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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Don’t become a sheep’ in an active shooter situation, police officer says

VIRGINIA BEACH — What would you do if you were out in public and the unmistakable sound of gunfire rang out nearby?

While for most Americans that’s not likely to happen, the reality is that for some it can, and eventually will.

Just days ago outside of a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville four people were killed and others were injured when a shooter with no apparent motive opened fire on them without warning.

What responses do those trained in these “active threat” situations recommend?

“Be prepared before anything like this happens,” said Master Police Officer David Nieves of the Virginia Beach Police Department. “If you don’t have training, at least think about it and envision what you’d do in that situation.”

Nieves coordinates the Active Threat Citizens Defense workshops that the Crime Prevention/Community Engagement Unit offers. He is often out in the community doing the programs for various groups and for businesses.

Accepting that you could be involved in an active shooter situation is the first step in preparing for it, he said, as is having a plan in place before any shooting starts.

Using the “OODA Loop” is a good place to begin, Nieves said.

OODA, or Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act, is a more complex military strategy, but in day-to-day situations it basically means actively observing those around you; orienting yourself in a location and identifying potential exits; deciding what you can and will do in a particular situation; and acting on it.

“Don’t become a sheep,” he said. “Accepting the fact that it can happen is half the battle.”

Until someone is put in a high stress situation like a shooting, it’s almost impossible to know how they will react once their fight-or-flight instinct engages.

“Like Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” Nieves said.

Part of the “run, hide, fight” process of decision making is the distance from a shooter. If you’re farther away it might be best to run. But if you’re close to a shooter, there may be no choice but to fight.

Nieves said it’s important to accept the fact that such a fight very well could be a life-or-death situation — for you or for the shooter.

“You’ve got to take it (the violence) to a level you’re not used to being at,” he said. “But self-preservation is a strong instinct.”

Hiding from a shooter is the other possibility, but it’s vital to find a good hiding place. Taking cover under a table isn’t usually a wise decision, as many past shootings have shown.

When fleeing from an active shooting scene, Nieves said it’s essential to be a good witness for the police who may be responding, and it’s also imperative to keep your hands up and empty so that police don’t mistake you for a threat and possibly mistake an item in your hand —like a cellphone — as a weapon.

Nieves said the Crime Prevention Unit usually holds public workshops a few times a year and the next one will probably take place in August. Anyone seeking information about the workshops can email Nieves at

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