About Featured Expert: Ms. Pitluck earned her M.A in Government, and is a specialist in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security. She has vast experience in Counter-Terrorism Strategies and Middle-Eastern Studies. Today, she is a Security Analyst and Project Manager at the International Security Academy.
The following is a condensed version of the full audio interview, which can be found in the above link at Science of Skill’s SoundCloud station.
Marcus Roth: Hey there, folks. Welcome again to the Science of Skill Podcast. This is Marcus taking over for Coach Dan. I’m on the horn tonight with Adina Pitluck, she has spent the last 10 years getting experience in the field of homeland security and Middle Eastern studies, now she’s here on the podcast today for the first part of a multi-part series where she’s going to share her insights on terrorism and active shooters. Today we plan to tackle what to do in an active shooter scenario.
Adina Pitluck: Great to be here.
MR: All right, so let’s kick it off with talking about the ISA. It’s the organization that you work for, Adina. What are they all about?
AP: I served in the Israeli Defense Forces, and from there I went on to complete my undergraduate and graduate in government and counter-terrorism, with a specialty in Middle Eastern studies and homeland security. The ISA has been around for 30 years like you said, and they train individuals in the security field to work as bodyguards, as security agents in the field of protection, as well as training private individuals who would like to learn Krav Maga, shooting, and so on.
MR: Let’s start things off with the general signs of an individual looking to get violent. Can you tell us the warning signs you want us to look out for? What are the go-to signs, and what signs aren’t there?
AP: First thing, I would look for physiological indicators and behavioral indicators. Relying on racial profiling is not a good idea, just because nowadays anyone could fit the profile of a terrorist. It’s more reliable to look at things such as sweating, flared nostrils, agitation, shaking, any signs of anxiety or stress. The individual will avoid eye contact for instance, or they’ll be target-oriented. They’ll stare at their target. They’ll look at what they’re aiming to do and they’ll have this look of determination. They won’t seem to be aware of anything else other than that target. The other thing is you could also look for behavioral things such as tactical moving. They’ll move around like they’re on a mission, or they will scan the crowd. They’re looking for their target or looking for the optimal conditions.
MR: Right. Exactly. What might an active shooter or extremist look like? Do they have a profile? Now, I know many of them, the fair majority of them, are at least men. Are there any other factors like that?
AP: Statistically they’re men between the ages of let’s say 18 and 40, 45, but it’s not exclusive. In Islam, most religious sects forbid women from taking part of war, which acts of terrorism would include, however secular sects do allow women to take part, so you can’t rule out any of the exceptions.
MR: Let’s talk about the weapons themselves that they might use. What might they be equipped with on average? For kicks, how often are those actually legally obtained?
AP: Well, I’ll focus on the States and then I can always tell you about Israel as a side remark. Weapons tend to be semi-automatics, just because of the magazine capability. If you’re already going to to do damage, you’re going to seek to do maximum damage. I know that in the States, fully automatic weapons are illegal, so they would seek semi-automatics. From the statistics I saw actually online, according to the ATF database, there are four million rifles sold legally in the States. There are about four million rifles in the United States that were sold legally. I don’t see how it would be a problem to obtain one legally. I don’t know what the statistics are in the States as far as how many of the weapons previously used were illegal or not. However, according to of course every state law and every federal provision, if you meet the demands, you could get a semi-automatic, no problem. Some states are more strict than some others, but driving cross state isn’t that problematic either.
MR: Do active shooters have a plan? How likely do they stick to that? Or is it your typical event like that’s brought on last minute? Maybe they get rubbed the wrong way by someone they already don’t have great initial feelings towards. Does that start a chain reaction and a firestorm where they drive home and all of a sudden on a whim start attacking? Or is it much more planned than that?
AP: The majority are planned. Even the fact that they have such a weapon within reach, that they have it already in their position and they have the ammo and they have everything indicates some kind of intention or premeditation. The vast majority of the shootings are planned out and they stick to the plan as much as possible, however these plans, because they’re shooting into a population of unpredictable people, they have to leave room to improvise in order to achieve the goal.
MR: Now we can tackle what to do in an active shooter situation. The mass shooters that we just talked about above have gotten violent, and you find yourself in that sort of conflict there. I’ve heard it been said to me before, the first thing to do is obviously be safe. Find cover, get behind something, make sure you’re alive, right? In your expert opinion, what is safe? Is it pretending to be dead? Is it hiding in a closet? Is it just taking cover and keeping eye contact on the attacker? I’m sure it comes in many forms, but what would you recommend?
AP: The best possible solution would be to find a place that you could hide behind and that would cover you and protect you from bullets. Sometimes a table is good enough, and sometimes depending on the bullet, a table could be OK, a wall would be better for instance, or a stairwell. The idea is to hide somewhere where you can see the attacker, but you’re out of the line of fire. If that is not possible, then there is an option to play dead with your face down. That’s for two reasons. One is so you don’t show that you’re breathing. You can hide that you’re breathing because your stomach is on the ground. Also you’re protecting your vital organs, which are in the front of your body.
MR: Okay, so now that you’re safe, what’s next? Assume for this example the person does not have a concealed weapon.
AP: The first thing you do is you get cover. You make sure you’re safe, and to stay alive. That’s the most important thing. Getting help is problematic because if by doing so you draw attention to yourself, then you’ve lost the battle. If you have a phone and you can quietly or if you can text without being caught, great. If it’s a matter of making noise and drawing attention, don’t do it and wait it out, because staying alive is most important at this point. The second thing would be is to locate the origin of where the fire is coming from, so you stay on top of things. You know if he moves, you might have to move as well in order to stay out of the line of fire. Another thing that matters is the distance you are away from the attacker. Now, at this point after you’ve gotten to a safe place, what you need to do is make a decision on what you’re going to do. Are you going to be passive or active? If you’re passive, you basically wait it out where you are and make sure that you’re always safe. That might include having to move from one spot to another depending on where the attacker moves, how he moves about in the room, because an experienced shooter will move around. He will not stay in one place. He will move to where the tactical positions that serve his goals best to hit his targets. If you decide to be active, this depends on your distance away. If you’re close range, it doesn’t matter what weapon you have, you have options. You can use anything, and especially if you have numbers, if you have more people around you, you can yell, you can jump him, you can throw things at him, distract him. If you have a knife or some kind of weapon at hand, there is a chance you can overtake him, you can overpower him. If you’re at long range, the only weapon that you could use would be another firearm, and that’s only provided that you’re good with it, because if you’re inexperienced, you could cause more damage. You could hit bystanders. You could tip off where you are. You can miss and he can shoot you. The idea basically is to catch him off guard. He assumes that he’s in control. He assumes that he’s powerful and no one can overtake him, but if you throw him off, even the most experienced shooter is nervous and anxious
MR: There’s tons of mixed reports whenever a active shooter scenario first goes down. It’s always tricky to fully believe what you first hear. Do you have any thoughts on the communication aspect of active shooters? Let’s say you’re in a scenario where there is one. Should you be calling 911? Should you be calling your mother or your father? Who gets called and why in an active shooter scenario?
AP: Now, as far as the phone call, like I said, if you can make a call or send a message without it drawing attention to yourself, without it tipping off the shooter where you’re hiding, then call 911, notify who you can, call any help you can. If it endangers your life, do not do it, because if you end up calling your mother, as much as you love her, and it gets you killed, you did nothing. You’re better off surviving and telling her in person how much you love her.
MR: All that said, looks like that’s going to be end of our podcast here. Adina, if people wanted to reach out to you and learn more about what you do, how would they go about that?