Run, Hide, Fight
How local law enforcement is helping the public –– businesses especially –– prepare for mass shootings.
ON OCT. 17, A GUNMAN OPENED FIRE at the crowded ZombiCon festival in downtown Fort Myers, killing one and injuring five—a mass shooting in our own community.
It was one of the dozens of such cases last year in the United States at small businesses, schools, churches and malls, places where people typically feel safe. And when these often-deadly incidents have occurred, the common refrain has been “We never thought it would happen here.”
It's that element of surprise that makes innocent people so vulnerable. Local law enforcement agencies across Southwest Florida are well aware of that exposure and are reaching out to train the public—businesses and employees in particular—to respond correctly, giving them a chance to survive a potentially dangerous assault.
"We say very frankly, 'What are you going to do if the wolf shows up at the door?'" says Collier County Sgt. Jacob Walker. “You have to make a decision whether on that day you’ll be able to fight to defend your life and those around you.”
Here are some of the efforts underway to help would-be victims to help themselves and others.
FineMark Bank & Trust’s Adria Starkey was meeting with other colleagues following the Paris terror attacks last November when she was struck by the importance of training staff how to react to a similar threat. “Oftentimes employees feel better if you talk about these things rather than ignoring them,” says Starkey, FineMark’s executive vice president/Collier County president. “It’s just being proactive about a very unfortunate situation.”
A call to the Collier County Sheriff led to a January active-shooter session advocating the “run, hide, fight” protocol used by its crime-prevention bureau. Topics discussed with bank employees included who should sprint for a rear exit, who should barricade themselves in an office—silencing cell phones and turning off lights—and who should confront the assailant.
Walker’s agency has presented to 650 people within the last three months, including six sessions from November to the end of January for the 52 businesses at The Mercato.
The choice to fight should be a last resort, says Walker, with the understanding that mass shooters often keep firing until acted upon by another force. His advice: Find a makeshift weapon, such as a paperweight, and act decisively, Walker says.
If a victim has managed to locate shelter behind a locked and barricaded door, know that statistically shooters may move on if faced with such resistance. He notes that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, during which 20 children and six adults were killed, a teacher alertly closed a classroom off by using his body to block a door.
Walker says fortifying one’s position can buy time until first responders arrive. “That’s what this course is all about. It’s about hardening their business and their homes and making sure they lock their doors,” he says. “This kind of training can really stimulate people and get them emotional.”
The final component of the training is to help develop an emergency action plan (EAP), says Collier County Lt. Rich Hampton.
“We feel like if we can get ownership on their part, whether it’s creating an EAP for their business or employees and families, our mission readiness is that much greater,” Hampton says. “There are a few things they can do to considerably improve their safety. We do want to raise the overall situational awareness so they can feel safe going to the movies or shopping.”
At the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, staff officer Scott Griffith says he fields daily calls from businesses, churches and schools about the best way to handle such an emergency. Increasing awareness is the first step, according to Griffith, who notes that requests are often made following a security assessment of a business provided by the department.
“We’re creatures of habit and do the same things we’ve done before,” he says. “That car’s never been in that lot before—why is it there?”
He stresses noticing all exits, which ones are unlocked and how best to find safety. “If, God forbid, I’m in this situation, what now am I prepared to do?” Griffith says. “Things you need to be aware of [such as] don’t be screaming and running into people, and how to hold your hands when you’re coming out of the building.”
In mid-February, the Cape Coral Police hosted an inaugural event that involved a more hands-on approach. Its Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training of 38 included school administrators, business officials as well as Cape Coral Sgt. Allan Kolak. ALICE is an Ohio-based institute that offers safety training to prepare clients for active-shooter incidents.
An ALICE instructor blasted air horns and fired an air-soft pellet gun to simulate the reality of an attack. Participants were chosen to play the roles of assailant and others decided how to safely barricade and what to use as a weapon.
“We had to stop them from coming in and once they came in, we had to attack the person with objects and tell others to evacuate,” Kolak says. “It goes over the countering, where you’re actually engaging the suspect as a last resort. If that’s your last option, we don’t want you to sit still and become a victim.”
Kolak says the department has used the run, hide, fight model for the past five years; however, the new ALICE training is well-suited to specific businesses.
Sadly, college campuses have too often become scenes of horrific shootings. So, Florida Gulf Coast University has used the “When Lightning Strikes” program for the past five years. FGCU Police Chief Steven Moore says the hourlong presentation, which includes a 30-minute video, is most requested by school administrators after a mass shooting. FGCU police completed a dozen presentations to college-related groups in the 10 days following the 2015 fatal attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California.
“We see a spike every time there’s a new incident around the country,” says Moore, noting FGCU’s text messaging alert system is but one product to keep students and faculty safe. The university also took part in an early December four-hour virtual tabletop exercise, “Active Shooter With Hostages for a University.”
The effort, in conjunction with and hosted by Lee County Emergency Management, allowed 50 to 75 individuals to work on an active-shooter scenario. They were able to sit together and discuss the best responses to an attacker. And should a shooting occur elsewhere, the FGCU department is proactive in making sure training presentations are made available.
“If there’s an active shooter in California, I’ll put out an email in the morning about the presentation we can make,” Moore says. “We know to try to get ahead of that.”
A SAFER PLACE
At FineMark Bank, Starkey remains focused on the broader issue of following such law enforcement guidelines to save lives in an active shooter situation. She has watched the video from Homeland Security provided by Collier County and understands that responding properly if a shooter appears—running, hiding or throwing a nearby bookend, for example—may have potent effects.
“People in our office are now designated and … it’s made us that much more aware,” she says. “We have put things in place, and if we save one life, that’s a good thing.”
You are going to be nervous, scared and may have tunnel vision, but you need to run away from the immediate threat and try to find a safe place. Once you are out of harm's way, call 911 immediately. It is critical that you provide the 911 dispatcher with as much information as possible, such as the location of the shooter, a description of the shooter and any other details you have will help the deputies who are responding to the scene.
If you are unable to run from the area because of an immediate threat, then you need to find a blace to hide and remain as quiet as possible until you see identifiable law enforcement personnel.
- Lock the door or place items such as furniture against the door.
- Silence your cell phone so it does not ring and reveal your location to the shooter.
- Hide in an area that does not restrict your movement or block you from an exit route.
- Remember that the shooter may be wearing camouflage clothing or attire that may appear similar to law enforcement personnel, so analyze the situation before coming out of your hidden area.
If you end up in a confrontation with the shooter, you need to fight any way possible.
- Use objects such as a fire extinguisher, office equipment or anything else nearby as weapons.
- You need to fight for your life, so act aggressively and attempt to incapacitate the shooter.
- Never surrender or negotiate with the shooter. And remember, if you lawfully carry a firearm, please make sure you are trained to operate it safely.