Experts explain what to do in active shooter situations

In the wake of this month’s mass shooting at a Colorado nightclub, one clubgoer is being called a hero for fighting back against the gunman—potentially saving many lives. 

In San Marcos, experts at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University instruct law enforcement and civilians on what to do if you’re ever in a similar situation.

"That's what I was trained to do. I saw him and I went and got him," said Richard Fierro.

Fierro, a military veteran, was partying at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, on November 19, when a gunman opened fire, killing five people. But Fierro fought back.

"I pulled him down, I told him as I was hitting him, ‘I'm gonna kill you, guy’," said Fierro. "And I’m beating him—this guy’s trying to wiggle, he’s trying to get his ammo, his gun."

"This guy really was heroic, and probably saved a lot of people’s lives that night," said ALERRT Center Executive Director Pete Blair.


Blair says Fierro successfully followed the strategy they teach every day: avoid, deny, defend.

"Avoid the attacker if you can. If for some reason you can’t avoid them, deny access to your location. Keep them from getting to you. Lock the doors, that sort of thing. And as a last resort is to defend yourself. So if you find yourself in close proximity to that attacker, we want you not to be murdered but to protect yourself and do what you can to defend yourself. And that’s exactly what it sounds like this guy did," said Blair.

ALERRT trainers instruct first responders and civilians on what to do if they’re faced with a scenario like the Club Q shooting.

"It’s actually one out of every six active shooter events that we see that a potential victim at the scene takes action and stops the attacker themselves," said Blair.

So what do you do if you have no choice but to take on a gunman?

"One of the primary advantages of a gun is a ballistic advantage meaning it can reach out to you over distance. So being in a close proximity to that person takes away a lot of that ballistic advantage. Getting your hands on the weapon, getting it pointed in a safe direction, away from you, away from others, and then it’s a fight for your life. There are no real rules about what you can do—pulling hair, eye gouging, biting—whatever it takes to stop that person," said Blair.

Bottom line: being confronted with an active shooter isn’t necessarily a hopeless situation, but planning ahead on how you would attack, deny and defend at a place like work or school, can go a long way.

"Spending a few moments thinking about what you would do in that circumstance is really good preparation to give you that script to draw upon when you’re in that situation, so you don’t have to come up with it on the spot," said Blair.

The ALERRT Center offers active shooter training specifically geared towards civilians through an online training unit. That can be accessed via ALERRT’s E-Learning site.