Disclaimer: This article contains subject matter that may cause distress to some readers.
Canada is peaceful. We apologize. We open doors for people. We say ‘hi’ to strangers. Niceness is part of our cultural identity – or at least our stereotype. So why am I writing about horrible things that happen in other places, to other people?
Because Canada is far from immune. While other countries (I won’t name names) take center stage where civil emergencies are concerned, Canada has its fair share of turmoil and conflict too. It’s an unfortunate truth that man-made emergencies are just as important to prepare for as less-taboo, natural disasters.
If you’ve read our articles before, you likely know that Total Prepare takes a Prepared, not Scared approach to readiness. That’s why today we’re going to talk about what we as individuals can do to mitigate and respond to civil disasters. We’ll also look at what can be done on a larger scale to minimize these events in future.
The Golden Rule
As usual with emergency preparedness, the best thing you can do in a civil emergency is to stay calm. Fear, anger, and hysteria are contagious and damage our abilities to think clearly. Staying calm in a crisis will not only help you to see solutions quickly, but it will also help others to pick up on your ‘zen.’
Tragically, stories of disgruntled coworkers or unstable youths ‘going postal’ are no longer a rare occurrence. Too often we hear about innocent people getting hurt, or worse, without good reason. Like any disaster it’s important to learn the best ways to minimize your personal risk in these dangerous situations.
If you hear gunshots, head the opposite way. Put as much distance between you and the source of danger as you can. We don’t care how many ‘likes’ a video of the event might garner, we want you safe.
If you can see the shooter, run in a zig-zag pattern. There’s a very good chance that the shooter is not experienced, or that they might be a little shaky, so moving sporadically will decrease their accuracy. As soon as the opportunity comes, get out of their line of sight.
Hiding from an active shooter has entirely different rules than those games of ‘hide and seek’ in the playground. Instinct will encourage you to hide in dark, quiet, enclosed spaces. Avoid these. Closets are not well known for their many escape routes.
Aim for an open room, preferably with more than one exit. Lock the doors if possible and note whether they open inwards or outwards. If they open inwards, barricade the door with whatever is to hand. Tables, desks, or the old cabinet with the ’90’s JVC TV in it. If the door opens outwards, just lock it and hide.*
*If you are an administrator looking to prepare, ask us about installing barricade devices for outward swinging doors.
Fighting is a last resort. All else has failed, and you’re facing the shooter. If you had time and allies beforehand, discuss a plan and use teamwork. If you’re on your own, try to find something to fight with. Fire extinguishers, chairs, or a fire hose can knock an assailant off their feet. At the earliest opportunity disarm the shooter.
While researching for this article I learned something I didn’t expect that doesn’t fall into the Run, Hide, Fight model, but is still good to know. If you find yourself instinctively throwing your body to the floor, don’t go all the way down. Stay on your hands and knees rather than sprawling flat.
When bullets hit the ground, they will usually travel along the surface of the floor, rather than ricocheting upwards. If you keep your vitals off the ground you’ll be less likely to accidentally catch a bullet traveling this way.
I am slowly becoming convinced that despite our easy-going reputation Canadians are quite hot-blooded. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lost Stanley Cup game or the local fire hall running out of free road salt, we can riot with the best of them.
Leave the area if you sense trouble brewing. It’s noble to want to stay and de-escalate things, but chances are you’ll only add to the chaos. Plan ahead when meeting up with a crowd. Think about escape routes and be sure to familiarize yourself with the area prior to arrival. If possible, stay at the periphery of the crowd and near an exit or intersection.
If you are heading into a situation that could turn ugly, wear clothing that covers your skin. Long-sleeve shirts and pants are good. Avoid outfits that make you look like police or military, and if there is a uniform or colour-scheme representing the potential rioters either avoid it, or wear something underneath so it can be removed quickly.
When moving through or away from a riot, move fast and keep your head down. Running can attract unwanted attention, so keep the pace to a brisk walk. If you’re not alone, be sure to hold hands or lock elbows with your group to keep from getting separated. There’s safety in numbers.
When you have put distance between yourself and the rioters make your way to an enclosed, controlled building. If possible, aim for a basement or sub-basement. Most riot violence happens outdoors, so just getting inside will greatly increase your safety.
Stay in touch with events through social media. This will help you know when it is safe to come out, or if you may need to evacuate. Do your best to contact anyone who knew you were going to the event, or anyone you care about who went too. Let them know you’re safe, but don’t tell anyone still tangled in the riot where you are.
