By Marshall Smith
The Mountain Emergency Services Committee monthly public meeting on Thursday, March 16, had a full house. Even though the MEMSCOMM meetings provide general preparedness information, they are generally not well attended.
But with “active shooter” scenarios and training provided by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, turnout for the meeting was greater than usual. That is not surprising. Idyllwild is not far from the San Bernardino incident on Dec. 2, 2015, in which two attackers killed 14 and injured 22 in a three-minute shooting blitz.
The FBI estimates that the number of active-shooter incidents will continue to rise and that citizen preparedness — having a personal plan — is critical. According to the FBI, 2014 and 2015 both saw 20 active-shooting incidents. That is more than any two-year average in the past 16 years, and nearly six times as many as the period 2000 and 2001, when the FBI began amassing this data.
The RCSD training stressed that unless one has a plan in place — for workplaces or public spaces — the likelihood of survival is diminished. Many active-shooting incidents are over before police arrive. In San Bernardino, the actual attack lasted only three minutes, longer than it took for police to arrive.
Presenters defined an active shooter as “an individual engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” “You must have a basic survival instinct in these situations,” said Sgt. Chris Waters. He advised that one must be aware, prepared and rehearsed for the possibility of active shooters — whether in one’s workplace or in public spaces. “During the event, if you don’t have the muscle memory of a rehearsed response you will forget,” said Waters. “‘What if’ questions are critical in developing effective response strategies.”
Presenters also advised not to discount threats made by students, employees you know or others with whom you are somewhat familiar. Law
enforcement has threat-assessment models they run when threats are reported. The average person does not have the capacity to run those models. All possible terrorist threats should be reported to authorities. “We’ll tell you what the threat rating is,” said Waters. “Don’t use your opinion about a possible threat level.”
FBI protocols advise the following for coping with active shooter situations:
• Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers;
• Take note of the two nearest exits and any possible dangers;
• If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door;
• If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door;
• As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down.
The last resort, of distracting or fighting back against an attacker, is one of the newer protocols. “Playing dead is not an option,” said Waters. “In recent incidents, shooters routinely went through areas shooting people who were playing dead.”
Presenters noted that many active shooters are amateurs, perhaps rehearsed, but not professional shooters. They pointed out there has only been one “professional” attack, and that was on a school in 2004 in Russia by disaffected Chechen military.
Therefore, fighting back, throwing things, distracting the attackers, who may also be nervous, can make the difference in survival.
Presenters also discussed how to recognize a homemade bomb, showing examples, including ones that can be activated from distances by using smart phone signals.
Finally, deputies emphasized that in today’s environment, terrorism threats cannot be minimized or discounted. Having an attitude of “it can’t happen here” is naïve.
The Internet contains valuable information from Homeland Security and the FBI about effective response options in active shooter situations. View www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness as one source.