With the recent shootings at Los Angeles International Airport and a New Jersey shopping mall still fresh in peoples' minds, one may be wondering what it's like to live through such an experience.
Yahoo News spoke with Marcus Weaver, who survived the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado. "The fear grips you like nothing else," Weaver said.
"Once people started screaming, I could feel my heart beat going up," he told Yahoo News. "I live in Colorado and I've been all over the West and I've run into bears on trails and things of that nature. And it felt sort of the same way. Because you can't move anywhere, because you're automatically in a state of shock. That, like, this is real, you know? And once, in my brain, I realize it was real, that's when I got down on the ground."
Weaver was shot in the arm during the rampage. His friend, Rebecca Wingo, did not survive. In total, 12 people died; 70 were injured.
"I could see the gunman," he recalls. "People screaming. The smoke. The movie's still going on. All these things are playing in my head and I haven't slowed things down enough to, like, listen to the sound of my own thoughts. And my heartbeat was going crazy. And I could see this gunman out of the crack in my seat. I thought he may come down the rows. But he stayed in a corner in a position where no one could get to him."
Weaver stayed on the ground until he heard the gunfire stop. Then he ran for the exit. "The thing is when your heart's beating like that and you're on the floor you just think about what's my next step, what do I do. And this voice in my head came in and it said he's gonna stop shooting so get up and leave the theater."
All told, Weaver said he estimates the chaos lasted around six minutes, from the time the shooting began until he left the theater. "But I swear, it seemed like 60 minutes," he said.
Yahoo News spoke with Wayne Maxey, a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. He's also a senior consultant with Baron Center, a company that, among other things, offers security training regarding workplace violence prevention.
Maxey said that he has seen an uptick in training requests from companies seeking help on how to best deal with a potential workplace shooter. "Unfortunately, it's becoming such an evident part of our culture. These things seem to be happening every week. If not every couple of days. Organizations are starting to look at this and say, 'Whoa, what if it's us?' "
Maxey said that security organizations have been working on best practices for people who find themselves in these situations. Situational awareness, Maxey says, is very important. "Where you are, where exits are. Kind of play the 'what if' game. If something happens, where am I going to go?" Your first, best option, Maxey says, is to run.
"That's becoming the standard, if you will. The 'run, hide, fight' is going to be, I think, similar to 'stop, drop and roll." The city of Houston produced a video called "Run. Hide. Fight." that addresses how to best survive a shooting in a public place.
Years ago, Maxes says, the best practice was to hide under your desk. "Now, we're advocating more of a secure hide. In other words, if you can get into an office and lock the door. Even barricade it with a book shelf. Move the printer in front of the door, whatever. Get on your cell phone, call 911. Or at least silence your cell phone so you're not hiding and the shooter hears it."
If running and hiding aren't viable, all that's left to do is fight. "It would be an individual choice," Maxey says. "But it would be better to try to fight, whether it's throwing a book or a stapler or if you have people around you to dogpile the suspect."
Once out of the active shooter situation, Maxey says people should keep their hands empty and their fingers spread so they can be seen as a non-threat by police. "Law enforcement isn't going to be stopping to render first aid. They're going to be stepping over bodies and moving toward the threat."
Gordon Shyy, media relations officer with the San Francisco Police Department, echoed the "run-then-hide" philosophy. In an email to Yahoo News, Shyy said that anyone in a situation with an active shooter should "try to evacuate the area and if that does not seem like an option, find cover and shelter until law enforcement personnel arrive on scene."