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What Will You Do If An Active Shooter Targets Your Business? Life-Saving Training Strategies Every Organization Needs

Originally posted on Alertfind's blog.

Jay Bryant, an active shooter expert and 20-year law enforcement veteran, joins Danielle Ricci, Marketing Team Leader for AlertFind, to discuss the growing epidemic of active shooter incidents. He shares the life-saving strategies business, schools and the general public need to know to protect themselves.

Jay discusses what to do when confronted by an active shooter using the “Avoid, Deny, Defend” strategy. Using anecdotes, stories and images, he details the steps to follow to increase your chances of surviving an active shooter incident.

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Join Jay Bryant and Danielle Ricci as they continue this conversation and answer your questions live on March 3rd.

As police, we’re getting really good at responding to active shooter events. We’ve trained, studied, and improved our response. But what can we do for the public to help them to help themselves and improve their response? What can they do to change their chances of survival from the time an event starts to the time that law enforcement actually responds?

Where Are Active Shooters Most Likely To Attack?

Active shooters target soft targets. A soft target is an easily accessed location with a high density of people, and a lack of controlled access or security. About 10% of active shooter incidents are in places of government. A quarter of them happen in places of education. And most importantly for us, 46% happen in a place of commerce.

How Long Is The Average Active Shooter Incident?

In 80% of these events, the shooter is at large less than 15 minutes ad the average police response to these events is 3 minutes.

Police officers will respond to an active shooter event and bypass all other events, and they’re going to come to this event as fast as they possibly can, and that’s why the response time is so low. Every police officer in every jurisdiction who has a radio who hears that call go out will show up as fast as possible.

What Is The Profile Of An Active Shooter?

There is no good profile for active shooters. They cover a wide range of ages and races and are both male and female. They are primarily males and primarily young.

If a female’s involved, she’s acting in tandem with a male and not acting as a solo active shooter. Most look like a regular, average American citizen. There’s nothing distinctive about him. You can’t identify an active shooter based solely on appearance.

What’s Motivating An Active Shooter Attack?

The mindset of these men is a mindset of rage. For whatever reason, they have a grievance against society, or a particular portion of society, or they have a manifesto that they want to bring to light.

Are Active Shooter Incidents Spontaneous Or Pre-Planned?

We’ve found that 100% of these events are preplanned and 35% of them are extensively planned. And by extensively planned, we’re talking about the Columbine shooting in Colorado, which had 99 improvised explosive devices that were made prior to the event. Some evidence shows they’re preplanned up to a year.

What’s The Best Response If Confronted By A Shooter?

Once they set this plan into place, the shooter has dehumanized their victims. And they will not listen to any pleading from their victims. People fall in a pose where they’re begging for mercy. The absolute worst thing that a person can do is to fall on their knees and beg for mercy when the person who’s out committing these murders isn’t intending to grant any mercy. They are intending to kill as many people as possible.

You cannot fall on your knees and beg for mercy. They don’t care who you are. They don’t care if you’re a mother, a father, if you have kids or you have someone who is dependent on you.

To them, it’s all about a body count. You’re a number. And the more people they kill, the more infamous they’ll be and they know that they’ll be on the cover of every magazine and every news channel.

What’s The Best Way To Be Vigilant About Threats?

Part of being vigilant means that you acknowledge that this threat exists and one day it could happen to you. By attending this webinar and taking this training, you’ve taken the first step toward vigilance.

Another part of being vigilant is having a reporting process. Each company, each school, each church should have a central repository for reporting any kind of suspicious activity. That helps us connect the dots.

We’ve found certain incidents where one person has a piece of information that they’ve reported to law enforcement. Once we dug a little bit deeper, we were able to find that other people had information. When we started connecting these dots, we’re able to see a pattern of suspicious behavior, and stop it before an attack is launched.

How Can I Make My Office Space Safer?

Start by limiting access. This needs to be part of your facility plan. For schools, we tell them once school’s started, they need to limit access to one entry point for the entire school, and the entry point needs to be vetted.

For churches, especially for small churches, we recommend that after the services start that they lock all the doors except for one or lock all of the doors and leave a usher at the main entrance to let anybody in who shows up late. And that usher can vet these latecomers to make sure that they’re actual parishioners coming to the church service.

For companies, it becomes a little bit more difficult. How do you limit access but still make your company warm and inviting and a business environment? Well, part of that is by having receptionists at the front of your company but only having one place for customers or potential clients to come and go from. And that’s going to look different for each particular business. But what you don’t want is for some sort of alternate access through a unlocked back door or unattended back door where somebody could enter your business totally unobserved.

Who Should Be Able To Launch The Active Shooter Plan?

