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Caught in the crossfire: How to be prepared

These numbers are absolutely frightening: According to the CDC, gun violence claims more than 30,000 lives in the U.S. every year. And for each person who dies from a gunshot, another two are wounded. So what can you do to protect yourself or your family?

Two words: Be prepared.

The Los Angeles Police Department has some tips for how best to survive if you ever find yourself caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery, or worse, a mass shooting like those at Virginia Tech and Columbine.

Every day, 15 to 20 banks across the country are robbed. One of the most dramatic bank robberies ever took place in North Hollywood, California on February 28, 1997. Two heavily armed men stormed the local Bank of America branch.

LAPD's Lt. Alan Hamilton and his partner responded to the radio call.

"We were kind of figuring it would be over by the time we got there," says Hamilton. "We never knew that we were headed to the longest police shootout in United States history.

The terrifying 45-minute "North Hollywood shootout" was broadcast live by several Los Angeles news stations.

"One thing we learned very quickly is that we were definitely outgunned. I've never seen so many officers shot. I've never seen so many civilians shot, and hiding and scared," Hamilton recalls. "We learned then and there that we couldn't have any more situations where we were outgunned by suspects. So we decided to upgrade our weaponry and be better prepared should this kind of event happen again."

Only the suspects died that day. But Hamilton says that in any armed robbery, there's always the risk that innocent bystanders will be killed … and how you react in that moment can mean the difference between life and death.

"You need to remember, you're going to be nervous in an armed robbery," says Hamilton. "That robber is going to be nervous as well. You don't want to make any startling sounds. You don't want to make any sudden movements that are going to make that suspect, with his finger on the trigger, do something drastic."

The goal of the person holding the gun is to get in, get the money and get out as quickly as possible.

Hamilton says, "They're generally going to be prepared to shoot and if you get in their way there's a good chance, and a likelihood, that's going to happen."

So what should you do?

Hamilton says that the best way to defend yourself is to comply with the demands of the robber, provide your property if it's requested, and keep the situation calm.

"If you make action toward the robber, that's going to make them nervous; you're placing yourself in unnecessary jeopardy," Hamilton adds.

As dangerous as an armed robbery is, there's a gunman scenario that's far more terrifying and increasingly more frequent.

Police call it "the active shooter."

The deadliest such incident, to date, took place on the campus of Virginia Tech. Thirty-two people were shot and killed before the active shooter, a deranged student at the school, committed suicide.

"The goal of the active shooter is to get as high of a body count as possible," says Hamilton. "They're going to seek out their victims until their actions are stopped."

The shooting method can be random or systematic, but active shooter incidents are always fast-moving.

"The people who are caught in that situation become desperate very quickly," says Hamilton. "It creates panic and it creates chaos, and it's very disorienting for the victims. If you find yourself caught in an active shooter scenario, the best thing to do is remove yourself from that location."

Your number one goal is always going to be get out of that area. But sometimes, in the confusion of an active shooter event, getting out is simply not possible.

"There are going to be situations where you just can't escape. Unfortunately, there's a possibility that you're going to get stuck. So that may leave very few options," Hamilton explains. "One of those options is to attempt to hide from the assailant. But you have to remember, it's only concealment. That active shooter is going to seek out areas where people conceal themselves and continue their violence."

If you can't run and you can't hide, you may be forced into making a difficult, split-second decision.

"Quite often, people in those desperate situations will choose to fight back. That may be your only means of survival. It may come down to that," says Hamilton.

He says that if you decide to confront the gunman, look for a moment of opportunity.

"It's important that if it comes down to this last chance, you have to be observant and be ready to take advantage of any action by that shooter that may place them in a position of disadvantage. They may be reloading. They may be distracted by other victims. If that's your best chance, that's the time to take action," he says.

Law enforcement has learned a lot about dealing with heavily-armed gunmen since the North Hollywood shootout. But even the fastest police response is not immediate. Knowing what to do in those crucial moments will most likely determine your survival.

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