Program Teaches How to Survive
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – Surviving a Active Shooter was the topic when Michigan State Police Community Service Trooper Michael White attended the Jan. 18 Hayes Neighborhood Watch meeting. White began his talk with a brief comment about the importance of making the community aware of some difficult, uncomfortable things.
“It’s a conversation we must have,” White said. “I’m not here to bring doom and gloom, but it is my job to make you aware of these things.
The evening’s presentation was about active shooter situations, with the emphasis on how to survive them.
“What you do matters in those situations,” he said.
White talked about the fact that active shooter situations are happening everywhere, and mentioned the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas, who took the lives of former Harrison residents Robert and Shani Corrigan last fall.
White then screened a video which had been created in cooperation with the Walmart Active Shooter Awareness Campaign to help educate its 1.5 million Walmart employees. The CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) video teaches civilians how to respond if faced with an active shooter incident.
In the video, a man with a canvas rifle bag enters a store and walks to an empty aisle where he proceeds to assemble and load the gun. He then begins a deliberate walk through the store, shooting at people. The lesson of the video is how to take action to best ensure not becoming one of a shooter’s victims by using three tactics: Avoid, Deny, Defend.
Avoid contact with the attacker. The potential victim needs to get out of the building or area where the shooter is or is believed to be. In the film, characters in a store reacted in different ways to seeing the shooter and hearing gunfire. Some shoppers just didn’t recognize the sound as gunfire, shrugged their shoulders and went back to shopping, ensuring they could become victims. Another saw the shooter and acted immediately to leave the area and to warn warehouse employees.
Deny the shooter access to your location: lock a door, create a barricade or obstacle to hinder the shooter’s access to victims, or simply hide. This situation was illustrated by a business meeting in the store, where the person conducting the meeting told another person to go see what that noise was. That person was shot. Defend happened when the people in the meeting locked the meeting room door, shut off the light and lined up tight against the same wall the door was on, thus decreasing the shooter’s ability to see them through the door’s window. The people in the warehouse had no option but to try to hide among the product racks.
Defend comes into play when it’s down to the nitty gritty and interaction with the shooter is unavoidable. The video made clear that it is the victim’s right to survive. That was a choice made by the warehouse folks who capitalized on their element of surprise. When the shooter came by the space they were hiding, they tackled and disarmed him.
White said that Avoid means be aware of your surroundings, which includes identifying sounds. He said the sound of gunfire is not always quickly recognized, but that if it is repeated it is more likely to be gunfire.
“Do not hesitate if you hear what may be gunfire to get away,” he said. “Go to the closest, safe exit.”
He also reiterated the fact that when defending yourself, you have the right to do so.
“Use whatever you have,” White said. “Don’t fight fair, be aggressive.”
And when in a safe location,
White said it may take police an average of three minutes to get to the incident, and he explained how critically important it is to follow commands when police do arrive.
“Follow commands,” he said. “Show our hands, and don’t have anything in them. No cell phone or anything else. Do not move. What you do matters.”
White also talked about recognizing the human’s social brain which takes in and weighs information, deliberating before taking action. He compared that with the primal lizard brain which responds to possible danger by taking immediate action.
He said that being informed can lead to quicker, nearly automatic actions when a situation arises. That self-informing would include always checking out locations of exits, trying always to be seated in view of the room’s entrance, thinking about where you can hide or create a barricade.
“Run for safety,” White said. “It’s like the guy in the movie said, ‘We have the right to defend ourselves, we have the right to survive.’ And come heck or high water, we’re going home tonight.
“Whenever I was partnered up with a new trooper, I would always tell them our No. One goal is that we’re going home to those who love us today.”
White said shooters are drawn to soft targets which are easily accessible and poorly protected. He talked about how important it is to be able to monitor entrances, particularly in stores, restaurants and especially in churches where virtually everyone is facing away from the entering attacker. That is what happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas. White said he has spoken with church officials, trying to make them aware of how important it is to have someone in the congregation monitoring those access points.
“Think about where you’re going to sit,” White said. “Don’t let the hostess seat you with your back to the door.”
He encouraged attendees to think about breath control, using combat breathing [4-count inhale, 4-count hold, 4-count exhale], and to be prepared to shift from being afraid [victim] to angry [survivor]. White also urged people to play scenarios in their minds.
“You’re basically training yourself how to handle the situation,” White said. “Make sure that in your scenario you win.”
The importance of exit awareness was illustrated in video clip from the Station Night Club fire which claimed 100 lives and injured 230 others. An on-stage fireworks show ignited the room, and in three minutes the building was fully engulfed. People who didn’t respond quickly were lost in smoke and died in various parts of the building, while 31 others died trying to use the main entrance which was blocked by people wedged in the doorway, stacked atop one another and suffocating.
White described the psychology of active shooter events, using the example of the shooting at Columbine High School where 13 students were killed and 25 wounded. A recording of the 911 call made from the school illustrated the importance of remaining calm while quickly, concisely and clearly stating the situation. It was a several-minute conversation before the 911 operator dispatched any officers, and meanwhile, children were being shot. White said much was learned from Columbine, and after that event procedures changed allowing for immediate dispatch of officers. He said that at Columbine, the responding officers first established a perimeter and waited for EMS to put on armor before entering the building.
“Now, if gunshots are heard, officers go in,” White said.
Schools, too, have learned how better to protect children. White said that some Columbine students were herded past exits, into classrooms and told to hide under tables, only to be executed.
White said the No. One goal is to get the shooter, but then search out and provide aid to victims. He said everyone needs to know basic first aid: how to stop bleeding, CPR and how to dress a bullet wound. He described how a belt can be used as a tourniquet, and how many people survived the Vegas shooting because first aid was administered by people around them.
“They’re bleeding but alive,” he said. “While you wait, they’re dying.”
He also described how a shooter waits until a venue is filled to capacity and then strikes, using the local fair as an example.
“This is so important,” White said. “Our community has to understand we are in this together. We have to be on our P’s and Q’s because it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
White showed some graphics which illustrated the numbers and locales of active shooter incidents across the United States. Those incidents went from seven sites in 2002 to 160 sites by 2013.
White talked about the three stages of disaster response: Denial, Deliberation and Decisive Moment.
In Denial, valuable time is being wasted. In Deliberation, the human brain is evaluating information and time is wasted, which can be dangerous is a disaster situation. In the Decisive Moment, the aforementioned lizard brain takes action. Those are the people who have a chance to survive.
White summed it up saying that if there is an active shooter, he should be taken out if the opportunity presents.
“By any means necessary, you’ve got to do it,” White said. “Either I’m going to be a victim or I’m going to survive.”