Pulse Orlando Nightclub. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook.

Each of these horrific and historic mass shootings in the U.S. has had one thing in common: a soft target.

Soft targets are the places you go to school, the places you work and go for drinks or concerts.

They are closed spaces with multiple entrances and a large group of people. If there's an active shooter, you need to have a plan and you need to teach your children the plan to survive.

Soft Target

KVUE went straight to the experts to find out the best, potentially life-saving advice if there ever was a mass shooting where you live.

The Austin Police Department’s CAST unit stands for Counter Assault Strike Team. It was formed after the Columbine High School shootings.

Columbine altered police tactics forever, revealing the standard police procedure for dealing with shooting rampages in the U.S. was tragically flawed.

Now instead of waiting for an elite response team, any responding officer will rush toward gunfire to stop the gunman first.

Lieutenant Jason Bryant has been a member of CAST for several years.

"There's no pay incentive. The incentive is that these officers are all very motivated and they want the elite training,” said Bryant.

He explains the training is as realistic as possible, and takes place all over Austin, including a mock office-type building they created at the training academy.

"They [officers] are going to hear the sounds of gunfire and they are going to see people running who are bloody and scared and pointing towards where that shooter may be,” explained Bryant. “It gets their stress level up, their heart rate up."

The goal is to stop a shooter, or shooters, as quickly as possible. Bryant says there are three things anyone in a shooting should do to increase their chance of saving their lives.


First of all, he says you need to acknowledge that there is a shooter and run as quickly as you can out of the building, finding any open emergency exit.

"I've actually talked to a survivor of an active shooter event who told me that she heard gunshots probably a full 30 minutes before she was confronted by the shooter,” said Bryant. “They had a debate as to whether or not they were gunshots but they never did anything about it."

"Leave and keep leaving. There's no need to walk out the door and stop or go to the parking lot and stop. The more distance you create between you and an active shooter, the safer you're going to be,” Bryant said.


If you can't leave the building, the next step is to hide. Barricade yourself behind something that has a lock, like a bathroom, classroom or closet.

"Don't run into a bathroom that's unable to be locked, because now you've trapped yourself,” said Bryant.
That’s exactly what happened to Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor Amanda Grau.

Grau was shot by terrorist Omar Mateen four times. Once while she was standing on the dance floor, and then three more times after running into the bathroom.


"You could just smell the gunpowder from how many times he was just unloading on everybody,” said Grau.
The bathroom at the Pulse Nightclub did not lock. Grau says she wishes she had just run straight out the back door when the firing began, instead of being a sitting target in an unlocked space.

"The screaming and crying, that's something you don't wish on anybody and something that nobody should have to ever go through,” said Grau.

If you can’t run or hide, the third thing you should do, Bryant says, is fight.

"You need to fight. And fight with everything that you have,” Bryant said. "About 20 percent of would-be active shooters are subdued by their would-be victims."

Run. Hide. Fight.

Knowing these steps and having a plan could just save your life. If you think it won’t happen in Austin, think again.

In 2014, a shooter opened fire downtown firing hundreds of rounds into buildings including APD headquarters.

In 2015, a shooter opened fire inside the Omni Hotel downtown killing an innocent man. In each case, the gunman was stopped by Austin Police Officers.

For those wondering about concealed carry protection, Bryant says that is your right as a Texas citizen to do so.

However, he says "I would encourage any citizen who chooses to exercise that right to go out and get as much training privately as they can so they understand the full ramifications of using a firearm in a self-defense type situation.”

APD’s Counter Assault Strike Team will come to any establishment to teach active shooter response training for free.

To have CAST come to your office, school, church or nightclub, you can email them at Police3@austintexas.gov.