The subject of Active Shooter has become the “hot button” topic for law enforcement across the country. Everything we thought we knew about the appropriate law enforcement response to active shooter events changed in 1999 with the Columbine school shooting. It has continued to evolve with first responding law enforcement officers receiving what was once thought of as, advanced medical training, to now pushing law enforcement agencies to train with medical and fire agencies to enhance potential lifesaving efforts.
The latest movement to enhance the survivability for such an event has reached beyond first responders to civilians. In October of 2013, I was able to attend the ALERRT conference where I was certified as a CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) Instructor. Like many of my colleagues, I have been giving advice to civilians in businesses, schools, and churches on how they should prepare for an Active Shooter event as well as what they can expect from law enforcement in response. ALERRT has prepared supporting materials for instructors in a package of information from Texas State University’s study of Active Shooter Events to knowledge of the human stress response to present those most in need of this information.
The program includes a history of active shooter in the United States and a briefing on related terrorist events around the world which have molded our training for these events. Like most of the officers I know instructing this course, I have added the events relevant to my area and audience. I also make sure that certain myths are addressed, such as “hide and hope” and “playing dead”, which were found to be ineffective in the Virginia Tech shooting where a victim employed this tactic and was shot three times, as the shooter made a second and third pass to ensure his victims were dead. It was fortunate that this victim survived being shot three separate times.
The issue of 100% accountability, which seems to be a main concern for primary schools, is also addressed. The general consensus is to lock down the school so that all students are accounted for. We caution that this procedure may act to contain and provide more targets for the shooter to access. The main dictum for the CRASE course is to Avoid, Deny, and Defend (ADD). The first action is to Avoid – use any opportunity to avoid the shooter if possible. Instead of locking down a school or facility, allow those with the opportunity to escape the facility to do so. The problem of having students or office personnel wandering around the area until they can be accounted for is more advantageous than securing them and potentially providing the shooter has exclusive access. Secondly, Deny – If no opportunity to escape exists, lock yourself into room or office and secure the area. Barricade the door. More is better. Turn off the lights and make it appear as though the room is empty. In last resort, Defend – If the shooter does attempt to breach a room, defend yourself. Prepare to fight as if your life depends on it because it does. This is not a sporting event with rules. We have seen these shooters kill without remorse or hesitation. You should fight back with the same attitude. Use whatever tools the room gives you, such as scissors, chairs, or any object with which you can cause physical injury or pain. Certain techniques like grabbing the gun and disarming or controlling the gun are encouraged. Continue to loop through courses of action and seek a way to “Avoid”, such as breaking a window to create the opportunity to escape.
While I also address those concealed handgun permit holders on what they should do when law enforcement officers arrive, it should be noted at no time are law enforcement tactics discussed or revealed in these civilian presentations. We ask civilians to prepare to wait for three minutes, which is the national average response time for law enforcement. Give us three minutes. The realization that law enforcement will not be able to respond in time to prevent injury or death in every situation has led to the CRASE program which is designed to help the public protect itself.
The first course of many scheduled was presented to staff in my own office. The concern for me was naivete of most of our civilian personnel and their reaction to what would be figuratively speaking be……a wake-up call. My concerns were further enhanced by the scream of a secretary at the slide which reads “don’t hesitate” and is accompanied by three loud gunshot sounds. At the end of my presentation, I not only received a sincere thank you from those staff members but emails were cc’d to my boss expressing their appreciation for the information and how they valued the opportunity to attend. While I do advocate adjusting the presentation of these types of materials to your audience because any information is better than none at all, I also do believe that all citizens should receive an honest and realistic presentation on the topic.
About the Author: Mark Stephenson is a veteran police officer with (23) years of experience. Mark is the lead training instructor at Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center (NLETC) where he is responsible for statewide development of program curriculum, training grants and training initiatives in Survival Tactics, Active Shooter, Edged Weapons, and Patrol Rifle. Mark began his career with Waco PD in Texas where he served as a full-time SWAT officer and SWAT instructor. Mark previously served as FBI Task Force Officer as Sergeant for the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Mark achieved the rank of Lieutenant for the Valentine Police Department in Nebraska, where he also served on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.