By William K. Alcorn
Mental and physical preparation give people their best chance to survive “active shooter” attacks such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School and, closer to home, Chardon High School.
Twenty-six people — 20 students and six adult staff — were killed in Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012. Three people died as a result of an attack Feb. 27, 2012, at Chardon High.
“It troubles me deeply that we as Americans are having this conversation. This is America. We shouldn’t have this, but the reality is, we do,” said the FBI special agent who is training and national academy coordinator for the FBI’s Cleveland Division.
And the best way for the most people to survive an “active shooter” attack is to be aware of their surroundings wherever they are — work, school, the mall or a basketball game — and have a plan of how to escape, hide, or as a last resort, confront a shooter, said the agent, who asked that he not be identified.
“The bad guys are looking for people who are not aware of their surroundings,” he said.
The agent spoke Friday at Mill Creek MetroParks Farm to about 75 law-enforcement, emergency and public-health officials and members the public.
The FBI defines an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area.
It can happen anywhere, anyplace ... a school, a church, summer camp, the mall or a sporting event, the FBI agent said.
And because it will often be five to 10 minutes or more before police and medical help arrive, individuals must be prepared mentally and physically to deal with the situation and “buy time until the cavalry arrives,” he said.
“It is important that we not live in fear. But, we need to have a mindset to be aware. None of us go to school or work or a ball game expecting to encounter an active shooter,” he said.
But if it happens, the more quickly the natural fear and panic and chaos are overcome, the more quickly one can recognize the reality of the situation and evaluate what action is needed, such as hiding, evacuating the area, or the last resort, when life is in imminent danger, by committing to action and aggressively confronting the shooter, he said.
Aggressive action might include trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by yelling, screaming, throwing items, and improvising weapons, the agent said.
“Once you make a decision to confront, commit to it. Go into survival mode,” he said.
Information is the key to determining what to do, and being prepared mentally and physically enables a quicker response.
“That’s why we are here today. Don’t live in fear, but we need a prepared response in case we are faced with an active shooter to help us get through the situation the best way we can,” the agent said.
Responding to an audience question about arming teachers, he said he had no definitive answer.
But it, along with everything else from enhanced entrance security to armed law-enforcement officers in schools to developing a plan and training adult staff and students on what to do in an active shooter situation, should be part of the discussion.What shouldn’t happen is to focus on one measure and then relax, the agent said.
If there was an easy answer, it already would have been implemented, he said.