Burlingame: Discretion is the better part of valor



Lee’s note: Here’s another guest column — Part III of a series — from Peter Burlingame, AKA VIGunfighter,  president of the Self Defense Initiative on St. Thomas. Peter’s work is highly recommended. You can access his You Tube Channel here.

by Peter Burlingame

You and your family are at the mall, doing some holiday shopping. The mood is bright as everyone is anticipating a wonderful time. The purchase is rung up, you gather up the bags and head for the front of the store.

Nearing the entrance, looking out the large display windows, past the manikins dressed in the season’s hot new trends, you see all the shoppers outside stop, and like a flock of birds or school of fish, turn their heads, all looking in the same direction. To your right.

You’ve read my first two articles in this series and taken my advice “to decide NOW, what your base reaction to an attack event will be and you’ve decided that escape is the best choice for you.

You reach out to grab your child by the arm just before they step out into the mall, turning your family around just as the first shots ring out, accompanied by pitiful screams and then the stampede as the victims frantically try to get out of the kill zone. (one of the things that caught my attention in the Al Queda training tapes is that the people playing hostages yelled, and screamed and begged for mercy, all to acclimate the terrorists to beable to ignore it. Will you be able to?)

Hustling your family to the back of the store, you are stopped by the manager. “You can’t go back there! That’s employees only!”

“Ma’am, we all need to get out of here. Right Now.” She dithers, caught between company policy and the dreadful scene out front. You don’t have time for her to make the connection and gently, but firmly, push past her.

“Won’t the door be locked mom?”871c8f8e-720f-4097-bce6-4f6b4f56ff4a

“No honey, only from the outside. By law they have to have an emergency exit.” Hopefully it’s not blocked with crap, you think to yourself.

While there is a stack of flattened boxes ready to go out to the garbage, the door is clear, and fitted with the expected emergency push bar.

The shooting is getting louder, and more frequent. Your children are looking to you, and knowing that they are watching for clues on how to behave, how to react, you smile, wink at the youngest and take a deep breath.

You put your hand on your holstered pistol, but don’t draw it, not knowing who might be on the other side of the door.

“Stick together, watch out for each other.” You give them one more look and then push the bar, opening the door a crack.

A siren goes off, startling you. You manage not to show it. Mostly.

You’re committed now. A peek through the crack shows you the loading dock outside, at the back of the store. You pie the corner as best you can, and seeing it’s clear, you head out, family in tow. A handful of shoppers and a lone, rebel employee tentatively follow.

There are no immediate threats. No action at all, at this point. You’ve managed to get ahead of the wave. The family SUV is on the far side of the facility, the gynormous building between you and it.

Grabbing the littlest’s hand in yours, you head off on the long walk to your vehicle.

Muffled thumps which you realize are rifle shots dampened by the building are becoming more frequent. You slow as a corner comes up, which you pie from a distance of ten or fifteen yards. An ambulance comes into view, and you stop.

At this point the attack has been going on for maybe half a minute. How has an ambulance gotten here so quickly?

“Change of plans, guys.” Looking, scanning, you see a clear path to a nearby strip mall about five hundred yards away.

Taking note of the topography, you pick a path through a low lying area and lead off. Most of the others want their cars and head that way.

Cursing them silently to yourself, you move as quickly as the littlest one’s legs allow. Halfway to the adjacent mall louder shots shatter the afternoon air and you know those people never made it to their cars and you curse again. Hunched over, your body tries to pull your head down between your shoulder blades.

Heart rate spikes as worry about your children pumps adrenaline into your system. You use it to pick up your youngest and break into a lope, the older children keeping up. Three quarters of the way and you allow hope to take root. An angry bee zips by, followed by another, accompanied by the muzzle blast shortly thereafter.

The store clerk yelps, grabs at their upper arm, stumbles a step, but keeps on running. A peek over your shoulder shows two men in EMS d8d95979-3541-4ead-b8bd-4f6d183423e2uniforms aiming rifles at you and you curse those people that just had to have their precious cars.

“Take her and run!” Your oldest has had ‘The Talk’, and despite being a teenager, actually listens, taking your smallest child from you.