If authorities begin using riot control chemicals, stay calm. Don’t wear oil-based sunscreen or moisturizers as these can help other chemicals cling to your skin. Wear glasses in place of contact lenses to nullify the possibility of getting chemicals caught between your lenses and your eyes. Protect your hands with gloves or by keeping them under your armpits. Your hands are covered in sensitive nerve endings and will be agonizing if affected. Lastly, avoid touching your face if you are anywhere near riot chemicals. The last thing you want is to transfer chemicals from your clothes to your skin.
Although most bomb threats are hoaxes designed to generate fear and anxiety, every instance of threat must be taken seriously and treated as if there is a live explosive in the area. Bomb threats can be received several ways, with the most common being phone, email, or letter.
If you receive a bomb threat call 911 immediately. Follow their directions and help others to do the same. You will be advised if an evacuation is necessary. If it is, coordinate with the 911 operator and any authorities in the area (eg: your boss, a security officer, or an event coordinator for example.)
Evaluate your immediate surroundings for unusual packages or items that are out of place. If you spot anything do not touch it and inform emergency services immediately.
If you are unlucky enough to be the person who picks up a phoned in bomb threat, there are a few extra steps you can take. Do your best not to aggravate the speaker, but keep them talking as long as possible. Show your willingness to cooperate and try to get the following information:
- Where is the bomb?
- What kind of bomb is it?
- What does it look like?
- When is it going to go off?
Let the speaker talk uninterrupted as often as possible. As anyone who’s ever watched an action movie knows, if the villain is allowed to monologue they’ll often let something critical slip. Take notes while you listen and report everything you heard to emergency personnel. If possible, have a coworker call 911 while you keep the caller on the line.
We’ve all seen the movies, so most people will have an idea of how a hostage situation might begin. It’s an average day at the bank, or the campus, or on the airplane. The protagonist is probably bored and in line for something. Then a handful of suit-wearing, mask-donning, gun-toting criminals press their way through the doors and shout “Everybody down, this is a hold up!” or something equally cliched.
Regardless of how it starts, there are things you can do if you find yourself being used as a bargaining chip in a violent crime. The first thing to remember is that police and local security all want to help you, and want you to leave the situation healthy and hale. Try to stay calm and listen to instructions, both from your captors, and your rescuers.
Unless told to, do not talk back to your captors. Do your best not to be the protagonist of this story. No witty quips, no cheeky insults, no provocation. Be invisible.
It may be tempting to take matters into your own hand and fight your captors. Resist the temptation. Remember, you do not want to be the main character of this story. The criminals are likely prepared for the eventuality, accustomed to violence, and better armed than you.
Avoid negotiating your freedom. A professional negotiator will be provided by emergency personnel. Unless, by sheer coincidence, you are a professional negotiator, say as little as possible. Drawing attention to yourself never ends well.
Why does this happen?
Most people can’t imagine picking up a weapon and actively causing mass harm. Well, maybe when we’re having a particularly frustrating day, but never seriously. So what causes some people to just “snap?”
Actually, ‘snapping’ is an inaccurate term. It implies a sudden change that comes about all at once. In reality, the process has likely taken months, if not years, to come to decisive action.
According to preventingcrime.ca the biggest factors in criminal behaviour are poverty, social environment, and family structures. All of these elements can contribute to feelings of inequality, desperation, and frustration. If someone doesn’t have the resources or capabilities to deal with these feelings they can escalate into criminal or violent action.
What can be done?
Universal programs that support families, give access to housing, and increase the health of our communities as a whole are considered the primary way to reduce crime and instability. As long as these opportunities are equally available to everyone they can mitigate and minimize the risks associated with poverty and family structure.
This kind of support can be represented on the individual level too. Keeping an eye out for warning signs: unpredictable behaviour, loneliness, or misdemeanors – especially in youth – is something we can all do. Include and support people who exhibit these signs, even if they’re not part of your usual circle. It’s incredible what a difference one person’s kindness can make.
If you find yourself in a man-made emergency, stay calm and listen to authorities. Use common sense and distance yourself from the proceedings as soon as possible. If you are confronted, do what you can to avoid provocation and escape unharmed.
Thank you for reading and take care of yourselves!
This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered and emergency preparedness professional.