When Mass Shootings Happen, What Can Civilians Do Before Police Arrive?

Dec 6, 2015
Originally published on December 23, 2015 4:32 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Police in San Bernardino have been praised for how quickly they responded to Wednesday's shooting. And yet, they still didn't get there soon enough to stop the massacre, even though the SWAT team was training just a couple minutes away. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the recent string of mass shootings has convinced some Americans that they need to prepare themselves.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: When Tina Clippinger heard about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, she didn't wonder what she might do in that situation. She'd already thought that through.

TINA CLIPPINGER: I'm going to say to you, Martin, run. OK, I'm going to squeeze your arm, and you're going to know something is terribly, terribly wrong.

KASTE: We're sitting on a bench at an outdoor mall. This is Riverside County, about an hour from San Bernardino. Clippinger was deeply distressed by Wednesday's shootings. But she'd rather not dwell on that. Instead, she wants to show me the techniques that she learned in a class that she took a couple of years ago after another mass shooting here in Southern California. The plan, she says, is simple. You run or hide, and if you don't have any other options, you fight. She has me play the bad guy.

OK, I've got my finger gun right here.

CLIPPINGER: So you've got a finger gun on me.

KASTE: Yeah - oh. I did not see that happening.

CLIPPINGER: No, you didn't.

(LAUGHTER)

KASTE: What she did was look over my shoulder, enough of a distraction to allow her to bat away my gun with her other hand.

CLIPPINGER: You're thinking, in a nanosecond, what is she looking at?

KASTE: So I looked over there, and that's the moment...

CLIPPINGER: I can run.

KASTE: Uh-huh.

CLIPPINGER: I can run - run, run, run, run, run.

KASTE: Clippinger is among a growing number of Americans who've responded to this wave of mass shootings by taking survival classes, classes like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ALON STIVI: I will teach how to - where to stand and how to position yourself so you have a tactical advantage versus the shooter coming through that door.

KASTE: The video shows college-age kids here in California practicing what they'd do if a gunman were about to barge into their classroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STIVI: Shots fire in the corridor. Shots fire in the corridor.

KASTE: One group is preparing to throw things at the shooter's face while others prepare to rush him from a different direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Whoa.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Laughter).

STIVI: Yes, sir.

KASTE: The man teaching that class was Alon Stivi. He's a counterterrorism expert from Israel.

STIVI: Well, I came to America almost 30 years ago to teach Americans how to survive terrorism. And I had a conviction that terrorism is coming to America. And I wanted to do something about it.

KASTE: His company, Attack Countermeasures Training, gives courses to police and, especially lately, to civilians.

STIVI: Generally, business is good.

KASTE: And not just for him. Several companies now teach variations of these run-hide-fight strategies. And law enforcement supports the trend.

SID HEAL: The victims are going to have to take responsibility for their own survival.

KASTE: Sid Heal was once the head of the Los Angeles Sheriff's SWAT team. Now he's retired, and he studies active shooter situations. He considers survival techniques like this a new life skill, sort of the CPR of the 21st century. He feels this way even though most people will never encounter an active shooter. Statistically, the average American is still far more likely to be shot by someone he or she knows or to be killed on the road by someone texting at the wheel. Heal's aware of these statistics. But still, he wants people to prepare.

HEAL: The thing is - is that you're going to have to decide on what's the worst-case scenario. Is it worse to experience this in a controlled environment or simply become numb when it actually happens and you're incapable of dealing with it?

KASTE: In Riverside County, Tina Clippinger puts it another way. She says she'd rather have a plan of action than just be afraid. Martin Kaste, NPR News, San Bernardino. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.