Some months ago, one of our dojo members mentioned that he'd gone out to lunch with co-workers. The conversation somehow turned to self defense, and it turned out that a female co-worker keeps pepper spray in her purse. Asked if she'd ever tried using it, her response was something along the lines of "no, how hard could it be?".
If you carry a purse, backpack, briefcase etc. - how hard is it to find something in it? Keys? Cell phone? Pen? On a regular day. A non-pressured, you've-got-time regular day. Not a somebody's-coming-at-you-and-you-need-to-do-something-now-wheretheheckisthatstupidpepperspraywhereisitwhereisitwhereisitohgoodIfounditohcraphe'sontopofmenowwhatdoIdo kind of day.
Not to mention that adrenaline will significantly decrease your fine motor control, so once you find it, you'd better be able to take off whatever kind of safety the pepper spray has (you don't want it to go off in your purse/backpack/briefcase, do you?), point it the right way, and fire it.
And hope the bad guy reacts to it. If he's high on something, he may not. Or he may be an "alien" whom it doesn't irritate - physically - all that much. (Emotionally? That could be a whole other thing.)
If you want to carry pepper spray, do so. You can get inert versions. Practice with those until you can operate the canister by feel, by rote, without looking at it and without thinking about it - because you'll need that muscle memory to kick in under stress.
One of our dojo members recently mentioned that his place of work had had an active shooter drill. This included sending out a link to a video for employees to watch. (Side note: this is a good video on that situation, but apparently not the one they had to hand.)
The dojo member is a contractor, working at a federal facility. He watched the video. Later in the day he visited some co-workers - also contractors. They hadn't watched the video - and had in fact just deleted the e-mail, thinking it was only for government personnel. They subsequently got into a discussion of what they might do if there were an active shooter situation - but didn't really know, since they hadn't watched the video. The dojo member characterized them as being almost at the point of panic.
What about breaking the window? (They were on the first floor. It was a small room, and such noise would have attracted the shooter's attention.) What about going to the stairwell? (It was right next to the front door.) What about hiding under a desk? (Great for being out of sight, also for being trapped and unable to get away or defend yourself.) To each of the "we could...", the dojo member pointed out the problems.
Apparently they did not undelete the e-mail and watch the video...
Hearing this story a few days later, another dojo member commented that when his organization had their drill, he'd taken his multi-tool with him, open to the position where it functions as pliers - and the tip could thus serve as a weapon if needed.
It's good to have a plan in hand before things happen - and not just for being attacked. (Car break down? Power outage? Run out of milk?) Hopefully you'll never need to implement it, but at least you'll have made the hard decisions beforehand, have decided what to do - and have given yourself permission to do it. Carry the pepper spray in your hand, run from the shooter if you can - or charge him if you can, depending on the situation. Or go out the window if that's an option. (Or other possibilities; check out the video above.)
Mental practice can't replace physical practice and training to reaction, but it can help program some of the pathways...
See related posts in November 2012, entry 1, November 2012, entry 2, and May 2013.