Having a unified plan is crucial. All of your employees should be aware of what the plan is and all of them should be empowered to launch this plan. Whoever sees the active shooter should be empowered to set off the alarm.

How Can We Alert Others That There’s An Active Shooter?

We advocate using a specific alert. I tell people to just keep saying, “Active shooter, active shooter, active shooter.” Never use it in a drill – only in an actual event. From the minute that alarm is sounded, you have about three minutes before law enforcement shows up. What you do in those 180 seconds matters.

What’s The Best Way To Alert Others Of The Threat?

You can use a PA system or an emergency notification system to reach all of your employees at one time. In lieu of that technology, you can do an echoing alert.

As you’re leaving the building or barricading in place, you scream “Active shooter, active shooter, active shooter,” so everyone near you can hear it. Each person who hears it echoes that alert. This works very well for a single story or single building campus. It doesn’t work as well on a multi-building or a multi-story campus.

What Are The Common Responses To An Active Shooter?

Denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. Denial is your brain’s natural defense mechanism, trying to make sense of the sudden violence that’s being presented. When you’re stuck in the denial stage, you never take any steps to ensure your own safety. Denial causes a lack of action.

The next stage is deliberation. Deliberation is where we decide what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. There’s two different types of deliberation – reflective and reflexive.

Reflective is where you think about what you would do given 30 minutes warning. If I told you there was going to be an active shooter in your business, you would be able to come up with a fairly good response plan. But if it happens instantaneously, you don’t have the time to reflect.

What we need is a reflexive response. A reflexive response is one that’s instantaneous. As soon as the stimulus presents itself, the response comes instantaneously.

A good example of this is when you’re driving on the interstate highway, and your attention is a little bit distracted from the road, but out of the corner of your eye you see brake lights. You immediately slam on your brakes. You don’t first look up and think, “I wonder why everybody’s stopping.” You immediately reach for your brakes. That’s a reflexive response.

What we want you to do is to recognize the signs of an active shooter, what it sounds like, what it would look like so that your response to an active shooter event is more reflexive than reflective.

The next stage is the decisive moment, and that’s when you enact your plan and take action. You have to shift your emotion from fear to anger. You have to be motivated and move with purpose, and take people with you.

Remember, this person has come here to try and kill you, and kill your friends, and kill your coworkers. So when you take action, it has to be very decisive and very aggressive.

What’s The Avoid, Deny, Defend Plan?

The first step is avoid the shooter. Next is deny access to your location. And lastly, defend yourself.

Avoid by any means possible, aggressively, and as fast as you can. Think about what an active shooter would look like and what it would sound like. I can tell you from experience that gunshots inside a building are deafeningly loud. They don’t sound like backfires. They don’t sound like firecrackers. They don’t sound like anything else other than gunshots.

So when you hear these gunshots, when you see people running and fleeing, when you see somebody walking into your business with a rifle, immediately start taking action avoiding them by any means possible. That means running, fleeing, taking people with you. By being the very first person to take action, you will help other people follow you. When they see you running, they’ll say, “Oh, maybe I should be running too.” So you can lead them to safety.

As soon as you’ve avoided the active shooter, immediately start calling for help. Police are able to judge the seriousness of the event based on how many calls they’re receiving. For example, during the Aurora shooting in Colorado, they received 10,000 911 calls.

Know your escape routes. Wherever you spend a large amount of your time, you should know the escape routes and the alternate escape routes. Every public building’s going to have an alternate escape route. I challenge each one of you to think about where do you spend your day, what the escape routes are and what the alternate escape routes are if the primary one was being blocked by a gunman.

So the next step is deny. By deny, we mean denying access to wherever you happen to be. There’s no evidence to show any active shooter in America has ever breached an interior commercially locked solid wood core door with a steel frame. These are the common types of doors you’d find in most businesses, office buildings, schools.

What if the door has a window? It’s not as good because a window can be shot through and somebody can reach through it and unlock the door. But a door that’s locked with a window is better than an unlocked door.

After locking the door, barricade it. You want to have as much debris between you and the shooter as possible, then turn out the lights and hide out of sight. If he looks through the window and doesn’t see anybody or sees a bunch of debris, he may bypass that room altogether.

And the last step is defend. You should be prepared to attack the shooter as soon as he comes in the door. And by defend, we need to defend ourselves with every tool available to us, with all the ability we can muster, and with any improvised weapons.

A good example of an improvised weapon is an office chair or a fire extinguisher. You can use a fire extinguisher both as an impact weapon or with a full blast of the fire repellent to the face. Canned food. Canned food in a sock. Coffee. Either the liquid itself or the coffee pot and hot liquid. A hole punch. Scissors. A paperweight. Basically, anything off your desk that you can cause blunt force trauma with.

