Most of the work related training sessions I attend deal with some aspect of public safety. When you're in charge of a facility open to the public, you're expected to know how to handle every situation known to mankind...and a few you've probably never even considered.
These sessions generally occur annually. Sometimes we know the topic, sometimes we only know the location. And no, that doesn't always give you a hint of what's to come. Our session at the Fire Department's Training Facility had nothing to do with fire but with understanding/handling inclement weather conditions. I have to wonder if the Fire vs. Water thing was on purpose or just coincidence. Our trip to the Red Cross wasn't about First Aid, but how to respond when your facility becomes an Evacuation Site...and the Red Cross takes over your office. We do, however, update our CPR training every two years so we have a little medical knowledge.
Today's training began deceptively simple. Located at our Main Office, when I saw two Deputies wander in, I wondered if we were about to receive an update on our "How to recognize Gangs" training from several years ago. After introductions the program began with a video presentation. The first three words which appeared were:
Okay, I'll admit the first thing that came to mind was my current policy on any discussion of Presidential candidates. My sense of humor deflated as the air was sucked out of the room by the reality of our topic:
What to do when faced with an armed assailant in a public place
My gossiping co-workers stopped whispering and the room grew deadly quiet. We all looked at the officers as if we'd stepped into the wrong room. We're in recreation. Senior citizens and kids aged 6-12. We're not in a situation like Sandy Hook or Columbine or Ft. Hood. We know these people.
That's when the Corporal told us what we never realized: the shooter in the Mother Emmanuel Church shooting in Charleston lived 15 minutes away from where we sat.
The world has changed. In my head I heard an old adage from childhood: "Hope for the best but prepare for the worst."
So for two hours we learned what those three words mean. In a nutshell AVOID translates into, "If you can get to an exit, use it!" Even though we're wired with "Flight vs. Fight" instincts, there's another one: Freeze. Many of the victims in the above shootings were killed because they froze. They simply sat there and waited for what they believed to be inevitable to happen.
DENY does not mean to fall into a state of denial and mumble, "This can't be happening!" If you can't get to an exit, don't let the shooter get to you...deny him the opportunity. (For you politically correct folks, 98% of shooters are male). I was amazed to learn that, statistically, when encountering a locked door, most shooters will simply move to the next room. Lock that door, turn out the lights, line up against the wall next to the door and shut up. In some instances you may have to barricade it with everything you can find while looking for an alternate exit.
Unfortunately for some, their only option will be DEFEND. Let's just say this falls into the category of "do whatever you need to survive", which included the instruction to "fight dirty". (While it may sound like a 3 Stooges routine, go for the eyes, throat and groin). One of the deputies, previously a Marine with a tour in Afghanistan, pointed out, "The only person who ever complains that a fight wasn't fair is the loser." The Corporal encouraged us to think, "I have to live through this for...my spouse, kids, family, dog." Whatever it takes to find the courage to live, hold on to that and fight back.
There's one part to these incidents the media doesn't cover: how to respond when the police arrive. It's simple: DO WHAT THEY SAY! If you're ordered to put your hands in the air or lie on the floor, don't get huffy and argue that you're a victim. First, it wastes valuable time in finding the shooter. Second, the officer has just arrived and has no idea if you're the shooter or an accomplice. When you're told to exit, GO! We watched in amazement as a woman came back into a room to retrieve her purse while a gunman held a Board at gunpoint. Your ability to quickly follow a command can potentially save the lives of those still in the shooter's sights.
When I first started this job, I would've thought this lesson was for big cities. Yet less than 6 months ago, in a gang related incident, someone came to one of our recreation centers with a gun and shot someone. The Director was standing next to the boy who was killed.
While much information and techniques find their way into the "Danger" compartment of my brain, perhaps the single thing which stood out was a policy now embraced by law enforcement: Do Not Say Their Names. Don't give shooters the fame and glory they were seeking with these horrible acts by using their names in conversation about the event. No name...no notoriety. Period.
I can do that. Because the two names sticking with me today are those of the two Deputies who must protect and serve 600 miles of County with limited resources. Thanks to them, I have the personal ammo I need to not roll over and play dead when the going gets tough.