At mass shooter survival training at Riverhead theater, expert urges ‘Run, hide, defend’ strategy

A former Suffolk County police sergeant who has given trainings at hundreds of schools, businesses and houses of worship nationwide since 2012 in how to respond to an active shooter incident brought a grim message to a training session at The Suffolk Tuesday night. 

Mass shootings have been steadily increasing in the U.S. since 2020, said Don Longo, rising from 630 in 2020 to 753 in 2022. So far this year, he said, “we’re at 160 and counting — and it’s not stopping. It’s going to increase.” 

Mr. Longo said the average mass shooting unfolds in four to six minutes — far too quickly to expect a police response to prevent the killing. 

“You can’t rely on law enforcement to be there,” he said. “Most times, it’s not going to happen.” 

Still, he added, “mass shootings are survivable. If you prepare ahead of time and know what to do and you do it, they are survivable.” 

Mr. Longo said a key to survival that most students around the country are not being taught is to escape, whenever possible, rather than hiding or sheltering in place. 

“Schools need to institute a ‘run, hide, defend’ type of program, and they need to include that option … if you can get away, you do so.” 

“Very simply,” he continued, “if you can get out of the kill zone, if you can get away from the shooter, it makes absolutely no sense to stay there. If you can safely escape the kill zone, the building — whether the shooter is at large or inside — do so. 

“If you can’t, because the shooter is between you and the exit, or because you have an injury, you have to hide.” 

Finally, noting that “this is only a last resort,” Mr. Longo said that if a person ends up close enough to physically confront the shooter , and there’s no means of escape, the perpetrator should be engaged by trying to grab the weapon. 

“It sounds drastic and impossible, but it’s not.”

Mr. Longo said that the “run, hide, defend” strategy is endorsed by U.S. Secret Service reports issued in 2019 and 2022 and by the FBI. 

In an interview after Tuesday’s session,, Mr. Longo told The Suffolk Times that, in his experience, most Long Island schools and police departments don’t recommend attempting to escape.

He said offered his expertise to Long Island schools after the 2018 mass shooting in a Parkland, Fla., that killed 17. 

“After Parkland, I sent out not only emails but physical mailings to over 120 school superintendents and principals, just on Long Island, and I said, ‘Here’s my credentials, here’s what I can do for you, and I’ll do it free of charge.”

He said he rented a hall, sent out invitations and got only a single response. 

Mr. Longo said he sent a similar letter to Long Island school administrators in January.

This time, he said, he received two responses — from Half Hollow Hills Central School District in Suffolk and Bethpage Union Free School District in Nassau.

He said he didn’t know for sure why Long Island schools have been resistant to his message, which he said was far more welcome in other parts of the country. 

“You find that schools in the South and in the West — and I’m generalizing here — are teaching ‘run, hide, fight.’ Those schools tend to spend more money … there’s more software and hardware. They have systems where, when there’s an active shooter, not only does a [special] bell go off, but a computerized voice keeps repeating ‘active shooter, active shooter.’ There are schools that are hooked directly into their local police departments, schools where the hallways emit smoke or strobe lights to confuse the shooter.” 

Mr. Longo said he’s worried that it will take a mass shooting here to wake the public up to the need for preparation and training. 

“We have been either very lucky, or God has been protecting us here on Long Island, in that we haven’t had a mass school shooting here,” said Mr. Longo. “We’re going to. It’s just a matter of time.”