What If I Have A Concealed Carry Permit?

I’m not going to take a stance on whether or not you should have a concealed weapon in your business or not. That’s each individual employer’s decision. What I will say is that if you find yourself involved in an active shooter event, you should use whatever weapon is readily available to you to defend yourself to the utmost.

If you’re in an active shooter incident in a business environment, quite often, the active shooter will be somebody who works there. If you’re going to an active shooter in a high school, quite often, the active shooter is a student. This means the shooter looks like everybody else to the police.

So when the police are responding, they don’t know what the active shooter looks like. So to them, you look like the active shooter. And then when they show up, if you have a weapon in your hand, you’re going to have a very, very, very small window, if any chance at all, to identify yourself and let them know that you’re not the threat. They are very likely to shoot you first.

You have to have that weapon out of your hand when the police arrive. As a police officer, we advise if you take action off-duty, make sure you call 911 and advise them, “I’m an off-duty police officer. This is my description.” But we still tell them it’s a good idea to have that weapon holstered, put away or laying on the ground with their hands fully above their head with their fingers exposed so that the officers arriving know that you are not the threat.

I can’t stress this enough. If you introduce a concealed handgun or a personally-owned firearm into one of these scenarios, nobody’s going to know that you’re not the active shooter in the heat of the moment, so you have to take extra steps to ensure that you don’t also become a victim.

What If I’m Too Scared To Fight The Shooter?

I say to you that within each one of us there’s the ability to fight for survival. And if not for your own, then you’ll fight for the survival of others. What if a kidnapper came, grabbed your child and tried to rip that child from your arms? Do you think you could fight in that moment?

I think that resonates with most parents. “Absolutely I would fight. I would do everything in my power. I would bite, and kick, and claw, and scream, and eye gouge.” That’s the kind of response that we’re looking for. You have it within you, and you don’t have to be trained. All you have to do is be committed.

There’s three common responses when threatened: fight, flight or freeze. In fight, the usual response is to attack. For flight, your immediate response is to run. But with people, quite often, the response is to freeze because they don’t know what to do.

But when you’re committed and you’ve decided if this ever happens and I can’t avoid it, I can’t deny it, that I have to fight for my survival, then that’s when you launch a counterattack.

The shooter’s going to go through that whole fight, flight or freeze syndrome himself. He’s going to have to think about what to do now that he’s being attacked? Quite often when law enforcement shows up, they just kill themselves. They’re not interested in an armed conflict. So by you doing that, you’re already starting to overwhelm their response.

What Do I Disarm The Shooter?

Remember that pistols are one of the most commonly used weapons in active shooter events. For a pistol to fire it has to chamber another round, meaning if you can grab hold of the gun and just fall to the ground, that gun’s only going to be able to fire one time.

Most revolvers work similar in that the cylinder has to revolve each shot. So once you grab a revolver and squeeze it, it can fire one time and then that’s it. So the tactic to use when attacking a gunman is to grab his gun and fall to the ground and just use your body weight to pull it away from his body.

By leading that attack, hopefully others will join in the attack. You should go back to your office mates and swear a pact to each other that if this ever happens to us, we’re all going to fight. If we can’t avoid or deny, then we commit to the fight.

Whether it’s a rifle or a shotgun, the tactic for defending against those weapons is to push the barrel away because that’s the dangerous part, grab the rifle and just fall to the ground. You don’t have to control the rifle. You don’t have to control the pistol. All you have to do is prevent them from being able to control it.

When everybody launches an attack like that, there’s no fighter in the world who’s going to be able to overcome a counterattack of that nature.

Now what if he pulls another weapon? What if he lets go of the rifle and pulls a pistol? Follow the same concept. Grab the pistol, just wrap it up and fall to the ground. You have to use a pack mentality. You have to discuss your plan with your office mates. It has to be a decision made before the event. It has to be something that’s preplanned.

You have to have the mentality of survival. You have to think no matter what the odds, no matter how dangerous or how scary it is, I can and will survive, and part of that is you have to convince yourself that even if you’re shot, that doesn’t mean you’re going to die.

By far, the vast majority of the people shot in America live and make it to level one trauma center and they are treated. Paramedics will tell you that trauma is one of the easiest things to fix when they go to a scene, because they just plug the hole, stop the bleeding, and get you to a hospital. That’s what they’re designed to do, and paramedics are being integrated into active shooter training, along with firemen.

We’re getting medical care to the victims even quicker than we’ve ever done in the past, because now they’re coming with armed escorts and they’re going right into the scene.

