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Cities train for active-shooter emergency

With a rising number of active-shooter incidents, police departments, city halls and other organizations are learning how to respond.

There were 20 active-shooter incidents nationwide in both 2014 and 2015, up three from 2013, according to the FBI. The agency defines "active shooter" as one or more individuals with a firearm who is killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.

Town of Pelion Police Chief Chris Garner said small police departments have a unique need for training on how to respond to an active-shooter emergency.

"A lot of these smaller agencies don't have the resources, so you've got to be prepared," he said, adding that all local government departments should be trained.

"If you've got a town clerk or traffic clerk, somebody that deals with the public, you don't know who's coming to that agency," he said.

Although it's impossible to plan for every conceivable threat scenario, Cpl. David Spivey, with the S.C. Department of Public Safety, said employees' cooperation is key. If possible, workers should avoid the gunman by escaping or deny him access by taking cover in a locked room.

However, if that is not possible, and the gunman is immediately at hand, workers should be trained to think quickly.

"You're fighting for your life — that's your incentive," said Garner. "You've got a pen, you've got a phone. Anything can be a weapon," to throw the shooter off.

The FBI has adopted the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training response protocol as the national standard for special agent tactical instructors. ALERRT is geared toward police departments and has been part of training in nearly 60 large and small police departments in South Carolina, county sheriffs' offices, universities, churches, state agencies and medical centers around the state. ALERRT-certified officials act as "force multipliers," who then conduct civilian-response active shooter training workshops at city halls, community organizations and other groups, said an ALERRT spokesman. The ALERRT courses are delivered to South Carolina law enforcement officers through federal grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and these certified instructors then deliver the training at no cost to municipalities.

Know your building
Another element of active-shooter training is to closely examine the workplace to prepare for an emergency. Far from being blind to the features of their office, municipal personnel have a detailed awareness of their professional environment.

"You can mitigate half your issues by having a good physical security plan in place," said Pelion Police Department Capt. Darren Norris, who is ALERRT certified.

The employees of a city or town play a crucial role in the physical security of a workplace.

"Your employees have to understand what you're trying to accomplish," Spivey said. "They are there every day, and they see the vulnerabilities. They know what needs to be looked at. They know when they feel unsafe and where they feel unsafe."

Spivey said it could help to have an outsider come in and walk around a building. However, such a person wouldn't be privy to the staff's everyday routine and would have to spend several days on site to make note of all the security cameras, panic buttons, locked areas and other features.

"There is no single strategy, standard or manual that will adequately prepare an organization for every future event," said Spivey, who is also ALERRT certified.

Liability for law enforcement responders
Norris said the potential for loss of life and also for lawsuits against a police department make active-shooter response training a necessity for police departments.

"Training both law enforcement and other staff reduces workplace anxiety and communicates that the city is aware of the risks and is working to reduce those risks," said Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services.

"In the event a law enforcement lawsuit is served due to an active-shooter situation, the plaintiff's attorney will allege one of the causes of injury was due to inadequate training of law enforcement. Requiring law enforcement, as well as other staff, to participate in active-shooter training is a must."

Additionally, Ricard suggests cities invest in law enforcement active-shooter kits, including a ballistic shield, helmet and properly fitted body armor to protect their officers during an incident.

Why train for an active-shooter situation?

  • 69 percent of incidents last five minutes or less.
  • From 2000 - 2006, there were an average of six incidents per year nationwide.
  • From 2006 - 2013, there were an average of 16 incidents per year.

Critical incident response kit
The critical incident response kit is a bag or kit an employee can grab when leaving the building in an emergency. The kit can also be prepositioned at a safe place or rally point, such as a nearby business.

Among the items in the kit should be floor plans, evacuation plans, keys and codes, personnel rosters and contact lists. Cell phone numbers should be part of it, in order to account for anyone who is missing. A first aid and trauma kit should also contain snacks, such as jerky and candy, if any staff members have diabetes or other special needs. It should include items to allow for employee accountability, first aid, and to begin the business recovery process to include important phone numbers and emergency contacts.

How do you respond to an active shooter?

  • Announce "active shooter" or other emergency using plain language. Do not use code words.
  • When a lockdown is announced, tell this to other employees in a clear, calm voice. Include temporary workers, custodial staff and others in the building. Do not allow re-entry to the building after an evacuation.
  • Avoid the gunman. Get away from the attacker fast. Do not stop to remove injured victims or to gather personal belongings. Keep your hands visible as you exit.
  • Deny the shooter access. Take cover in a locked room. Turn off all lights and silence cell phones. Barricade the door with heavy objects. Stay away from windows and doors. Stay quiet.
  • Defend yourself at all costs.