How to make life and death situations

Making decisions is difficult enough.   What’s for dinner?  Where should we go for vacation?  Should I buy the iPhone 6 or 6s or the 7?  What should I cut from my budget? Now take that same skill add in the pressure of a fast paced high stakes situation such as an active shooter and you have the recipe for disaster.

Why is it so difficult to make decisions under stress

Making decisions is something that many of us think we know how to do.  Many of us do, but do it poorly.  The reason is that we have never been taught how to make decisions based on the right cues or with predetermined outcomes.   In addition, most of our decisions involve so many factors that it is easy to become clouded or in other terms stuck in analysis paralysis. Something you can’t do in life or death situations.  Especially, when body piercing rounds are flying and students lives are hanging in the balance.

Let’s look at how to make decisions in high stakes life or death situations.

Three cues (indicators) is enough

When you observe three indicators you must make a decision.  While you don’t always need three to act as soon as you observe three, you must act.  You can’t wait any longer because if you do you are likely to find yourself on the wrong side of a thousand guns.  The reason you are relying on three indicators is that many times (not always) a single indicator is not enough to give you accurate information about the event.  Multiple indicators (clusters) strengthen the accuracy of your decision making skills.

Here’s a quick example.  Crossing your arms is said to be an indicator that you are resistant to the information being presented.  But research has shown over and over that this single indicator could simply mean that the person is cold and trying to warm themselves or that they have a pain in the shoulder which they are trying to stretch out.   However, if you combine the crossing of the arms with sitting back in the chair and looking elsewhere you would have a strong cluster of indicators that could support your claim that the person is rejecting the information.

Here’s another.  Someone walks into the front of the office wearing a black trench coat.  No big deal.  Now add in that they are yelling.  We are getting closer.  Throw in that they slam their fist on the check in counter.  This is a cluster of indicators that tells you to act, to make the decision.

So what are the indicators for violence or life and death situations?  You are looking for anomalies in the current set of behaviors for the group of people and place you are in.

  • Presentation of a weapon
  • Yelling, screaming
  • Slamming fists
  • Sounds of gun shots
  • Concealing clothing
  • High on drugs
  • Crossing security lines
  • Forcing their way into things
  • High impatience
  • Argumentative
  • Narrowing pupils
  • Red face
  • many many more

Trigger lines

Trigger lines are thresholds for the cues/indicators.  These are high value indicators.  This is where the single indicator becomes enough to act/make a decision.  This trigger line can also be the line that once it is crossed it is too late to gather more information safely.

As we stated above you don’t always need to have three indicators to make a decision.  When an indicator is of such as violent nature or surpasses your ability to safely assess the situation, failing to make a decision will cost you your life or someone else’s.

Let’s look at a real life example.  The military.  They have a trigger line for vehicles approaching bases.  This line is at a safe distance from the base to prevent a vehicle bomb from doing damage to the base.  If a vehicle passes that line without being properly waved on, the military will engage the vehicle with a warning shot or by opening fire on the vehicle depending on the rules of engagement at the time.  There is no time to read the drivers facial expression, ask more questions or run a check on the vehicle.  They must act.

Here’s another example.  A man approaches a police officer with a weapon in their hand.  The man has crossed a trigger line and the officer must act.  There is no time to probe with questions.  The officer must be ready for battle.

The same holds true for trigger lines on school campus.  The problem is that many staff don’t know what those lines are or what to do once they are crossed.

Predetermined outcomes (decisions) are needed

In active shooter situations there are three outcomes you can choose as recommended by the FBI and other professional trainers. Run, hide or fight.  While I personally think more training is needed in the “fight” response, I generally understand the rationale behind these outcomes in a school setting.

So there you have it.  Simple. Three outcomes or decisions to make.  Now that you have the decisions you can make, let’s look at how to apply these.

Scenario one – you are 50 yards down the hall and see someone pull a gun and fire a round.  Two cues.  Crossed a trigger line.  Your decision – run.

Scenario two – you are in your classroom and hear shots fired.  One cue.  One trigger line crossed.  Your decision – hide.

Scenario three – you are in your classroom and see a man walking down the hall in a tactical vest.  One cue.  Trigger line?  Your decision – hide.

Scenario four – you are working the front desk and a man walks waving a gun.  One cue. Trigger line crossed. Your decision – fight.

Scenario five – a man walks into the office and puts his hands on your shoulder.  One cue.  Trigger line?  Your decision – ???

Decision making is a skill and it must be practiced.

Yes, decision making is a skill.  It takes practice.  Lot’s of practice.  It also requires that you train and think about the indicators, trigger lines and the outcomes.  The best way to do this is to get together in small groups and start assessing real life situations. What are the indicators, where are the trigger lines and how would you react.

Practice. Practice. Practice.  And make sure that act quickly and when those indicators present themselves.

Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here.

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