with terrible damage or loss, but they were certainly near misses that illustrated the points I made above.

In the case of a deranged gunman on the loose, my only universally applicable plan would be “Either hide, or get myself the hell away, unless there is a likely opportunity to save lots of others or a much younger person.” If I were armed, the same plan would work fine, but the opportunity to intervene might be much more probable. Other general rules, such as “I am not bullet proof”, and “I can’t help anyone when I am dead.” “A mediocre plan now is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” might be worth occasionally reminding myself.

It takes almost at least half, and closer to a full second to jump upward to any height, because you have to first lower your torso, (so you can then accelerate it upward with your leg muscles) and that can only happen as fast as gravity pulls it downward. A 30 mph vehicle will travel about 25-50 feet in that time. In many circumstances, that time is better used diving sideways out of the path of the oncoming vehicle. Consider also that if your jump is ill-timed (to early) gravity will put you right back into as bad a situation as before you jumped, whereas a horizontal move won’t suffer such a reset.

In the case of an oncoming vehicle “move as far out of the way, as quickly as possible, and assist your companion if possible” is a far better plan than trying to
work out how to best time an upward leap. You won’t know the speed of , nor the exact distance of the vehicle, you won’t know if they are braking or about to, and you won’t be duck-walking so as to be ready to jump at any time.

Pilots refer to these sort of “what if?” exercises as “hanger flying”. I have never, ever, heard of anyone benefiting from such. The scenarios ALWAYS either lack enough specific information, or assume knowledge that won’t be readily available in a crises. (like the specific cause of an engine losing power) Hanger flying is just a pleasant way to waste time when the weather is not suitable for the real thing.

Likely scenarios, such as an engine losing power on a twin, or a rope break for a glider certainly deserve advance planning, and even practice. “What if my nose wheel falls off right after takeoff?” probably doesn’t.

Rather than make specific action plans for scenarios that are unlikely to ever materialize, general guidelines are almost always applicable, and can serve well.
In aviation simple advice such as “The first action in any emergency should be to Keep flying the airplane, no matter what” or “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, in that order” Have saved some lives, and cost many others when they were not followed. (crashing the aircraft due to distraction by a non-lethal problem)

I have gone so far as to suggest that spending lots of time thinking about “what if?” is counter productive. If something similar comes up, you may well react as you planned, ignoring crucial information that makes your plan unsuitable for the circumstances as they materialize…jumping upward and getting hit, rather than diving sideways and getting missed.


A-The odds of any individual EVER being in the path of a deranged lunatic with a gun are vanishingly small.

B-IF it happens, it won’t happen anything like the way you thought it would.

C-Learning to keep your wits about you a keep thinking under stress is a very useful skill, but difficult, and requires training…and there are some people will never get it. You won’t acquire this skill playing what-if scenarios in unstressed settings.

This is good advice, and dovetails well with the points I was making in my original post about general preparedness.

They did have desks which were piled and held against the door–AFTER Cho’s first visit. They kept him out the second time he came.

“Fight or Flight” is too simple because these people did neither. There apparently is a third option, “Freeze.”

I’m glad to hear it.

Unfortunately, not all conservatives are so dignified:

This will be a dumb comparison. With that out of the way, in my baseball-playing days, every coach provided the same advice on playing defense in the field.

You were to spend your time between pitches analyzing the situation, and determining what to do if the ball was hit to you in the air, on the ground, or to your close neighbors, given the number of outs and the runners on base.

Even though this is a defined situation with limited variables and rules about what the proper action is- it was always stunningly effective for me in improving my reaction if/when I was called upon to play a role on defense.

I’ve always mentally made this analogy when getting into a potentially dangerous situation- on a plane or public transport, in a crowd, alone on a street at night, in an unfamiliar bar. Just a quick look around to cycle through my options.

I am realizing lately that the number of places I consider as potentially dangerous enough to do this checkin is increasing- but even if I don’t consciously do it, it is a good habit to have. It’s a good thing to be at least subconsciously aware of the toolset and constraints you have in any environment should things go wobbly- I can imagine if you have kids or older people in your care this increases as well.

Why are you singling me out when the person I was responding to mentioned guns? How can you even have this discussion without mentioning guns? And all I said was “armed” which could have been anything.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you seriously suggesting that basic first aid training is a waste of time because things don’t happen “like the way you thought they would”? What a relief! I’ll just tell the parents of those kids that are my responsibility things didn’t happen the way I thought they would, so I had to let them die.

From the OP - “Train up on first aid techniques and even some basic self defense. Stay in shape” Seems to me this will help you prepare for the fact that things don’t happen the way you think they will.

Assess, find cover, respond. Repeat it to yourself like a mantra. Sometimes it helps.

Or should it be Find cover, assess, respond? Probably better.