By Patricia Bouweraerts —
Working in a place of innocence with children or in a doctor’s office measuring patients’ blood pressure does not ensure a workplace is utterly, and for all time, safe from an active assailant.
Active assailant experts refer to innocent people in these settings as “soft targets,” and shooting events at innocuous locations are increasing. Of the 26 people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012, 20 were children.
“In the U.S., there have been 160 events between 2000 and 2013,” said Zack Gregovich, training specialist, Nevada Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training. “The FBI reports that violent events have increased by 50 percent since 2005.”
Therefore, teachers and physicians, speech therapists and nurses—all working people—need to be skilled in what to do should an active assailant enter the building in which they work.
So, how do employees keep safe wherever they work? Trainers typically cover some history about what has happened during many of these violent attacks. Law enforcement experts have studied assailant behavior and have found patterns. They advise everyone to have a plan, to practice the plan by thinking it through periodically, and focus on whom a person wants to go home to. These steps are outlined in the following sections.
“Practice disruptive thinking – question the way things have been done, and don’t be blinded by experience in other situations,” Gregovich said during the Dec. 8 active assailant training he presented at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC), then a college and university police officer.
First of all, active shooters are now often called active assailants because the perpetrator may use a bomb instead of a gun, as in the case of Andrew Kehoe.
History of deadly events presents valuable information
A small farm town in the Midwest in 1927—it was a simpler time—before AK-47 assault rifles and weapons of mass destruction.
But it was the year of the first mass killing in U.S. modern history.
Kehoe killed 38 kids and 7 adults and injured 58 people in the violent event at Bath Township School in Michigan. He had lost an election for township clerk and his wife had tuberculosis. Kehoe was angry about property taxes that funded the school, and he couldn’t pay his mortgage.
Kehoe had been caretaker of the school. Survivors said during an NPR interview that he smiled at kids entering the building as he was fixing a door the morning of the massacre. He killed his wife, set off dynamite explosives he had planted in the basement at the school and killed himself.
Only half of the dynamite went off.
When you are frozen, afraid to do anything, focus on the person you want to go home to, and do it.Zack Gregovich
The standard training is to run first, next best is to hide
If confronted with an active assailant, you should first attempt to get out of the building, to run, Gregovich said. Running is safer than hiding, and you don’t want to stop to take anything with you. Nothing. Don’t even stop to get a purse or put on a helmet.
“If it isn’t needed for your immediate survival, don’t do it,” he said.
A woman who was parking her motorcycle arrived at the IHOP in Carson City, Nevada on Sept. 6, 2011 as Eduardo Sencion was getting out of his vehicle with an automatic weapon. She stopped to put on her helmet. She was killed there, Gregovich said.
“When you are frozen, afraid to do anything, focus on the person you want to go home to, and do it,” he said.
Gregovich said that in a violent attack, to encourage others to leave the building – run with you. If an escape route is blocked, or a person can’t run, then the next best thing is to hide. Hide low to the ground because bullets can go through drywall, he said.
He highly recommends a video entitled “Run.Hide.Fight.®: Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” available on YouTube.com. It was published in 2012 by the City of Houston, and although it is slightly dated, the information is accurate.
When hiding, lock the door or blockade it, turn the lights off, silence ringers, and hide low behind large objects that could slow down bullets, according to the film.
Fighting is a last resort, and Ready Houston advises to fight only if your life is in danger. The video outlines that if you do fight, try to incapacitate the assailant, act with physical aggression, improvise weapons and commit to each action.
Victims are chosen randomly
Nearly 72 years after the Bath disaster, 13 students and one teacher died at Columbine High School in Colorado when two senior students used guns and explosives to carry out a long-planned attack.
“The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life,” wrote reporter Dave Cullen, on Slate.com. “Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular.”
Gregovich said that attackers most often prepare and practice, and that their motives can range from a grudge against humanity, to copy-catting another killer, to a lone wolf with a specific agenda, to organized terrorism.
If it doesn’t look right, it’s not.Zack Gregovich
If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t
A student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) forgot her backpack in the classroom one morning in April 2007. When she tried to reenter the building a short time later, the doors were locked. She thought it was unusual, but crawled through an open window and retrieved her backpack not knowing the assailant, Seung-Hui Cho had blocked the doors, Gregovich said.
Cho killed 32 people and himself.
“If it doesn’t look right, it’s not,” Gregovich said.
He added that a beat cop in Connecticut once found a teen on the street at night and thought there was something unusual, so he took the kid in for questioning. The boy confessed he planned to kill people the next day, Gregovich said.
“Racial profiling is bad – it’s not OK, but behavioral profiling, that’s different,” he said. “That’s the only way we can put people’s action in context. Like the cop in Connecticut.”
Assailants typically end the event
In previous attacks, assailants have most often ended the event by suicide when pressure is exerted as authorities close in.
As soon as his first shot is fired, the “stopwatch of death” begins and the shooter will try to do as much damage as he can before the event is done, Gregovich said.
A cop’s first duty when entering a building is to put pressure on the assailant and stop the attack. Their duty to help those injured happens only when the scene is completely secured.
A father who was an off-duty police officer dropped his daughter off at Pine Middle School in Reno on the snowy morning of March 16, 2006. He heard over his radio that a shooting had begun and knew he might be the closest officer, so he turned around. On his way into the building, he had to step over his own daughter on the way in to find the assailant, Gregovich said.
The daughter was physically unharmed and the gym teacher, Jencie Fagan, subdued James Scott Newman after he shot and injured two fellow students.
You’ll freeze if you don’t have a plan … have a plan. Always have an escape plan.Zack Gregovich
Attack at a clinic
“In Reno, we are at the 90 percentile in the nation because of our four active shooter events,” Gregovich said.
One of the events was at a medical clinic.
Dr. Charles Gholdoian, Reno urologist was killed, and a 20-year-old patient and another doctor were injured on Dec. 17, 2013. An armed man had entered the third floor of the Center for Advanced Medicine building on the grounds of Renown Regional Medical Center with a 12-gauge shotgun. After shooting the doctors and patient, he killed himself with his weapon.
Reno police arrived at the scene within three minutes and then secured the building, according to KOLO, Channel 8.
Experts advise to stay put if one is hiding, even for long periods of time. The police will come in and get survivors, Gregovich said.
Police will enter the scene of an active assailant event in smaller groups than they did in the past. This is in order to put pressure on the shooter faster. When they have checked a room, the standard signal is to call-out “clear” for their teammates, but Gregovich said that survivors should not yet come out of hiding places because the entire site first needs to be secured before survivors are assisted.
If a person fleeing an attack is running or has dropped to the ground, keep hands away from the body. Doing this, and keeping hands apart, will let police more quickly see you are not an attacker. Do not yell or point, according to Ready Houston.
Have a plan
The “Run.Hide.Fight.®” video shows simulations of people in the workplace who demonstrate each technique. This film presents the advice that everyone should have a plan – and the plan doesn’t have to be complex.
Knowing where your fire extinguishers are can also help. An extinguisher can put out a fire, or be used as an improvised weapon.
Gregovich said that studies have proven visualization can be just as effective as actual training—that if people think it through—they will act faster and more confidently should the need arise. Therefore, he advises a mental run-through of the plan on a regular basis.
“You’ll freeze if you don’t have a plan … have a plan,” Grevovich said. “Always have an escape plan.”