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Shooting down active shooters

Is your workplace a hard enough target to repel active shooters?

(page 2 of 4)


In the event a shooter blasts through a barricade, or you otherwise happen to encounter him, the art of self-defense is your last hope. This could involve disabling the weapon, the shooter, or both, and for obvious reasons, it’s the part of civilian response that people tend to have the hardest time with. Most people haven’t thought through having to fight for their lives or having to kill the suspect, but causing dysfunction in the weapon or the shooter is what you’re left with and it requires a warrior mentality.

“What we train is that if that shooter comes through, you need to be taking the fight to them,” Engel explains. “They are in an offensive mindset and they are there to kill you and they have an offensive plan, so instead of being on the defensive, you need a way to disrupt that with an offensive mindset and switch the roles around.”

This is where the training includes knowledge of different kinds of weapons, including semi-automatics, and talking through how to cause dysfunction in them — in some cases, simply grabbing them or otherwise controlling the muzzle — while also disabling the shooter. The best way to frustrate the shooter is to negatively impact his vision and/or breathing.

“What we tell people to do is to focus on the eyes and the breathing,” Engel states. “If we can take away vision and breathing, then we’re going to be much, much safer because if they can’t breathe and they can’t see us, they are going to have a hard time attacking us.”

With the use of a strike bag, Madison police show people how to use what’s called a hammer fist on their vision or their windpipe. With the hammer fist, a person basically uses the underside of a clenched fist (the palm of their hand) instead of their knuckles to deliver a blow to the eyes, neck, or jaw in order to distract and disable the shooter. This avoids injury to your hand, which you’ll need to complete your escape, and “nails” the attacker much like a hammer drives a nail into a piece of wood.

“We use it as it is a simple technique that non-fighters can use without much practice,” Engel says, “and it works well close in.”

Police also talk about combining the hammer fist with improvised weapons such a common office product like a Sharpie marker, to act as a force multiplier. “It’s a hard surface and somewhat pointed, so if I take that and I start striking you in the eyes with something like that, that’s going to cause more damage than a hammer fist,” Engel states. “It’s about thinking out of the box, being aware of your situation, and acting proactively. If I have to fight somebody, what do I have in my environment to help me survive this?”

As for the commonly held belief that a shot to the groin will be sufficient, remember that shooters are highly motivated to carry out their act and as such, they can fight through a lot of pain. The reverse is true if you happen to be wounded with a bullet — just because you’ve been shot doesn’t mean you’re dead. “We’re not going to stop fighting for our lives until we can’t fight anymore,” Engel states. “You have to get that mentality across in order to survive these attacks.”

Skeptics snickered recently at a school administrator who told the press his school has stones and rocks strategically placed so that students can use them to distract the shooter, but Longley defended the idea, citing success with projectiles that are much softer than stones and rocks. Longley, a certified instructor in both ALERRT and ALICE active shooter training, was part of a drill in which Nerf balls were used to throw a shooter off balance. “People just threw Nerf balls at the gunman, and he was distracted,” she states. “He put the gun out to cover his face, and while he did that, two people came from the side and tackled him.”

Part of this “warrior mentality” is a coolness that comes with controlling stress. “When your heart rate goes up, your ability to think rationally and respond goes down, and so we want to get that teeter-totter balanced out,” Engel says. “We talk about a strategy to control your breathing. If we can control our breathing, our heart rate has to go down. When our heart rate comes down, we have better faculties and we can process what goes down around us.”

Stick to the mental script

Longley, who serves as emergency preparedness coordinator for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, says the mindset a business must have as it pre-plans is that its building could be the next target. Longley calls it “mental scripting” because what law enforcement hopes to do with its civilian training is not to critique an organization’s emergency action plan, but to make security suggestions and give businesses things to consider.

One way to help guide employees in an emergency is to provide a reminder card that can be placed on their desks for easy access, such as this card used by WPS Health Solutions.

“It could happen anywhere,” Longley notes, “and you have to do mental scripting about if it were to happen here, where are the exits? How can we get out? If we can’t get out, where can we barricade to buy time to get law enforcement there? And we also emphasize, with the metal scripting, if they are in a room and they are prevented from leaving, can we throw something? Can we do something to distract that shooter? What can we do aside from being a passive target?”

Once an active shooter event begins, there is not much time to act. In its training through the ALICE Institute, the Sheriff’s Department tells trainees the national average of law enforcement response time is five to six minutes from the time of a call. “I’ve studied these events, and over 70% of these incidents are done in five minutes or less,” Longley states. “If you do the numbers, by the time we are on the scene, often times it’s over.”

As part of an EAP, one best practice is to have a way to alert people in your building that something is happening. That can help save lives because if they don’t know there is a threat in the building or if they don’t know the location of the threat, it’s hard for them to make a decision as to evacuating or barricading.

She cited an app called, which basically works like a PA system through mobile phones, or it can alert people on their computers. “They’ve got to do their own research, but they need to look into ways they can alert people in their building and keep them informed,” Longley states. “If someone can safely say there is someone with a gun on the fifth floor of this building, we’re empowering people to do something, to react, versus just sit in their cubicles or sit at their desks.”

The Sheriff’s Department training stresses the importance of knowing more than one exit because we’re creatures of habit. Employees tend to come in and out of the same door every day, and if an active shooter situation occurs, they are more likely to revert back to what they know. “You saw that at Columbine, where people ran by exits to go to the main door and you saw that at the theater shooting in Colorado,” Longley notes. “People went down the hall where there are exits and went to the door where they came in, so we ask them to be aware of their surroundings.

“If they have to break a window to get out of a room to get away, we’re telling them to get away, to get out.”

The situation

Shawn Smith, president and CEO of MPI Protective Services, says office workers and retailers both benefit from a heightened sense of awareness. In the office, it might be as simple as the placement of improvised weapons such as pens or the placement of heavy furniture that can be moved to block a door at a moment’s notice. For retailers, it involves acknowledging store visitors — those with bad intentions do not like to be noticed by cameras or the human eye — and for both, Smith advises avoiding any signage that indicates you’re a “gun-free zone.” It might be well intentioned, but it also identifies your facility as a potentially easy mark.

“If you’ve got a lot of activity going in and out of your store, you’re paying attention, and acknowledging people when they come in, just simple and small things like that will harden the target,” Smith says. “I keep thinking of a school I went to 15 or 20 years ago, and they actually showed a bunch of guys who were doing time. These were big-time criminals and they showed them just people walking down the street, and they assumed little old ladies were the ones they would attack, and the fellas in jail said no because she’s more likely to pay attention to her surroundings. It’s the guy talking on the cell phone or the person not paying attention to where they’re at that offer the best target.”

The bottom line of active shooter training is that there is something you can do in such events. “We talk a lot about having a warrior mindset, and a lot of people who survive these events stressed the importance of telling yourself you’re going to survive,” Longley notes. “That’s why that mental scripting is so important. If you can script various scenarios in your mind, you’re more likely to react the right way in the event it happens.”


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