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Why 'Run, Hide, Fight' is flawed

The “Run, Hide, Fight” campaign doesn’t adequately address the reality of an active shooter attack


With the tragic events in Orlando and elsewhere still weighing heavily on the nation, it’s important to review our policies and practices for active shooter and mass casualty incidents and look for areas to improve. Here’s what requires immediate attention: the public safety campaign which encourages potential victims to “Run, Hide, Fight.”

The “Run, Hide, Fight” campaign is a multi-agency effort, promoted most prominently through a widely-distributed training film produced by the City of Houston, with federal funding.

The film and model encourage a “soft” response to violence, preconditioning the victim to escape or hide as the preferred means of survival, rather than confronting the attacker with immediate counter-violence. Potential victims are taught that the risks associated with fighting an attacker are much greater than the risks from running away, so violence should only be used “as a last resort” when all of the other options have been tried, and failed.

The Problem
The problem is that the “Run, Hide, Fight” campaign doesn’t adequately address the reality of an active shooter attack. The model encourages a mindset and a pattern of behavior that may not adequately prepare potential victims to save themselves and others during an attack.

Specifically, there are three problems with the model:

1. It fails to address the “Freeze”

2. It’s based on linear thinking

3. It fosters a non-aggressive mindset

The Freeze
Humans confronted with sudden and unexpected violence either freeze, flee, or fight. Even if a person later chooses to flee or fight, they often freeze momentarily for a bit before their mind “unlocks” and they take other, more helpful actions.

The problem with the “Run, Hide, Fight” model is that it ignores the possibility that a victim will freeze when attacked. This is critical, because the vast majority of the public lacks the mental conditioning and physical skills to adequately deal with violence, making them especially likely to Freeze in an active shooter situation.

If the model did a better job of recognizing the likelihood of a Freeze, educating potential victims about the dangers, and helping to stimulate the mindset and mental preparation necessary to “break it,” it would be far more effective. As it is, it simply ignores the most likely and dangerous of responses — panic induced paralysis — leaving potential victims completely unprepared for the reality of an attack.

Linear Thinking
The model also presumes that a potential victim will progress through the “Run, Hide, Fight” elements in a linear fashion, maintaining the exact order in a cognitive sense, even if not in actual execution. For example, the model encourages victims to consider violence only after the first two options have been attempted or considered. The model does not provide the flexibility necessary to “allow” a victim to consider using violence as the first and primary response, before avoidance and escape, even if the tactical circumstances dictate it.

This is a critical flaw in the model, because there are situations where a potential victim would be safer to immediately counterattack than they would be to turn their back and run. Sometimes fighting is not the last option, but the first and only option. A proper model would make it clear that either running or hiding or fighting could be an appropriate initial response, depending on the circumstances. Teaching the public that violence can never be the first option fails to mentally prepare them for the times when it should be.

Victim Mindset
By encouraging potential victims to Run and Hide as their principal options, the model fosters a nonaggressive mindset that leaves the average person unprepared to fight back when the conditions demand it.

In the last fifty years or so, the public has been increasingly conditioned to think that the police have a monopoly on the use of violence in self-defense, and that citizens are not permitted to use violence to defend themselves.

This has to stop — immediately.

New Message
Law enforcement tactics in response to active shooters have constantly evolved over the past two decades. We no longer establish perimeters and wait for SWAT or a perfect four-man diamond formation before we enter and close with the killer.

It’s time for our message to the public to evolve as well. It’s no longer acceptable for LE leaders and officers to promote and reinforce a sheep-like mentality that discourages citizens from using ethical and lawful force to defend themselves. This only serves to protect and embolden the wolves.

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