Run. Hide. Fight: Staffers learn how to respond to active threats

By Carl Zebrowski

Run. Hide. Fight. “If you don’t take anything else away from today, that’s what you need to take away,” Tim Brooks, regional security advisor for the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, told staffers of the Federation, synagogues, and Jewish agencies during a security training session on February 28. 

The goal of the morning’s Countering Active Threat Training (CATT) was to teach those who work at local Jewish sites what to do if they ever find themselves on the scene of an active threat—especially in light of the high numbers of mass shootings and antisemitic incidents in recent years. Brooks led the session backed up by a slide presentation developed by the Secure Community Network (SCN), whose mission is to ensure the safety of the North American Jewish community.

An active threat doesn’t necessarily mean a shooter, but the official FBI definition of an “active shooter” applies: “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Such situations are difficult to predict. “They can happen anywhere,” Brooks said, “and anyone can be the active threat.”

For people who find themselves in such a situation, Brooks said, training and preparation prove critical. Your heart will beat faster. Your thinking may be clouded. You may become paralyzed. “You will not rise to the occasion,” he continued. “You will fall back on your training.” 

Training has been shown to work. In a video that Brooks played, Steve Weiss, a congregant at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, recalled the shooting there in 2018 that killed 11 people. He had recently gone through SCN’s CATT training and was in the synagogue for Sabbath services.

Weiss had an opportunity to run and he took it. “I had followed the training we had,” he said, “and I was able to go out and meet the police when they arrived at the scene. I would have been the 12th casualty that day had I not had the training.”

Brooks, aided at one point with an instructional video from the FBI, elaborated on run, hide, fight. First, be aware of your surroundings, the basic floor plan and exit possibilities, including windows, so that if an incident occurs, you can run if you have a clear path. Leave your belongings behind and call 911 once you’re safe.

If that won’t work, then hide. Make sure that whatever you hide behind is substantial enough to stop bullets. If you find a room to duck into, lock and barricade the door. Wherever you are, silence your cell phone so it won’t alert the attacker to your location.

Someone near you may have been injured and may be bleeding. Apply pressure to the wound. If that doesn’t work, put on a makeshift tourniquet. 

If the initial options to run and hide aren’t viable or they fail, the last resort is to fight—but only if your life is in danger. Think about what you’ll do and, if others are there, plan an attack together, if possible, approaching the attacker from multiple angles. Try to use improvised weapons. Don’t fight fair.

Brooks stressed all along that you need to make a decision and follow through on it. “You must commit to personal action during an active threat,” he said.

There was one thing he said not to do: play dead. “Never, ever, ever, ever do that. If you lie down and play dead, there’s a higher chance you’re going to get shot or injured by the attacker.