Many experts describing how to flee from an armed actively shooting attacker advise, “Don’t run in a straight line.” But the idea that running in a zig-zag or crouch is better than running in a straight line is pure conjecture, says Greg Ellifritz, a full-time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department and the president of Active Response Training. “There really isn’t any documented evidence to suggest that any one technique is better than any other. The ‘experts’ are just guessing,” he says.
Running in a crouched position is advocated by universities, self-defense instructors, and survival experts, Ellifritz said. “It is rare that you will find anyone who recommends running in a straight line away from the shooter.”
Because of the paucity of data about the subject, Ellifritz decided to test to see if mock active shooters using Simunitions weapons (Glock 17 pistols that fire a type of paintball) hit fleeing targets more often when they were running in a straight line, running in a zig-zag pattern, or running in a crouched position.
Ellifritz said, “I wanted the designated ‘shooter’ to find his target and attempt to shoot it. The target, or runner, was randomly selected to either run in a straight line, run a zig-zag pattern, or run in a crouch in order to get to cover. The runner had to traverse a distance of 30 feet and get behind cover before he was ‘safe.’”
Ellifritz pointed out that in a real active-shooter event, the shooter won’t know exactly where his victims will be. Nor will he know the direction they will be fleeing. To simulate this, Ellifritz started the shooter with his back to the runner with 20 feet separating the two. The runner could position himself anywhere along a designated line (20 feet away from the shooter) and run to either of the two pieces of cover Ellifritz had set up. That way, when the shooter turned to fire, he wouldn’t automatically know where the runner was located.
Ellifritz said, “For the sake of consistency across all of the experiments, I limited the shooter to only firing two rounds. That proved adequate for the exercise. In most runs, the shooter was firing the second shot just as the runner reached cover. Most shooters would have been unable to fire any more shots.”
He ran 34 separate tests, evenly split between each of the running options (straight line, crouch, zig-zag). The “crouch” option had two fewer test runs than the other options because students in this Active Response Training class had back injuries and could not attain a crouched position. Participants were mostly male and ranged in age between early 20s and early 70s. The “average” participant was a male in his 40s.
Here are the results:
# Trials 12
# Shots Fired 21
% Hits 52%
% Center Mass or Head Hits (out of total shots fired) 47%
# Trials 10
# Shots Fired 20
% Hits 55%
% Center Mass or head hits (out of total shots fired) 50%
# Trials 12
# Shots Fired 24
% Hits 54%
% Center Mass or head hits (out of total shots fired) 36%
Ellifritz said, “This was a small study with some very specific parameters. I will provide my advice based on what I saw, but please realize that my observations may not be applicable in a different context. All of the shooters in this study were highly skilled, the ranges were short, and the rounds were limited. Everyone was running on grass. The results may not be the same if any of those variables change.”
Ellifritz takeaways were:
— Speed is important. The faster that the victim can get to cover or out of the shooter’s range, the safer he or she is likely to be.
— There is not enough evidence that zig-zagging should be the default recommendation.
— Zig-zagging does tend to make hits less serious.
— Zig-zag running should not be recommended for people who have knee problems or who are wearing body armor. Reason: People with knee issues tend to fall down on zig-zag runs — the worst possible outcome.
— The crouched running position should not be used while running in the open. It may be useful to crouch if that crouch keeps the runner behind cover.
— For those people who can’t run fast, zig-zagging may be the best option.
Greg Ellifritz is the full-time firearms and defensive-tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department and is the president of Active Response Training. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Ellifritz has a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and has been an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.
For an example of what one of the test runs looked like, check out the video link below: