By Rick Mullen
Maintenance Sales Associate News Editor
In his presentation “Run, Hide, Fight: What To Do In An Active Shooter Situation,” Sgt. James Songer, of the Dallas, TX, Police Department, told an audience of cleaning industry professionals it is important to be aware of one’s surroundings at all times.
“Situational awareness is important,” Songer said. “You must pay attention to your surroundings and what is going on around you.”
Songer said awareness may start with someone spotting suspicious activities. Maybe somebody is doing something out of the ordinary that catches a person’s attention.
“Maybe it is someone carrying a backpack with wires sticking out,” Songer said. “Give us (police) a call if you see a person acting nervous, walking back and forth. Or if a police officer is coming toward a person, and he/she turns around and walks the other way. The officer doesn’t see it, but you see it — let authorities know. Look for suspicious activities. That means you need to be paying attention. Keep your head on a swivel. Don’t be so zoned out on a phone or headphones or listening to music that you can’t hear or see what is going on around you. Pay attention.”
Songer offered a few pertinent statistics concerning active shooter events.
Active Shooter Details
• Most incidents are over in 30 minutes or less — some in as few as six minutes; and,
• Columbine — 28 minutes.
According to www.history.com, “at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, two teens went on a shooting spree on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. The Columbine shooting was, at the time, the worst high school shooting in U.S. history.”
“I can tell you, if an incident lasts 30 minutes, that is a pretty big failure of law enforcement for allowing it to go that long,” Songer said. “Police should be able to diffuse a situation in six minutes. On the average, first responders arrive within three minutes. That is pretty fast. However, three minutes seems like an eternity if you are actually involved in an active shooter situation. It is going to feel like forever, and, in three minutes, there can be a lot of people hurt or killed.
“Columbine was 28 terrifying minutes for those kids. The reason it lasted so long is because, back then, first responders were trained to surround a building, hold their positions and wait for SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) officers to prevent the shooter(s) from escaping.
“We were taught to hold a perimeter and SWAT officers would be the ones to go in. They have a lot better body armor and weapons than regular police officers. They are equipped to go out and take care of business. However, 28 minutes is too long. We no longer wait on SWAT teams.”
Songer said even if a police officer is alone, he/she must take action, rather than waiting for backup.
Dallas Police Department General Order 614.01 defines an active shooter as: “One or more suspects who participate in a random or systematic shooting spree, demonstrating their intent to continuously harm others. Their overriding objective appears to be that of mass murder, rather than other criminal conduct such as robbery, hostage taking, etc.”
“Active shooters don’t care about other criminal conduct. What that means to you is there is no de-escalating the situation,” Songer said. “It is not going to do any good to tell the shooter(s), ‘I’ve got a wife and kids at home who depend on me, who love me. I need to go home. Please don’t kill me.’
“You can’t do that in these situations. The shooter’s only intent is to kill as many people as possible in as little amount of time as possible. They know first responders are coming and how fast are they able to get there. You have to prepare a defense. Doing nothing is not an option in these situations. You have to do something. You have to prepare.”
• Every active shooter incident is unique;
• The application of tactics must be determined by you, the survivor, at the time and place of the incident; and,
• No one tactic will always be the correct choice nor guarantee success, but the tactics are derived from experience and believed best practices.
“You are going to have to make a decision as to what tactic to use and when and how to use it,” Songer said.
He added the most frequent location of active shooter attacks is in a commerce setting, i.e., a disgruntled employee or recently fired employee returns to the workplace seeking to kill people. Education settings are the second most location for shooters, followed by outdoors and other scenarios.
When is comes to a shooter having a connection to a particular location, Songer said 55 percent of the time there is a connection.
“Forty-five percent of the time there is no connection at all,” he said. “The shooter(s) just picked a location at random. That is amazing to me.”
• No profile;
• Avenger mindset; and,
• Some want to be broadcast.
“I can’t give a profile of shooters, because it continually changes. It can be male or female; however, the number is a lot higher with males,” Songer said.
In discussing the “avenger mindset,” Songer said, it is usually a person who is angry about something and wants to take out his/her anger on others.
Furthermore, some shooters do it because they want their actions to be broadcast on TV, radio or in print.
“They want to be famous. They want to see how many people they can kill,” Songer said. “That’s why de-escalation skills aren’t going to work. De-escalation is for hostage or robbery situations. ‘Here, take my money, just don’t shoot me.’ They don’t want your money or your belongings. They plan on dying or being arrested.”
Songer showed a video titled “Run, Hide, Fight.”
Video narrator: “If you ever find yourself in the middle of an active shooter event, your survival may depend on whether or not you have a plan. The plan doesn’t have to be complicated. There are three things you can do that make a difference — run, hide, fight.
“First and foremost, if you can get out, do.”
• If there is an escape path, attempt to evacuate;
• Evacuate whether others agree to or not;
• Leave your belongings behind;
• Help others escape if possible;
• Prevent others from entering the area; and,
• Call 911 when you are safe.
Narrator: “Trying to get yourself out of harm’s way needs to be your No. 1 priority.”
Your hiding place should:
• Be out of the shooter’s view;
• Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction; and,
• Not trap or restrict your options for movement.
Narrator: “If you can’t get out safely, you need to find a place to hide. Act quickly and quietly. Try to secure your hiding place the best you can. Turn out lights, and, if possible, remember to lock doors.”
The narrator said, while hiding, it is important to silence a cell phone and put it on vibration mode.
Narrator: “If you can’t find a safe room or a closet, try to conceal yourself behind large objects that may protect you. Do your best to remain quiet and calm.
“The last resort, if your life is at risk, whether you are alone or working together as a group, is to fight.”
• Attempt to incapacitate the shooter;
• Act with physical aggression;
• Improvise weapons; and,
• Commit to your actions.
Narrator: “Try to be aware of your environment. Always have an exit plan. Know that in an (active shooter situation), victims are generally chosen randomly. The event is unpredictable and may evolve quickly.
“The first responders on the scene are not there to evacuate or attend to the injured. They are well-trained and are there to stop the shooter. Your actions can make a difference for your safety and survival. Be aware and be prepared. If you find yourself facing an active shooter, there are three key things you need to remember to survive — run, hide, fight.”
Songer suggested some improvised weapons could include nearby objects, such as chairs, etc. He also told the audience it would be a good idea when they return to their respective workplaces to look around and scout for possible escape routes and places to hide, preferably in a room or closet with no windows.
When Officers Arrive:
• Remain calm and follow instructions;
• Keep your hands visible at all times;
• Avoid pointing or yelling; and,
• Know that help for the injured is on its way.
If a person is able to get a hand on a shooter’s weapon, Songer, with the help of an audience member, demonstrated how to control the shooter’s gun.
He also said, if someone gets control of the weapon, he/she should attempt to shoot the suspect in the head, as most shooters will likely be wearing body armor.
Editor’s note: Songer learned how to handle active shooters through SWAT training as well as Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), which are both offered through Texas State University in San Marcos, TX.