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Active shooter scene: What do you do?

By Carolyn Bahm

Terrifying events like the Dec. 2 San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting always seem to happen far away … until they don’t.
Experts are offering advice for Mid-South residents who want to be prepared to prevent, escape or face an active shooter situation if it ever arises.
The man who oversees the law enforcement training academy division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) explained ways to remain alert and what to do if uneasy.
The national standard is “Run, hide, fight,” according to SCSO Chief Inspector Joseph Ruff.
People who love their smartphones and tablets aren’t going to like his first advice, but Ruff said using them a lot in public is risky.
“You see it all the time, people immersed in their electronic devices when they’re in public places,” he said.
People fiddle with their phones and suddenly realize they haven’t paid attention to the last few blocks walked.
“You get immersed, and you don’t realize how much you block out,” he said.
He also advised to keep the headphones at home or at least leave just one earbud in place.
“Sometimes the first warning you get is you hear gunshots.”
One of the SCSO’s training videos shows a messenger in headphones, oblivious to the active shooter situation unfolding around him. A fleeing bystander has to physically lift his headphones and tell him to scram.
People also must honor their gut reactions to their environments. They sometimes allow politeness or embarrassment to smother instincts about danger.
Ruff said to just leave.
“Don’t let embarrassment cause you to not protect yourself,” he said. Leave if you feel that instinct, that hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
He provided more tips:
n Arrive early to public areas and take a look around. Consider the “what if/then” scenarios that might occur. What if someone drove into the crowd, which way would you dive then? What if someone started firing a gun — then where would you run or hide?
Thinking like this lets people react quicker, from their unconscious, in emergency situations, Ruff said.
n When approaching an unfamiliar building, familiarize yourself with the entrances and exits. If it has glass doors, peek inside before entering.
“People have literally walked in on the middle of armed robberies and active shooter situations,” Ruff said.
People who call this level of preparation “paranoia” and say they just can’t live like that usually get a frank response from him. “Yeah, you can. And you can live a lot longer like that.”
He added, “We live in a dangerous world. We’re not children — don’t deny that.”
n Look for posted escape routes in businesses and other public facilities. Ask for help if you can’t find it. When danger is at hand isn’t the time to suddenly find that information interesting.
n Remain alert for unusual sights, sounds, movements and smells in the workplace and other familiar environments.
Someone could be trying to introduce a chemical agent into the area before entering, and smell is one of a human’s strongest senses.
n When escape is impossible, hide in the most secure location you can find. Turn off lights and be quiet. Silence your phone completely; don’t just select “vibrate.” Quiet noises can be loud when you’re hiding.
n Do not trying calling 911 until you are safely away from the scene.
n If all else fails, prepare to fight for your life if the need arises. “Do whatever you’ve got to do, and do it with all your might,” Ruff said. “Don’t hold anything back.”
See additional tips from Ruff and from a Homeland Security expert on active shooter situations at
Get training
The Sheriff’s Office conducts active shooter training classes for law enforcement, civilian county employees and security groups periodically, Ruff said.
The Shelby County Office of Preparedeness also is offering an active shooter awareness and prevention class in January; see for details.
“If it’s available, or your employer makes it available, go to that training,” Ruff advised.
School safety
Parents feel their hearts leap into their throats when they hear a news alert: A possible weapon is on school grounds, and a lockdown is in place. Experts say they need to remain calm, not interfere with first responders, not tie up phone lines and not increase the safety risks for themselves, the children or school personel.
They should trust that the school has a solid plan and not risk interfering, according to Brice Allen, an active shooter expert and supervisory agent for the Office of Homeland Security.
He said schools are trained to keep the children safe and the administrators will communicate with parents when it is safe and possible.
“It compounds the problem if you have parents rush to the school,” he said, advising that they instead watch the media.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize themselves in advance with how the school plans to communicate with parents in the event of such an emergency.
Area superintendents said schools in Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland are well prepared.
Tammy Mason, superintendent for Arlington Community Schools (ACS), said, “Obviously, student and staff safety is always our number one priority.”
The ACS school district has a School Safety Advisory Committee charged with annually updating the district’s safety plan, reviewing each school’s individual safety plan, and ensuring that appropriate annual training of the plan is completed within each facility.
Training drills are run in each school monthly, including school intruder drills. All safety plans have also been vetted and shared with the town’s fire department, as firefighters are likely to be the first emergency personnel on the scene, she said.
Arlington district staff have been trained by the FBI and the Homeland Security representatives of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department on how to manage an emergency situation such as an active shooter in a school building.
Mason said each Arlington school has a pre-determined off-site gathering location and strategies for how to move students as safely as possible to the secure location.
Parents and other local residents will be kept in the loop as the situation permits, because the district already has pre-written media releases that will direct parents and the media to where they can contact school officials and their children.
“It is vital, in an emergency situation, that this information can be shared timely and consistently,” Mason said.
The Lakeland School System (LSS) also has detailed plans for how to protect Lakeland Elementary School, the district’s only educational facility. LSS currently sends older students to Bartlett and Lakeland schools for higher education through interlocal agreements.
LSS superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell said, “We take crisis management and preparedness very seriously, and we review our procedures annually with faculty. In light of recent events, school administrators presented additional training several weeks ago to be sure teachers know how to respond in an active shooter situation. We have also scheduled active shooter training with the FBI in January.”
Similarly, Bartlett City Schools (BCS) superintendent David Stephens said all 11 Bartlett schools are well prepared.
“The safety of our students and staff is our priority every day,” he said. “Each school, as well as the district office, has a specific crisis response plan. We work closely with the City of Bartlett’s leadership and first responders to proactively support safe campuses.”
Like the active shooter experts consulted for this story, he advises that parents worried about a possible incident at their child’s school should first monitor media for information so that the school staff can focus on student needs.

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