So you have to have the mindset even if you’re shot, you can survive. Now I’m going to take it one step further. If you are fighting against an armed assailant and you’ve wrapped up the gun, and he’s managed to get a shot off, and you realize that you’ve been shot, if you have the cognizant ability to think “I’ve been shot,” it’s probably not a lethal wound.

Most lethal wounds are going to be right down the spinal cord, in the throat, in the head, right to the heart. If you’ve been shot any of those places, you’re not likely to have a cognizant thought that you’ve been shot. If you’re thinking, “I’ve been shot,” then it’s likely a nonlethal wound in some other part of your body, so the mentality has to be if I’ve been shot, I know I can keep fighting and I can survive this. Medical care is only minutes away. You have to have a mentality that you can fight through it.

What Does The Police Response Look Like?

Every police officer in your jurisdiction who hears the call is going to come, and they’re going to come in plain clothes, in SWAT clothes, in regular police uniforms. Off-duty guys are going to show up. They’re going to throw on their gear and they’re going to respond.

There’s going to be so many of them that they’re going to be an overwhelming response of police officers. So how do we know if it’s the police or not? One, you’ll hear police radios. Two, every police officer in America is carrying an ID card that identifies them as a police officer. He can slide it under the door and show you.

You can also call 911 and say, “Hey, there’s somebody saying he’s a police officer at my door. Can you verify that?”

How Do The Police Prioritize Their Search For The Shooter?

They’re going to be looking for the shooter as rapidly as possible. Their priority is number one, stop the killing, and number two, stop the dying.

So what does that mean? That means as long as they believe they’re able to find and engage the shooter, they’re going to bypass victims. They’re not going to stop and do first aid. They’re going to press on until they get to the shooter.

Their number one priority is to find that shooter and neutralize him and then start providing first aid.

What Should You Tell Police When You Call In An Active Shooter Event?

So when you call 911, what should you report? Start with the shooter location. It’s good to say that there’s a shooter at my business, but it’s better to say, “There’s a shooter at my business. He’s on the second floor in the north wing in the copy room.” That gives us much more concise information.

Also give descriptions. Saying it’s a 6-foot-tall white guy is good. Saying it’s a 6-foot tall bald white guy wearing a black, long-sleeved t-shirt, black boots, black cargo pants with a black trench coat, carrying a shotgun is better because it helps the officers eliminate potential suspects faster.

Also give us the location of victims. Tell us, “Hey, we are in room 211. We’re in the second-story conference room and there’s five people in here who have gunshot wounds.” That’s the kind of thing we need to know so we can bring paramedics and firemen to the exact location of the victims.

How Can I Prevent Myself From Being Confused With The Shooter?

Show us that you’re not armed by raising your open hands, palms out, over your head. When we give directions, they could seem a bit weird. Our directions may be, “Cover your face. Turn around and face away from me. Go line up against that wall. Kneel down.”

All these directions are used to gain compliance of a large group of people quickly. Everybody who’s not the shooter is going to do that. This helps the officers scan a large crowd very fast, looking for that threat.

We need immediate following of directions. It’s not the time to discuss anything or negotiate anything. We need immediate compliance.

Lastly, move slowly. The last thing you want to do is run at a police officer, especially when he’s scared, too. Make sure you move slowly and you have your hands where he can see them.

How Should We Test Our Alert System?

If you’re fortunate enough to have the ability to do a universal alert through an ENS that reaches all your employees simultaneously, test that system and make sure that it works the way you think it does. If you don’t have that ability and you have to use the echo alert system, then practice it so that you can see that it works.

Should Our Organization Do Active Shooter Drills?

Run tabletop exercises where you just sit down and talk. Ask the group, “Okay. This is what it would look like if we had an active shooter. I want everybody to go around the room and say what they’re going to do.” Nobody has to move. We’re just going to talk about it, but after we talk about it, we’re going to go and do a walkthrough of the process, very similar to why children in schools do fire drills.

They do it so that in the real event, there won’t be mass panic. Your business can run full-blown scenarios. You can actually have somebody come in and pretend like they’re the shooter and go through the building either with a blank gun or just screaming “bang, bang, bang,” at everybody. Then run at full speed to practice how they would respond. This reduces the anxiety because people have practiced it and they know what to do.

Panic, fear and indecision. That’s the effect of not having a plan. Planning is the inoculation to fear. A plan allows you to know what to do so when that threat presents itself you take action immediately. The goal, ultimately, is to survive.

Learn more valuable, life-saving tips and ask Jay your questions in our upcoming webinar.

Register for AlertFind’s webinar, “Active Shooter Preparedness: Life-Saving Strategies From A Law Enforcement Expert,” featuring active shooter expert Jay Bryant and AlertFind’s Marketing Team Leader Danielle Ricci at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, March 8.

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