Responding to an Active Shooter

Friday, June 14, 2019
Last month my church hosted a workshop presented by the Arizona Church Security Network. It’s a sad comment on our society that such an organization has to exist, but I’m grateful it does. Too often, churches and synagogues are the target of disturbed individuals who decide the only way to handle their problems is to attack what are often seen as soft targets. I should note that it’s not just shooters, but killers using other types of weapons, such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and, in the UK where gun control is stricter than in the U.S., knife attacks. (If you don’t follow world news, Google it. It’s a lot more common than you would think.)

The AZCSN is an all-volunteer organization staffed by current and former law enforcement and emergency response personnel. Workshops are usually held in a five-hour session on Saturdays. Yes, lunch is served.

Some of the things they taught would seem obvious, but they’re not always. The first concept was situational awareness. Most people who attend church always come in and leave by one door at the back of the church. If a shooter comes in that way and start shooting, it probably isn’t the safest way out. Situational awareness includes taking note of all the exits from a room when you first arrive, and particularly noting the nearest exit.

Situational awareness also includes being familiar with what behavior is normal in the situation you’re in. Most people enter a church and find a seat. Sometimes they’ll stop and talk with a friend. But they won’t be pacing up and down an aisle looking anxious. That should be a warning sign and should be pointed out to whoever is a designated safety person. You say your organization doesn’t have one? They should. If you don’t know who it is at the time, mentioning the behavior and pointing out the person to an usher is probably a good idea.

There are YouTube videos on situational awareness to train yourself in what you should look for.

Chris Taylor, the trainer, pointed out that our brains try to bring us to normalcy. A lot of denial goes on when we’re presented with a potentially dangerous situation. Many times, gunfire is presumed to be a car backfiring. When was the last time you heard a car backfire? I know, for me, I wasn’t out of my teens yet. It’s not common today at all. But still, rather than believe someone in our vicinity is firing a gun, our brains go for the non-threatening explanation.

If you’ve seen stories on school shootings, you’ve probably heard of run-hide-fight. This strategy (run if you can, hide if you can’t run, fight if it’s all you can do) makes sense for children, who probably don’t have the size to oppose an adult shooter.

The AZCSN teaches the ALICE system. The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. These tactics are not sequential. Rather than reacting as a victim, the ALICE system teaches you to use a survival mindset.

I’m not going to die.

The trainer focused on three methods: Lockdown, which includes locking and barricading the door; Counter by throwing things at the shooter which will generally distract him and mess up his aim; and Evacuate, which is self-explanatory. He not only taught us about them, but we did multiple exercises using Nerf balls to throw and being shot at with Nerf guns.

Anything you can push against a door can create a barricade. Furniture works well. Extension cords and belts can be used to tie chairs together and make them harder to move than individual chairs.
If you decide to counter, you have to be all in. People (I’d imagine especially church people) are more likely to pull back, to not punch as hard as they can, than to intentionally hurt the person who’s attacking them. The counter technique works better if there are several people swarming the shooter at once. For an illustration of the effectiveness of the swarm technique, the way the Secret Service and law enforcement reacted when President Reagan was shot is good. (Warning: This is live footage of the incident and may not be appropriate for everyone.)

Evacuate means what it says. If there’s a way out of the room or building that won’t put you in the path of the shooter, you can run for it. You should arrange for a rally point with your family and/or friends, a location where you will meet so you will know all of you are safe. Again, you need to be all in on this. You can’t saunter away from the scene of the crime. You have to run as if your life depended on it, because it probably does.

You have to always remember the survival mindset. Even if you’re shot, keep going. It’s important you remember to tell yourself:

I’m shot. I’m not going to die.

There was a lot more to the class and we had a chance to see how our reactions played out. The first exercises had us practice one of the techniques. The last few left it up to us as to which tactic we would use. I’ll admit, I left it to the big guys to stack the couches against the door. I threw things at the shooter—even if it was only his arm sticking through the opening—then ran.

I highly recommend attending one of these training sessions if you get the chance. As far as I know, you don’t have to be a member of the church hosting the training in order to attend. Check the website for information on upcoming classes.
But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night - Nehemiah 4:9

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