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The Active Shooter and You

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

I'm not an expert and do not claim to be an expert of any type. I simply have over 35 years of experience in law enforcement, security, anti-terrorism and the last ten in emergency management. Based on my own training, things I've witnessed, plans I've designed and deployed, and the psychology of the threat and the victim, I'm offering this to you as things to consider if faced with an active shooter event. If you haven't figured out yet, I'm a huge advocate of you, the individual being in control and being self-reliant 24 x 7. Space and distance from any possible threat. Be a hard target my friends. Let's press ahead.

Known facts. Twelve died. Shooter, an employee turned in a two week notice hours before returning to shoot up former coworkers. The shooter used two .45 caliber handguns with silencers and extended magazines. It is unknown how many victims lost their life before law enforcement arrived on scene to end the ordeal. It remains questionable if he resigned, was fired for cause or just turned in a two week notice. I say this because the alternative news story is different from the main stream media report. If you haven't noticed all week, the mainstream media has failed to report this story since Friday. It is not because information wasn't available to report along with a photo. They simply chose to move on to Trump bashing. Consider this, the shooter, not only passed the NCIS background check, he also submitted fingerprints, submitted evidence from his local police chief and paid a $200 transfer tax stamp fee and waited months for BATFE to check everything out, including him personally. The shooter used legally purchased handguns with a silencer attached. On the outside looking in, there was nothing known that should have raised alarm bells to this man being a ticking time bomb and active shooter. It is debatable he didn't get along with his coworkers and managers, but, that's an assumption at this point and not enough to go on. Finally, this facility was a no gun zone. So, aside from any effort to have an employee plan, the workers are defenseless. Think about that one.

In my day job as an Occupant Emergency Coordinator doing emergency plans and training over 500 team members to react to our plans, I also do Active Shooter training as part of my training included in emergency training on plans. I will tell you straight up, having an active shooter plan is really difficult. Actually, impossible. I train the individuals to be self-reliant and to understand how they should react and respond as an individual action and not a facility planned action. Why? One cannot determine where the threat will be in this type of event. The person causing the threat has unknown motives until the time of the event. Meaning, one does not know which door will be used, who may be the target, the physical abilities of the person causing the threat and so on. Read on to understand better why it is nearly impossible to have a solid plan. Across the federal government and all departments and agencies the active shooter training is built around "Run, Hide, and Fight." Basic and simple. However, it's not a generic command where everyone runs at once. Or hides at once.

So, let's talk about an active shooter scenario and you. Let's first talk about your mindset each and every day. You could face the active shooter at the local 7-11, the local mall or grocery store, your work place or a church. Think about it. Are you putting your life in the hands of others to have a plan in the event of an active shooter? You may visit 25 or more places in a weeks-time frame and you are trusting they have a plan to protect you. On average, the active shooter event last roughly 12 - 15 minutes. From the first shots fired until law enforcement is notified and arrives on scene, gathers information and/or reviews cameras in the building to try and locate the shooter, and then deploys, how much time elapsed? Ten minutes maybe? So you are on your own for at least the ten minutes. What is your plan? Some organizations and corporations offer active shooter training to their employees. They may have identified areas of refuge or shelter in place locations. But, if you don't get the alert and you aren't aware of the shooter until he/she is upon you, what good will the rooms do you? I'm not saying they are bad. What I'm saying is for the most part you are on your own and you need to have a plan. I continually talk about being outside the box and being an outside the box thinker. Always one step ahead. Practicing the outside the box thinking until its second nature. You can sense something is wrong or out of place. You can detect changes or problems within your coworkers before it comes to the actual event. If an employee gives notice or is terminated, remove badge access to a facility and require any access to be under escort. The employer cannot target any employer who they believe may be an issue, however, they can monitor, conduct interviews when cause is identified, and take steps based on the interview. Remember, the employer also has a responsibility to protect the employees and that does not always happen, fault or no fault. We are past the point of excuses and now must focus on you the employee.

Keep this in mind. Law enforcement and responders are humans and value their own life. So, with respect to them, let's keep in mind they are not going to arrive and come running in to the facility with guns on fire. They have methods and tactics also. Until the incident ends or responders get to you, you my friend are basically on your own to use training and personal skills to save your own life.

So, let's use this scenario to talk about the active shooter event. You work in a five story building and a gunman starts shooting on the second floor. Ask yourself, would the threat to personnel on the fifth floor be the same as the threat on the second floor? No, not at all. So, you cannot build a generic plan because what the folks on the third, fourth and fifth floor would do is probably different from the second floor and for certain those on the 1st floor.

