Making preparations before an active shooter situation occurs and knowing what to do during an incident could mean the difference between life and death.
That’s one thing participants learned at an active shooter preparedness and response presentation held at Mill Run United Methodist Church and sponsored by Fayette County Emergency Management Agency.
“You need to be prepared. No one becomes a genius at the time an emergency occurs. You need to create a personal emergency action plan,” said Bob Winters, protective security advisor with the Department of Homeland Security, who gave the main presentation.
Winters said much of what DHS knows about preparing and responding to active shooter situations stemmed from an inter-agency bulletin from 2012-2013, after a rash shooting attacks prompted the FBI to analyze 154 active shooter incidents in the U.S. between 2002 and 2012 to glean what information it could and share that with other agencies.
“It is not a normal person who simply has a bad day that becomes an active shooter,” said Winters. “It’s someone who feels that they are losing control of their life and desperately wants to take back control.”
Winters said that’s why often an active shooter will end the act by taking their own life.
“It’s the ultimate act of self-control (for them),” he said.
Gaining insight into the mindset of an individual who makes that choice is a key aspect of active shooter preparation, according to Winters. Although determining specific motivation isn’t always possible, the most common identified motivation was deemed to be workplace retaliation, followed by domestic disputes and academic retaliation by a current or former student, according to studies.
Agents have also learned that the majority are categorized as social isolates, harboring feelings of hate and anger, and has or had some sort of contact with a mental health professional. The analysis also looked at triggers or common catalysts. Things like loss of a significant relationship or job, changes in living arrangements, major changes to life circumstances, and feelings of humiliation or rejection were discovered to be similar in a lot of active shooter situations.
Sometimes, as with the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting last year, an active shooter is from outside the organization. But that individual almost always visits the intended target, which is why noticing suspicious activity and reporting it is an important element of preparation.
“Pay attention to what normally goes on at your church. We can usually detect when something is out of the ordinary,” said Winters.
The “see something, say something” approach and works, he added.
“When you see something out of place, you must do something with that information,” added Winters, who has had experiences when after an incident occurs someone reported something they heard or saw after the fact.
When it comes to preparation, Winters suggests individuals develop a “mental map” to guide their response in the case of an emergency, including what they would do in the case of a far, near, or close threat. In addition, the church or organization should create or add active shooter elements to its current emergency action plan.
For places of worship that don’t have a plan in place, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has planning resources and emergency plan templates that can be customized to individual churches and places of worship to fit their needs.
“An attack is not just an attack on human beings. It’s an attack on the institution,” said Winters.
In addition to the active shooter presentation, Fayette EMA coupled the event with an optional bleeding control training, entitled “Stop the Bleed,” presented by Scott Dolan, an EMA specialist with UPMC, a former emergency management specialist and a member of the Fayette County Hazmat team. The training consisted of a half-hour lecture on the application of tourniquets and the use of direct pressure when someone is bleeding and a demonstration portion where participants learned how to property apply a tourniquet, pack a wound, and apply direct pressure to a wound.
The training, Dolan said, is based off things learned by the Sandy Hook mass shooting, where several victims bled to death because proper control bleeding procedures were not used.
“It takes a few minutes for help to arrive,” said Dolan. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do. The hospital staff knew what they needed to do. But some victims didn’t make it. The reason is they bled to death before they could get to a hospital.”
Dolan said tourniquets are accessible and affordable for churches, workplaces, and even homes, to have a number on hand, not just for an active shooter situation but for common injuries that can occur that require someone to control life-threatening bleeding.
“It only takes five or 10 minutes for someone with life-threatening bleeding to die,” Dolan said.
Dolan taught attendees the ABCs of bleeding control. Alert – call 911. Bleeding – find the bleeding source. Compress – apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
Typically, direct pressure must be applied to a wound for 10 minutes to control the bleeding, but Dolan said there is a product available at Walmart or off of Amazon called QuikClot that can reduce that number to 3 minutes, if used correctly.
Dolan did warn that placing a tourniquet, packing a wound, and applying direct pressure will cause a significant amount of pain to the victim, but it may also save their life or limb.
State police Trooper Steve Allen applauded the event.
“Violence in America is a real thing. We can no longer put our head between our knees and ignore it,” he added.
Churches should meet often with staff, clergy, volunteers and congregational leaders to continually update and revise their plans, and even practice their responses with a drill.
Recently, Pennsville Baptist Church held a church led training for volunteers to update revisions to their emergency plan that took “years” to develop, said Cathy Laird, the church’s child ministry director.
The training consisted of presentations on active shooter policies and the church’s emergency operation plan, along with updates to their Safe Sanctuary policy, which is an effort to reduce risks of sexual abuse to children and adults within the church.
“We know this is the world we live in,” said Laird. “We are just trying to provide a safe environment for our volunteers and children.”