Navy SEAL's Surprising Advice for Surviving an Active Shooter

You're at your desk or in a cafeteria or on a train when a guy bursts in firing a machine gun. What do you do?

According to former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson, "People think, I'm going to die! or I'm going to be rescued. Rarely do they think about rescuing themselves."

So how do you rescue yourself?

Emerson, now a crisis management expert, has written a bestselling book on the subject, 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation (Touchstone, October 2015). Given the nature of the 100 Skills--chapters include Win a Knife Fight, Make an Improvised Taser, Make a Water Bottle Silencer, and Dispose of a Body--you would expect Emerson's recommended course of action to lead to the gunman's eradication.

But his advice is much simpler: "Run."

And go in a zigzag pattern--it's hard for a shooter to hit a moving target; zigzagging makes it harder still. Also run from cover to cover, if you can.

What if running isn't an option, if you have no clear escape route?


Find the safest place possible, secure it as well as possible, and ideally, get behind objects made of bullet-stopping material like dense wood, concrete, steel or granite (Identify Emergency Ballistic Shields is among the 100 Skills). Then call for help, by phone, by text, by placing sign in an exterior window--whatever works. And stay down--"Most ricocheting bullets follow the path of the floor, so when bullets are flying, squat or move to hands and knees rather than lying down."

Your very last option, according to Emerson: "Fight."

"Most people think it would be in the opposite order, fight first, then hide, then run," he says. "When you have choices, always err on the side of safety. Running increases your distance from the threat, increasing your survivability."

In the Survive an Active Shooter chapter, he writes, "Fighting is an option of last resort, to be used only when other options have failed or are unavailable. The important thing to understand, however, is that fighting is an option: It is possible for unarmed targets to effectively disarm and incapacitate an armed assailant, particularly if they outnumber him." He adds, "The aim is to control the weapon and then control the shooter."

How do you do that?

"A gun can only be shot in one direction at any one time. Attackers often assume that their targets will be cowed by the sight of their weapons; any offensive reaction is likely to catch them off guard."

Emerson has compiled 257 pages worth of applicable offensive tactics, ranging from transforming an umbrella into a lead pipe to waging psychological warfare. Perhaps the most valuable tactic you'll read about in 100 Deadly Skills, however, is preparedness. "Prep your mind ahead of time," he says. For instance, in a cafeteria: "Ask yourself, Where can I run, where can I hide that stops bullets? If I have to fight, what improvised weapons can I use? Salt or pepper, which burns the eyes? A fork or knife?"

The true purpose of the book, Emerson concludes, "is not to make you more dangerous, but to make you significantly safer."

Excerpted from 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation by Clint Emerson. Copyright © 2015 by Clint Emerson. Used by permission of Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.