First, if it doesn't put your life in jeopardy, call 911. In most states and regions, you don't even have to talk if the threat is near you. You can simply call 911 and leave the phone off the receiver to allow the 911 dispatcher to hear any background noise taking place. If you can talk, provide any pertinent information to the dispatcher. Facts. Do not ramble.

Second, briefly shelter in place. This means, stop what you are doing and try your best to determine the immediate threat based on your location. Think of standing on a street corner. You look both ways before crossing, right? The threat would be a moving car that could strike you. In the potential active shooter scenario, if the threat is not right at you, stop and evaluate the situation quickly. Don't rely on someone to tell you what to do or which way to go, unless authorities are near you and directing you to go a certain direction.

Third, depending on where you are in the facility compared to the threat, you will either Run, Hide or Fight. In the event above with the shooter on the second floor, folks on the first floor would probably run. With caution, individuals on the first floor would find the nearest egress point to leave the facility. Consider two possibilities when exiting the building. One, there could be secondary threats outside. Two, if law enforcement is on scene, listen to all commands and follow as directed. You are a direct threat to them until they clear you. Don't argue or try and convince them who you are. They will figure it out. If you exit and find no threats or no law enforcement on scene, run away from the facility as far and fast as you can get. Think of Forrest Gump and "run Forrest run."

Folks on the Second floor who are near the scene of the shooter will have to decide if they can run. If they cannot run, they must hide. A couple of predetermined locations should have been identified before the shooter event. When picking a place, make sure it is a place that you can give yourself the best protection possible based on the circumstances. Will the door lock? If not, do you possibly have a door jam or door stop to use to block the door? Does the room have sheet rock walls? If so, try and place yourself in the best situation where the interior of the room offers the best protection. Move tables, chairs and other furniture around to try and protect yourself on all sides. Turn off the lights also. Your cell phone. Either turn it off, or turn off the ringer and screen light. You don't need a text or call coming to you in the middle of a heated moment and your phone ring, buzz, or the backlight showing up to give away your location. Have a plan from inside the room in case the shooter enters the room.

Folks on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors are above the shooter on the 2nd floor. Even though all three options remain available, caution must be deployed because it is unknown where the shooter is at on the floor or if a second shooter is involved. Do not use elevators, period. That leaves the option of the stairwell. If one believes they can escape down the stairwell then do so. This is a personal call and a plan cannot address this personal choice. Make sense? If you can't run, hide. Use the same guidance as provided for hiding on the second floor. You probably have a little more time to barricade yourself since the shooter is believed to be on the 2nd floor. If the situation elevates and the shooter comes to your floor and run and hide is no longer an option, now you must fight. Do not fight fair, fight to win. It's your life. You must consider state, local and company policies when determining what type of device you may use to protect your life. Be creative.

As I talk about in Hope For Survival and often in articles I write, understanding your mindset is critical and it could be the difference in your life. My point here is this. One of the keys to surviving an active shooter event is to have a personal or group plan in advance. Talk about it. Table top it. Practice it. Crawl, walk, run the possible scenarios. Why? We play how we practice. If you are confronted with minimal warning on an event like this, you cannot predict exactly how individuals will react. But practicing it gives you all a better chance and instills confidence. Individuals in most cases, cannot predict when they will encounter brain freeze. But, you have a better chance of not suffering from brain freeze if you have a personal plan and practice it. Pick a day per week, month, or quarterly, and talk to your team or coworkers near you. Just say, "if a threat comes from that direction, what is our plan?" If a threat comes off the elevator on our floor, what is our plan?" Also, you must ensure you include individuals of need. Will someone need to be pushed in a chair to a safe place? Practice using a team to move the person and also practice having the individual moving on their own. If bullets are flying, the buddy team helpers could forget and move to a safe place before remembering their coworker in need.

The most important point is this. Think on your own. Have a plan for you. You are the most important life in the building. If your employer has a plan, make sure it is sound and one that doesn't set you up with no ability to protect yourself or move to safety. Walk around your floor, know where primary and alternate exits and stairwells are located. Know where they end at. Don't be a puppet, be a voice. Like I said above, it's just your life. Think through these type events, have a plan, know when to move, and if you can't move, protect yourself. If confronted by the shooter, stare them in the eyes showing no emotion (if possible) Not with intimidation and not with fear. Be safe.

What say you?

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