Glen Trainor: School and workplace safety, every citizen’s responsibility
February 28, 2012
On Monday, Feb. 27, our country suffered from yet another “active shooter” incident in a public school. With two dead and three injured the casualty count was almost insignificant, unless of course, the victims were your friends or family. In fact, while the incident made national news almost immediately, by the time I read the Denver Post on Tuesday, it had been relegated to just another third-page news story. How sad is it for our society when the mass murder of our children happens often enough that it doesn’t even shock our consciences any more.
It is well known that after the Columbine incident in April, 1999 law enforcement made a wholesale change in the way we responded to such incidents. Before Columbine, the common tactic in this type of incident was to establish a perimeter and call for a specialized tactical team. Unfortunately, this type of response resulted in a needless loss of life to innocent civilians, and in fact was a violation of our oath of office and the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Today, law enforcement, including the fine men and women who serve the citizens of Grand County have all been trained (and regularly practice) what we call “Rapid Deployment” where they are trained to immediately respond in order to neutralize an active threat and render aid to those who are injured.
But yet, the sad fact remains that in many of the incidents that have happened since this “Rapid Deployment” training has been instituted, the killing is over and done with by the time law enforcement personnel arrive. Monday’s incident in Chardon, Ohio was no different. By the time law enforcement was on-scene, the shooter had left the school. In other instances, such as Virginia Tech, the killer took his own life as soon as he saw that officers had broken through the doors he had chained shut and were approaching his position.
With that in mind, the average citizen who seeks to ensure the safety of his/her children, co-workers, family and friends must be prepared to train themselves and others to reduce their potential to become victims.
Here is a list of tips we can use to help accomplish this.
−Rid yourself of the thought that “It can’t happen here.” Chardon, Ohio and Platte Canyon as well as many others tell us that these types of incidents can and have happened in communities both large and small. We all live in Grand County because of the low crime rate, but that, in and of itself, does not protect us from someone whose only desire is to take as many lives as possible. In fact, many of today’s experts on terrorism feel that a planned mass casualty incident in “Small Town America” will strike at the very hearts and minds of our country.
−Be aware of your surroundings and report activity that seems suspicious. According to psychologist Dr. John Nicoletti, who has extensively studied active shooter incidents, no one ‘just snaps’ and then commits a spree killing. In every single case where these incidents have occurred, there were plenty of advanced warning signs that the shooter was planning something drastic, and in every case, these warning signs were ignored. In some cases like Monday’s killings in Ohio, the shooter even told people what he was going to do. If you hear someone (or even a rumor of someone) making threats, report it to the people who are responsible for you. Let a trained professional determine whether the threats are valid or not.
−Likewise, report suspicious activity by strangers in and around your workplace or school. The Beslan school incident in Russia and the Platte Canyon Incident were committed by total strangers. Take steps to make sure the people you care about know who to talk to if they see someone in their school or workplace that seems suspicious or look like they just don’t belong there. Trust your gut instinct; you may be right and save lives. If you are wrong, all you will have done is inconvenienced someone for a short time.
But, whether at school, work, your favorite shopping center, or even a public event, what should you do if you find yourself in the middle of an ‘active shooter’ incident? While in the past we have told our citizens the best thing they can do is to be submissive and hope they don’t become a target, this has often proven to be poor advice, resulting in many casualties that could have been prevented. Instead, consider the following ‘OUT’ strategies as a way of ensuring your safety.
−GET OUT – When confronted with an active shooter, if you can leave the area safely, do so immediately, and take those who you are responsible for with you. Don’t let your fear cause you to panic and do nothing.
−CALL OUT – Immediately call 911 and report what is happening. If you have seen the suspect, give the dispatcher a good description. Help will be on the way, and your law enforcement officers need to know who they are looking for, and where the suspect is at.
−HIDE OUT – If escape is impossible, find a place to hide. Think “hide and seek” from when you were a kid and do your best to make yourself invisible.
−LOCK OUT – Likewise, if you find yourself in a classroom or office with a door, lock the door and barricade it. An active shooter wants to take as many lives as possible in as short a time as possible. If you lock the door and place furniture in front of it, the suspect is probably not going to take the time to break down the door. He is looking for mass targets of opportunity, not practicing his burglary skills.
−SPREAD OUT – While there may be safety in numbers in many situations, this is not one of them. Once again, reduce the opportunity for the suspect to shoot multiple people in a small area in a short period of time.
−TAKE OUT – Making the decision to confront an armed killer is difficult, but having the courage to do so just may save your life and the lives of others. At Virginia Tech, the students chose not to confront the killer, even though many of them were varsity athletes. Although law enforcement was on-scene in a little over three minutes after the first call, that incident resulted in 32 dead and 25 injured. Contrast that with the Deer Creek Middle School incident in 2010 where teacher David Benke showed tremendous courage by tackling an armed suspect and ending his rampage. The result: only two students were injured. Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers on Flight 93 is a similar incident where the suspect was taken out of the problem and lives were saved. An active shooter incident is not the time to ‘fight fair’ and expect the suspect to do the same. As psychologist and author David Grossman explains (and I paraphrase), “Don’t be a sheep. The wolves will always try to kill the sheep. Instead, be a sheepdog, and protect the flock from the wolves.”
−WORK OUT – Knowing a lot about football does not make one a star player. Likewise, having knowledge about what to do in a given situation without spending time practicing and refining our skills at doing it ill prepares us for the moment of truth. Our children have practiced fire drills in local schools for decades. Likewise, we need to regularly practice the “OUT” skills defined above so that we can be prepared if and when an incident happens.
As much as we all hope a horrific event such as a spree killing or active shooter will never happen here, we must prepare for when it does. We owe it to our students, our children, our co-workers, and our friends to take the responsibility to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. When we are affirmatively responsible for our safety and the safety of those around us, we not only reduce the opportunity for these incidents to happen, but are more likely to survive when they do.