Drawing your pistol, you guestimate the distance to be a bit over two hundred yards. Elevating the front sight in the rear’s notch, you thank your gun nut shooting buddy for teaching you what a pistol is capable of at distance.

You whip off half a dozen shots at the two gunmen, with no real hope of hitting them, trying to buy your children time. The shots are close enough to give the gunmen pause and they stop and drop to the ground.

“I’ll take it” you think as you turn around to follow your children, switching out the partial magazine for a fresh one in case you need to offer another lesson in why you don’t mess with Mama Bear.

Holstering the pistol as you near the strip mall, you collect your children and find a secure place to hunker down while you look at the store employee’s arm. It’s a through and through wound, dark red blood, prompting you to pull your first aid kit out of your purse. Bypassing the tourniquet, you select the Israeli Battle Dressing, which, once applied, slows the bleeding to a manageable level.

Now you have the chance to make a phone call to let someone know you are OK and to arrange a pick up.

This is what a quick response looks like. This person has though ahead about the very real chance of an attack, what her base response will be as per the previous articles in this series, and what her options are. She was alert and aware and recognized the attack was happening in just a second or two. She wasn’t Supermom.

She didn’t do anything particularly unusual or extreme; she just took a number of reasonable precautions, knowing that she had a responsibility to her family. When it was time, she acted. Decisively. No dithering. She was also assessing on the fly and when necessary, based on new information, she changed her plan, continuing to act decisively.

Given what we’ve been seeing over the last few months and years, this scenario is a very real possibility. If you are as prepared, alert, and decisive as this mother was, you stand a very good chance of safely getting out of a terror attack or mass shooting.

Let’s look at how.

As a reminder, the focus of this article is on escaping. The first and most important part of that is awareness. This is on two levels, the micro, what is going on around you personally, and the macro, what is happening in your neighborhood, your state, your country, the world.

The woman in our story knew that very often terrorists will use ambulances to gain access to areas, so she was properly suspicious when she saw one that arrived too early.

That one piece of information let her make a decision that kept her and her family safe.

Knowing what types of tactics the bad guys use will help you to make good decisions on how to escape.

On the macro level, watch or listen to the news. From as many sources as possible.

I like Russia Today  as a counterbalance to the slant the U.S. News organs provides. This is how the mother knew about the use of ambulances and other stolen or cloned vehicles.

Keep up on the local news while you are at it. But don’t overdo it, for that way lies madness.

Many state or county emergency agencies have alert functions. My local one, VITEMA, sends out text and/or email notifications of local 492d5295-b0d5-41b2-9f58-0e2442d349d7events such as power outages, flooding, tsunami, etc. as well as when drills are being performed.

Signing up is easy and has saved me time and aggravation a number of times.

Regarding micro awareness, use all of your senses to know what is going on around you. How many senses do you have? If you said five, count again.

I don’t know how the sixth sense functions, but it does, and ignoring it can bite you right on the ass.

One year, Christmas shopping in a mall, packed with humanity, I picked up a smell. A type of cologne a friend wore. Body chemistry mixes with these scents, changing them, and his was distinctive. I looked around. It took a minute or so, buy I found my buddy, a couple of hundred yards ahead of me.

A chemical smell in the air may be the precursor warning of an imminent attack. Smoke or burnt gunpowder can be warning signals that your nose sends you, giving you a clue before your eyes or ears.

Our lives are full of plenty of distractions, from the smart phone in your hand, to that attractive shopper in the nice outfit. That’s fine, and natural, just don’t get sucked in, to the exclusion of everything else.

Take a page from the way you drive: you check the gauges, the mirrors, and then back out the windshield, in a continuous, repetitive way. Type a letter or two on the text you are sending, check your children, scan the crowd, pay attention to the sixth sense, and go back and type another letter or two. It quickly becomes habit. Upside is you will see opportunities before others do and notice the many good and beautiful things this life exhibits that most people miss through inattention.

Back to the sixth sense, be attuned to the ‘buzz’ or ‘vibe’ of the event you are at. They each will be distinctive. Take a baseline when you arrive and note and changes in it. Everyone has a sixth sense and tapping into the group’s can alert you of issues in the very early stages before anything has actually happened.

