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While the current pandemic has closed most theaters around the country, there’s no doubt in my mind that once things return to normal, we’re going to flock to the streets like nothing ever happened. Ok, there may be more temperature checks and people will stop shaking hands for a while, but in reality, I don’t think there will be meaningful change.

And when we do start going out again, so will all the crazies. The ones who have been cooped up inside for months, are now free to interact with society again. To me, that’s rather frightening, especially as the first thing my kids want to do is see a movie. But theaters are already a proven disaster zone. Not only are there hundreds (if not thousands) of people jammed into one room, there is likely only a couple of exit points.

In an emergency, like an active shooter situation, it’s going to be a challenge even getting out. And the mass of bodies all pushing towards the exit creates a target for the shooter that’s like fish in a barrel. Even though many people tell you the “chances” you’re in a shooting are low, I don’t like to gamble on the health and safety of my family, and here’s how I’d live through a movie-theater shooting.

Choose the right seats

On this there are two schools of thought. Sitting in the middle of the row gives a better view of the movie, and surrounds you with other people should a gunman start firing. But for me, I’d opt for the aisles. The last thing I want is to be stuck behind many other people all trying to escape, climbing over the already injured to get out. Sit in an aisle seat, preferable as close to an exit as possible, so you’ve got a direct path to the exits.

Dress ready for action

When I say this, I have a couple of recommendations. First, you want to avoid attracting or drawing the eye of the shooter, so dress in dark colors. Who is going to attract a bullet first, the guy almost invisible on the ground in black jeans and a dark hoodie, or the screaming idiot in a plain white shirt standing in the middle of a row? Right? Oh, and wear decent shoes, in case you need to run, and ensure what you’re wearing is warm enough should you need to spend a few hours outside dealing with police in the aftermath.

Have an evacuation plan

In the military this is part of our situational awareness training, but it’s simple enough that anyone can do it. You want to identify your primary and alternative exits ahead of time. That way, if the SHTF, you know exactly which direction to start moving. If you think you’ll be able to stand up to locate the neon EXIT sign through the gun smoke and chaos of an active shooter, you may find you are gravely mistaken. I’ll generally arrive in a theater while the lights are on, and if I’ve not been in that one before will go check if there is a backstage door behind the curtain or the screen, or by the projector.

Move don’t freeze

It’s surreal when you’re in a life or death situation, and because of the overwhelming fear most people will freeze like a deer in the headlights. There will be screaming, crying, and your ears will ring from the sounds of the gunshots, but you need to move. Drop to the floor, and start heading to the exit. The faster you get out of the theater and the more distance you can put between you and the shooter, the greater your chances of survival.

Escape the line of fire

Wherever the shooter is aiming, you want to be heading to an exit in the opposite direction, to get away from the line of fire and avoid drawing their attention. Stay low, move quickly, and don’t panic. People will have been shot, injured and possibly even killed already, so don’t add yourself to that somber list of numbers. Take a breath, get yourself together and do whatever you can to get out of their line of fire and head towards one of the alternative escape routes you already planned out.

Carry a flashlight

Of course, while having a flashlight can paint you as a target, you will need a means of finding your way out through the darkness, gloom and smoke. Keep it low, and use it to find your way. If it’s bright enough, you may even be able to use the light to temporarily blind the attacker, or illuminate them so that your partner or yourself can line up your own sights and take a shot with your own firearm. The brighter the better if you’re planning to fight back, and switching on a strobe effect can be very disorienting for the shooter.

Draw your own weapon

If you’re able to carry concealed fighting back is indeed an option, though I would put it as a last resort on your list. There’s a good chance you will be shot, and while it is heroic to take a last stand against a shooter, I’d much rather live so I can continue providing safety and security to my family for many years to come. Having a firearm can give you an edge in fighting back, just be careful that you are not confused with the shooter by other people in the theater, or the police and security when they do eventually turn up.

Just because a handful of people have decided to use movie theaters as target practice it doesn’t mean you should stay home and never go. With the right mindset, the right planning, and keeping one eye on the crowd when you do attend a show, you can still enjoy a family day at the movies while doing your best to keep everyone safe.

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