We've probably all heard just about our fill on this latest tradgedy, and I don't want to talk about the politics involved. This event has brought a few key points to my attention, and I'd like to address them with this community, so we can hold a more comprehensive understanding of crime, and personal safety – even if we're not in our homes, we need to be thinking about these kinds of things.
If you're not familiar with this event, here are two articles upon which I'll draw when making my inferences:
So, we can look at this problem from 3 Environmental angles:
1. Tactical – dealing with movement and threats
2. Kinetic – the application of force and the results
3. Physical – the elements of the event and their impact
With this in mind, this is a "Response to Active Shooter" scenario, and a hugely difficult one.
First, let's look at the environment:
The event took place in a crowded theater, at ~midnight. The theater was an opening event, and was crowded. Theaters generally have on external exit, and one main exit, with two relatively long corridors, which are open overhead, leading to the seating area, and stairs flanking and bisecting the seating areas. Theaters are also dark. While this is all common knowledge, we need to 'be there' mentally for this exercise.
This is particularly important, because most of the seating sits elevated above the entry. The architectural geometry creates some very distinct problems:
– At the height of the seating, you're as far from the exit as you could be, in terms of distance traveled.
– Because of the open top corridors, a motivated person can jump from the seating area, to put themselves closer to the exit.
– You have to descend narrow stairs to reach the exit, and the exits are located at the end of two long corridors.
– Each corridor is, in essence, a "fatal funnel" – an area in which you are at risk of being in the direct line of assault.
– The maximum capacity of a theater is ~300 people.
…and it's a gun free zone.
With regards to the kinetic aspects, we have two clear options – escape, or engage.
To do either, you would have to traverse this environment, moving through a sea of people, of which, many are being targeted, are wounded, or are panicing. This presents a huge problem to both of our kinetic options. A clear opportunity to engage and the ability to escape are severely hampered by the physical environment, and the liability of engaging the threat carries with it a very significant chance of inadvertantly injuring an innocent. This environment makes it very difficult to do anything, and puts us squarely in the Type I emergency category.
In addition, the aggressor was armored head to toe.
The tactical environment offers very little in the way of advantage. Almost anything you could conceal yourself behind will be insufficient to stop bullets of any caliber. The seats are low, and offer no ballistic protection. The adversary has entered the facility facing the audience, and created a visual diversion by using smoke bombs. This process effectively blocked the most distal (exterior) exit, which allowed the threat to utilize the physical environment to his advantage.
This tactical situation accomplishes several things:
– It maintains the three principles of CQB: Speed, simplicity and violence of action.
– It severely degrades a responder's ability to counteract an attack.
– It buys him time.
So, with these things in mind, what can we do?
First, we establish our priorities:
1. Stay alive – seems like a good place to start
2a. Observe: analyze the options; engage or retreat – from there, we will decide how best to address the threat. Do you have loved ones with you? Children? WHere are you positioned in the theater? Where can you exit to? Use as cover or concealment?
– Engage: In order to do this, we need a few things:
* A weapon – the one between your ears, most notably, but your odds will increase with proper tools.
* A clear line of sight, unobstructed by innocents
* A position of concealment, cover or an angle from which you can regain initiave (If you want to survive the exchange)
– Retreat: This option is almost as bad as engaging, as you're competing with ~300 other who've got the same idea. A good majority of the injuries were those trampling one another to get out.
2b. Orient: Take stock of where you are, what angles you can use, where the flow of foot traffic and the angles of attack are.
2c. Decide- The overwhelming impression I get is that no one made a decision in this case. The disorientation was so prevelant, that people defaulted to panic. Having your wits about you is empowering when you are forced into a 'reactive' scenario – think these things through in advance… contemplate the possibilities as a mental game, not as a continual fear or paranoia.
2d. Act – Whatever you do – move! Don't get caught by the panic, and bind up. The hysteria that comes with mobs of terrified mammals is not something you want to get trapped in. Act deliberately, and use your observations (knowing who's around you, good and bad), orientation (forming a plan quickly to meet the emergency) and decision to act intelligently. How are those around you going to react to you presenting a firearm? Are you capable of making the shot? Of wrestling the weapon away?
The military uses the term "assault through" to denote fighting a losing battle against a superior force. Surprisingly, it works. An overwhelming and unexpected counterattack can steal initiative and buy you some precious time to work the problem on your terms.
If you can't fight through, be deliberate and stay oriented. Staying alert and not panicing will go a long way in keeping your OODA loop going strong.
3. Be prepared for the fallout of either decision. If you've got the equipment, get out from under fire and treat the injured – be ready for the police to rough you up. Be ready for a disorientating slew of events; media, police, judicial, familial – all these things are going to be post incident impacts that you need to be mentally ready for right now, regardless of whether you flee or engage. Do you have a way to contact you loved ones? Account for those with you? If you're placed in police custody, do your family members understand what to do?
An important note "Holmes had 4 weapons, three of them were actually found in the back of the car". (Source: USA Today, video). It's important to remember that, considering the media circus is hyper-focused on the weapons involved.
I'm curious to hear how others view this problem, how you'd react, and what you would do if faced with this absolutely terrible situation… it's as close to a "no-win" as possible, and as evidenced by the outcome, not 1 of 300 people made the decision to fight.
How could this have been different if they had?
The outcomes could be positive or negative – the event will always be a tradgedy – but what we do can shape the scope of that tradgedy.
I hope to hear your thoughts.