Amherst cops give active shooter safety tips

AMHERST – “I love windows,” said Michael Knox, “and these little chairs can create windows.”

The Amherst police officer was not kidding – he was dead serious.

A window could be a good exit when someone is faced with a violent intruder or a raging fire and escape through a door isn’t possible,

Knox told an audience at the Chamber of Commerce last week.

Knox and Officer John Smith gave a 90-minute training session on workplace safety, trying to dispel the common attitude that “these are horrible events that no one can control.”

But during a crisis situation, they stressed, don’t think you’ll remember tactics like crashing a chair through a window, because under extreme stress the average person’s competence and creativity shuts down. That’s why pre-planning is vital.

With pre-planning, a lot can be controlled and lives can be saved, said the veteran officers, who have been trained in Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response, based at Texas State University.

Just 60 seconds of advance planning, they said, can help narrow the gap between the time an incident starts and when help arrives.

“You guys are ground zero,” Knox told the business people, because there are now more mass shooting at commercial establishments than there are at schools.

Referring to the Waffle House shootings in Tennessee last month, when four people died after the shooter had his confiscated assault weapon returned to him by his father, Smith said, “If you’re aware someone is going to give a weapon back, tell” police.

Or if you see someone you know posting pictures of themself with a weapon on social media, police want to know.

It’s natural, said Knox, to try to put as much space between you and the shooter, but getting close – as the hero at Waffle House did last month – can disarm the shooter, because it’s relatively easy to interfere with the use of an assault rifle.

“Taking no action is not an option, said Smith.

In the Chamber audience were people who work in financial institutions, a school, and the humane society. And the Chamber office’s neighbors include a bank, a criminal defense attorney and a psychologist – “an interesting mix of people” and potential sources of trouble.

Showing video footage of the catastrophic Station Nightclub fire, along with a diagram of the building’s exits, the officers made it clear that many of the 100 people who died that night could have saved themselves had they been aware of all the potential exits.

Knox talked about one of the heroes of 9/11, whose preplanning saved thousands of lives. Rick Rescorla, head of security for Morgan Stanley, did not want his company in the World Trade Center at all. After he lost that argument with his superiors he started regular drills.

On the morning of 9/11 he saw the first tower go down and started herding people out the South Tower, in defiance of Port Authority officials, and saved the lives of nearly 2,700 people.

Smith talked about how guidelines for police response have changed since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Police are now not supposed to wait for a SWAT team or anyone else, but go right in.

A video of an incident in Florida when an armed intruder shoots at, and misses school officials at a board meeting helped Knox and Smith make several points, including act fast and call 911 and don’t assume others have made that call.

If avoidance is not an option, lock doors, turn out lights, get out of sight and create a barricade.

When police arrive, everything changes, however. It’s vital that people follow commands, show their palms and not move.

The idea of the armed citizen stopping killings is controversial, Knox said, and most people can’t be effective because their training is limited.

Knox also showed the emergency medical supply kit he brings to incidents and demonstrated the use a tournaquet.

During the 90-minute presentation, none of the shooters were named and that was deliberate – a way to dilute the notoriety some people crave. The officers also stressed that it’s important to avoid naming the victims on social media until police have alerted the families.

This was the second workplace safety-active shooter presentation the two men, both school resource officers in the Amherst schools, have given for the Chamber in two years.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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