Lone Star College police offer active shooter tips, advice during seminar
In response to seemingly never ending mass shootings at schools and other locations in the past 10 to 20 years, officials at the Lone Star College Police Department—like many other organizations—recently held several seminars focusing on active shooter educational training to help people prepare as well as increase awareness of options during a possible active shooter situation.
Lone Star College police Officer Elizabeth Garcia, who works in the college’s Montgomery Division, presented attendees with statistics and suggestions for what to do in an active shooter situation during a presentation on Thursday, July 12.
Garcia said mass shootings have tripled since 2010, and she added, in modern United States history, 2017 was the deadliest year for mass shootings, according to statistics. Most shootings take place at commercial businesses but schools are becoming a more common location for shooters to target. A mass shooting is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as an incident where at least four people are killed, a number which can include the shooter’s death, too.
“Their purpose is to kill as many people as possible,” Garcia said of the typical mass shooter. “They often go to locations with high concentrations. It’s usually an expression of hatred or rage. I think we’re seeing this more often, it’s more of a mental health issue than anything else.”
Shooters often make detailed plans for the attack by observing patterns and behaviors to determine where and when they can achieve the most damage, she explained. Statistics also indicate that 68 percent of active shooter situations end in suicide or suicide by law enforcement.
“Their end game is to do as much damage as possible before they go out,” Garcia said.
The best way to be prepared for an active shooter is to develop a survival mind set: awareness, preparation, rehearsal, she said.
Take note of the nearest exits in any facility — grocery store, restaurant, classroom, etc. — including windows, Garcia advised. Be aware of any potential dangers including people acting suspiciously or potentially hazardous objects in the vicinity.
“Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers. If you have a gas tank next to you, do you want to go hide out next to the gas tank when there’s an active shooter around? Probably not,” Garcia said.
For places a person visits frequently such as work or school, it is important to make a plan and prepare to follow through with it. Rehearse the steps mentally over and over, she added.
Garcia noted that it is best to think of the environment through a survival lens. Where would be the best place to hide? What can be turned into a weapon? Something as simple as a sharpened pencil could do some damage to an attacker.
“Don’t underestimate the objects you have at hand to be able to help you survive because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Survivors prepare themselves both mentally and emotionally to do whatever it takes to survive,” she said. “Rehearse it mentally or physically. Even practicing it in your head and imagining what you have to do is rehearsal for you.”
Run, Hide, Fight
Run to avoid. Hide to deny. Fight to defend.
Those are the three action plans of action, in order, that a person should consider when put in an active shooter situation, Garcia told the attendees.
“Our first option in the situation is to run. Avoid getting any involvement with the shooter. Get as far away as possible,” Garcia said. “You have to have an exit plan to do that. Any time you go into a building you should know where your exits are.”
If shots are fired on the opposite side of the building, running is a better option than waiting to be found. When running away, check all corners because there could be more than one assailant, Garcia advised. Windows are also an option for escape but only jump out of first and second floor windows. Anything higher could be fatal, she cautioned.
When trying to escape, help others if possible. If a member of the group refuses to move then they must be left behind.
“Bottom line you need to take direct responsibility for your personal safety and security,” Garcia said. “If somebody is unwilling to come with you and you’re trying to get away, and they’re holding you back — you need to leave them behind. I know it’s a hard thing to do when you’re scared and trying to help somebody, but at the same time you’re the number one person to protect yourself.”
If escaping the building is not possible, the next option is to hide, she advised.
First, Garcia noted, take a few deep breaths to regain composure and focus on what to do. Helping others calm down may be necessary because officials say the more noise there is, the more attention is drawn to the area. Allocating tasks such as blocking a door, locating makeshift weapons and moving objects to create a shield is also recommended. Garcia advised against forming large groups because it creates one target as opposed to many if members of a group disperse.
“Lock the doors. Put a barrier in front of the door. Make a little shield for yourself behind something, hopefully, metallic. Walls are just made out of sheet rock which is made out of paper so it’s not going to be able to protect you much,” Garcia said. “(A shooter) may not see you, but what if he just starts blindly shooting at the wall and you’re behind it? You’ll get hit.”
Garcia also said it is advised to silence cell phones to minimize noise levels.
For those who are hiding, Garcia said they need to make a plan of defense because a shooter could enter the area where they are hiding.
“Defend as your last resort. If you can, run. If you can’t hide, then fight. Act aggressively toward the shooter engaging in physical attack,” Garcia said. “This is not the time to think, ‘I don’t want to hurt somebody’ or ‘I don’t want to kill somebody.’ At this point in time it’s fight or flight. It’s either you or them.”
Garcia said improvised weapons can include chairs, blunt object, stiletto high heel shoes, scissors or anything that could be used to stab or create blunt force trauma. If the gunshots sound like they are getting closer, individuals or groups should prepare to attack the shooter as he or she enters the room to catch him or her off guard, she added.
“Action is faster than reaction,” Garcia noted.
When law enforcement arrives on the scene
Garcia said the average response time to an active shooter is three minutes. When law enforcement officials enter an active shooter situation they have three priorities: Stop the killing, stop the dying and evacuate the area.
Law enforcement personnel’s responsibility first and foremost is to neutralize any threats and prevent more people from getting shot, Garcia explained. The tactical process means that initial responders will walk past victims.
Garcia said those victims who may be hiding should not run toward the police as they will have weapons out and be looking to engage the threat.
“We are there to stop the killing. That’s our purpose,” Garcia said of responding officers. “I know you’re going to be scared; you’re going to be frantic. The ideal is for you not to get in our way and get out as quickly and safely as possible.”
Garcia stressed to the group that hands should be visible at all times in order to show law enforcement that they are empty.
“Everyone is a suspect when law enforcement gets involved and they are reacting to an active shooter. We have no idea who the shooter is,” Garcia said. “A prime example of that is the Florida incident (at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) where we had a student come in, shoot up some kids, threw away the gun and he came out like a victim.”
Those hiding should listen and follow any instructions given by law enforcement. Officials may conduct body searches to make sure there was no other shooter.
After the threat has been neutralized, medics will begin to treat the wounded and survivors will be evacuated.
Those who are licensed to carry are not obligated to engage the shooter. Should they choose to do so and successfully disarm the shooter, they must immediately place the gun on the ground and raise their hands to indicate they are not a threat to law enforcement. If there is a gun in hand when law officials arrive a licensed to carry person will be perceived as a threat.
“If you have a license to carry, you have to also remember whatever your bullet hits you are responsible for. If you aim for the shooter and you hit two people behind the shooter, you’re responsible for that,” Garcia said.