Toward a more effective survival model: Why “Run, Hide, Fight” isn’t the answer.

We tend to think that under extreme stress, we will exhibit the oft-touted “fight-or-flight” response–immediately fighting or fleeing from a threat. However, evidence indicates that the vast majority of the population will do neither immediately. Rather, the most common immediate response to a life-threatening event is behavioral impairment exhibited as “freezing” (Tiara, n.d.). In fact, cognitive paralysis in the face of extreme danger is so common that Leach suggests the stress response should be renamed the “fight, flight, or freeze” response (2004).

Freezing often leads to fatalities. Therefore, our central research question should be “Why do so many people perish in what should be a survivable event?” In the face of an imminent threat, moving often leads to survival (Lawler, 2019). Moving may have saved more lives in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Las Vegas mass shooting attack, and the Columbine massacre (Lawler, 2019). Moving did lead to survival for several children during the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Lawler, 2019).

“Run, Hide, Fight” cannot be our nation’s “go-to” response for disaster events or terrorist attacks. Certainly, teachers cannot simply run and hide, leaving their students behind. Neither can parents or spouses when they are with their families. Running and hiding promotes a victim-oriented conceptual framework for examining violent encounters. When the threat is very near–whether it be a gunman, bomb blast, or building fire–moving is the priority. However, moving may mean evacuating from the area–or going on the offensive against an armed attacker in close proximity to you. If an armed attacker is very near or your escape path is blocked, fighting must be the behavior of first resort–not the last resort. Training in this manner promotes a survivor’s mindset–which is the opposite of that elicited by “running and hiding.” After all, possessing a warrior mindset may be the most crucial element of all in surviving a violent encounter (Lawler, 2019).

A more effective, research-driven model, is “Move, Fight, Evacuate” (Lawler, 2019). Details to follow…


Lawler, S. (2019). “Revealing the secrets of surviving life-threatening events”. 2nd National Student Safety & Security Conference and Workshop. Las Vegas, NV.

Leach, J. (2004). Why people ‘freeze’ in an emergency: Temporal and cognitive constraints on survival responses. Aviation, Space & Environmental Medicine, 75, 539-542.

Tiara, S. (n.d.). Safety & Survival Training. Retrieved from:

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