Wherever you are, where are the exits? Public and private buildings meant for business will have exits in case of emergency. Law requires them to have signs posted and the doors open-able by anyone. Get in the habit of looking for the exit signs when you enter a new space whether it’s the DMV or that trendy new store in the mall you daughter dragged you into.

Looking wildly about, when an attack is in progress is not a good plan. Your visual system is surprisingly bad, missing things all the time, and excitement and rapid head movements will couple to make the bright orange exit sign functionally invisible to you, so look for them now, while things are calm.

When you open an emergency exit, an alarm will sound, at the door itself, and probably inside the building, either at the keypad for the alarm or an external siren.

I mention it because it’s startling and I want you to be expecting it, and the bad guys might know what it is and come investigate. It will certainly catch their attention. Get out, and get moving!

Speaking of attracting attention, turn off your phone’s ringer. Mine’s off all the time. I rely on the vibrate function to let me know if I’ve got an incoming call. The phone going off at the wrong time could ruin your whole day.

Something big and noisy has captured everyone’s attention. Look around. A full 360. What you are seeing and hearing might be a distraction, while the real action is going on in a different direction, quietly.

Look for people, either singletons, or small groups, not interested in the flashy event. People that are intent and seem to have a job to do.

While you are working on escaping, you want to make certain that you avoid these people.

Remember, these folks are vicious and remorseless. There will be no mercy. Avoid them as best you can. Be ready to put them down if you can’t.

If you are armed, great, you are better able to fight your way clear if an attacker pops up along your escape route. But know that a firearm is the least important part of the equation. Total commitment to your mission, being willing to do whatever is necessary to get your family clear is critical.

Weapons can be improvised if needed.

You must exercise caution if you do have a gun. There may be police officers or other armed citizens in this chaotic, unpredictable scene. If you pop around a corner suddenly and they see you, will they mistake you for a bad guy, based on the pistol in your hand?

Keep the gun tucked in close to your body, cover it if possible. Having your hand on your holstered pistol doesn’t look very threatening, yet cuts your draw time in half, to just around a second or below.

How much ammo do you have on you? In a fight, you will fire four to five shots a second. That little revolver will let you fight for one second if you don’t carry a reload.

If you need to put rounds down range to provide cover while someone moves, you can very quickly empty a fifteen round magazine. I hope you have another one with you.

Even though this is a grave situation with attackers murdering people in cold blood, you are still responsible for every shot you fire. You must be reasonably confident that they are going where they should.

Remember that the bad guys may use a uniform to create confusion and give them opportunities. If you see a policeman or the UPS delivery person, don’t relax. See them first and avoid contact with everyone. Your job is to get out. Now.

Don’t be tied to a direction or a plan. Things change. In the story, the woman wanted to get to her car. Naturally. It will provide a quick getaway, probably has some more support equipment, offers some protection, and represents a big investment. It’ll be hard to give up. Be ready to make tough decisions like that.

Don’t hang around the periphery. Humans are very curious and you’ve just escapee the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you. The drive to stick around and see how it turns out will be overwhelming. Fight it. Get far away as soon as possible. Very often there are follow up attacks that target the First Responders. You could be what you consider a safe distance away, maybe near a command post or place where they are collecting victims for triage, then an ambulance pulls up and a second later blows up, killing all within a hundred foot radius and wounding people four times that far away.

Escaping from an active mass attack is, for many, their best option. Recognize what is happening as early as possible. Act quickly and decisively. Look for diversions and secondary or follow on attacks. Get clear as quickly as you can and get as far away as possible.

These basic guidelines will give you a solid chance to survive an active shooter or terrorist attack.

Disciplina remumenor fidelis

Peter Burlingame, PPS, is an active member of ILEETA and IALEFI, Peter explores the limits of protective practices. The biggest part of his life has been devoted to assisting others to become masters of their own safety and security. But then, it’s not like he has much of a choice in the matter.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

1 Comment

  1. Another reason to be aware of and use alternative exits is that people tend to try to exit the same way they came in. That’s one of the reasons crowds die in fires; everyone heads for and blocks the one exit they all used to enter. Those in the back (or the bottom of the pileup) die.

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