Learn to take action
Police give tips to deal with shooter
AMHERST – A disgruntled former employee comes into your workplace brandishing a gun.
Situations like that used to be rare, and now, sadly, they aren’t. From 2000-13, there were 160 "active shooter" incidents in the United States, with more than 1,000 killed or injured. People are learning from the "successes" and failures of others, and there are websites with "killer counters."
But you are not helpless, two veteran police officers told members of the local business community recently, giving advice on protecting themselves and their employees.
John Smith and Michael Knox, resource officers in the Amherst schools, have been trained in a program called Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response, based at Texas State University.
The program started with law enforcement and has been extended to civilians, because, "You can help us," Knox told his audience of several dozen people during a presentation at the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce.
It’s vital to know all of the possible exits and the location of fire extinguishers, Smith said. The fire retardant can disable and confuse an attacker, and the heavy cylinder "is a wonderful club."
The audience relived the horror of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre as they listened to the 911 audio tape of a frantic librarian talking to a police dispatcher as two armed teenagers walked up and down the hallway randomly shooting students.
Knox and Smith have heard the tape many times, and they said it doesn’t drive up their heartbeat the way it likely did most people in their audience.
That desensitization is a good thing, Knox said, because it means they can stay relatively calm when confronted with events that typically raise the stress levels of most people to the point where they become ineffective.
Smith talked about what police have learned from the science of human disaster response and its three phases, beginning with denial.
Denial can be heard as the Columbine librarian tells the dispatcher the sounds she’s hearing might be coming from a play rehearsal.
"Her mind was trying to put the experience in a box," Smith said. "Denial wastes time at a time when someone has to make a decisive move."
On the other hand, the librarian kept talking, providing useful information to the dispatcher, who failed to ask important questions because she was so flustered she "was no longer effective," Smith said.
When a person’s heartbeat goes up to 120-150 beats per minute, sensory apparatus begins to close down and audio occlusion and tunnel vision kick in.
"At 175 beats per minute, a person will go into a fetal position," Smith said. "This is the person who has to be dragged out of the building. We want you guys to always think about that second exit so you don’t freeze."
The officers showed footage of the Station Nightclub disaster in Rhode Island that claimed 100 lives after a happy time turned into screaming chaos in less than two minutes as people who weren’t familiar with the building tried to leave the same way they entered.
They also talked about self-calming techniques, including a shift from fear to anger – "a very productive emotion" in these situations, the officers said.
Workers should meet regularly, even just a few times a year, the officers said, to talk about how they could respond to a disaster.
The importance of drills was evident after 9/11. Rick Rescorla, director of security for Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley, had been at the World Trade Center during the 1993 bombing and was convinced there would be another attack. So Rescorla developed an emergency evacuation plan that he required Morgan Stanley employees to practice over and over, a plan that ultimately saved 2,700 lives.
"Everyone rolled their eyes" at the regular drills, Knox said, but on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Rescorla’s crew was up and moving, defying a Port Authority announcement asking people to stay at their desks.
"Be the thorn," Smith said, and make sure the office conducts a drill at least every 90 days.
If you can’t keep the intruder out and can’t leave the building, you still have options, the officers stressed.
"Don’t play dead," said Smith, who said it’s preferable to be a moving target and defend yourself if there is no other option.
And don’t "play fair" – aim for the eyes or other sensitive spots.
In this "Live Free or Die" state, the officers said, gun owners must realized that police consider anyone with a gun a threat.
"Don’t be armed when police show up," Smith said. "Follow directions, show palms and do not move. Anything in your hand is a threat to officers."
The idea of "armed citizens" doesn’t take into account the limited training of most gun owners and the effects of stress on their aim, the officers said.
The officers played another tape: a Florida school board meeting interrupted by a man with a gun, angry his wife had been fired. After audience members wisely left the room, a board member tried to reason with the man, which is pointless, Knox said. After several tense minutes, the man shot each one, although they all survived, and a security guard shot the man.
The officers also advised to keep advanced first-aid materials on hand: a $40 tourniquet, a $20 chest wound sticker and a $14 "Israeli" bandage for head wounds.
They also offered to check the security of local offices and provide a site evaluation plan, talking to landlords if need be.