Playing It Safe
U.S. businesses, schools, and even churches are preparing themselves for proper response to active shooters.
- By Thomas Renner
- Oct 01, 2018
The towns of Edgewood and Annapolis in Maryland are separated by about 50 miles, an hour's drive and the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Annapolis' population exceeds 39,400 residents, while Edgewood hovers just over 26,000, Annapolis is wealthier, more residents have a college education, and it is significantly less diverse in its population makeup than its southern neighbor.
For all of their differences, however, the towns in the "Old Line State" are inextricably linked by two horrific examples of workplace violence just nine months apart that resulted in the deaths of eight people. Two incidents, two gunmen, two tragic tales of communities and families left grieving because the victims had the simple audacity to report to work on the days the violent perpetrators decided to unleash their deadly havoc.
"In this day and age, there is no safe place in the world," said Dr. Kathy Platoni, a clinical psychologist and retired U.S. Army colonel who is also an expert on PTSD. She survived the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, where 14 people were killed and 33 injured by a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist. The Fort Hood massacre is the deadliest mass shooting on any American military base. "What place is safe in our world? A school? A corporation? A hospital? It doesn't exist," she said.
Statistics reported by the FBI in May illustrate Platoni's point. In 2017, 138 people were killed in 30 active shooting incidents throughout the nation. The previous high for a death toll in a single year was 90 in 2012. There were also 729 casualties in 2017, far surpassing the previous high of 214 casualties in 2016. Between 2000 and 2017, 799 people were killed in 250 active shooting incidents.1
"The findings of the (2015) FBI study underscore the importance of commercial businesses, schools, colleges, and universities to be proactive," said Paul G. Lannon Jr., a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm in Boston, in an article written for the Society for Human Resource Management in 2015. He recommended that employers implement safety and security measures, practice active shooter emergency drills, and train employees on how to respond to violence. More and more, organizations are heeding that wisdom.
Responding to an Active Shooter
The Department of Homeland Security published a report2 last year on how to respond to an active shooter. The department also has an hour-long online training class that teaches people appropriate actions to take when confronted with an active shooter, recognize potential workplace violence indicators, and advise how to prevent and prepare for potential active shooter incidents.
The Department of Homeland Security report offers a lot of common-sense advice. An FBI video, "The Coming Storm,"3 is a 41-minute production that is a unique training tool for law enforcement, paramedics, and other first responders.
Some businesses, however, are taking training to an entirely new level with authentic simulations that bring extraordinary detail to proper active shooting response. People need to make quick decisions under high duress while also coping with the loss of fine motor skills caused by the stress of the event. The best way to improve those skills is to practice them under the intense pressure that will evolve during an active shooting event. Classroom education is far different than the experience that can only be acquired through hands-on training.
Kathy Kelsheimer, an assistant to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and a staff member of the Killology Research Group, is an expert on active attacker response and survival training. She participated in a training exercise that simulated a shooting incident in Orlando, Fla. Fifty people died in that incident. In a training session conducted by Silverback Safety & Training Solutions of Ohio, Kelsheimer said a trained emergency responder froze on the first run-through when confronted by the life-like scenario that included flash bangs, diminished lighting, and noise similar to that of the concert hall.
"It was eye-opening," Kelsheimer said. "People need to practice drills. When you lose fine motor skills, and you go to lock a door and you can't do it, that's very surprising. If you're sitting in a classroom, book learning is a lot different than the real situation. That person might have gotten an A on the written test. But in the moment of truth, he froze. Because of the training, he will know that if he has to go into a situation like that, his body could shut down. He will know that he will be expected to handle the noise and the pressure after he successfully completed the training, and also knows he is now capable of responding safely and effectively."
Greg Buxton joined 15 other employees at his workplace for 22 hours of training with Silverback during one weekend last year. The plant employs nearly 1,500 workers over three shifts, and Buxton, a medical team captain, prepared a presentation for company executives to demonstrate the critical need for training for an active shooting event.
"I think some people felt, 'We're going to sit there and put tourniquets on,'" said Buxton, an engineering coordinator at the plant. "This is training for a tactical environment. It's not sitting at a table and slapping on Band-Aids. It was like taking normal training and putting it on steroids times 10."
Workers from each shift attended the class and learned how to apply tourniquets and chest seals, wound packing, bleeding control, and how to survive an active shooter situation. "After the training, it's all the employees talked about," Buxton said. "We were kind of in a rut as a team, and the training invigorated us. Now, as teams, we all know what to expect from each other."
Buxton said employees also realized the skills they learned could carry over to places away from the work environment. "Applying a tourniquet or packing a wound could apply in a car accident on the way home from work. It's never a waste of time to help somebody," Buxton said. "The way I see it, it's just another tool in the tool belt."
Training for Schools, Churches, Too
Incidents with active shooters also have occurred in churches and schools throughout the United States. An incident at Ohio's West Liberty-Salem High School in January 2017 hit too close to home for Mike Wisner, whose parents lived just two miles from the school. In that incident, a 17-year-old shot a classmate—he survived—before a teacher intervened and took away the student's firearm.
"It was scary," said Wisner, a decorated Army veteran, tactical SWAT medic, and an instructor in tactical medicine. "These kids were running out into cornfields. It was the closest thing to being in the military I had ever seen. It brought the blinders off. If it can happen here, in central Ohio in a high school with just 400 students, it can happen anywhere. It's a ticking time bomb."
Twenty-eight people died in 16 active shooting incidents at U.S. schools in the first quarter of 2018. In a Valentine's Day incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 17 people were killed, the highest total at an American school since the massacre of 28 people in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
Jamie Wilson, a district nurse in Licking County, Ohio, said threatening situations arise frequently within schools. "The training is necessary because of the world we live in and the kinds of issues our students face," said Wilson, who travels around the entire county to help students. "We deal with emotional, physical, and psychological trauma. You're always wondering if it's going to be you or your school next."
Teachers and administrators in Wilson's district took training, which she said helps extend the safety net if medical treatment is needed in case of an attack. "By having this training, now I'm in a community of people who know how to survive an active shooting situation. If you're in Licking County, you have a pretty good chance at surviving a shooting," she said.
Silverback's training classes are led by Troy Lowe, a SWAT Medic Team Leader and Tactical EMS Coordinator. He is also the inventor of The Barracuda, an intruder defense system that has become popular within many U.S. schools, churches, businesses, and factories. The locking device is manufactured by The BILCO Company of Connecticut.
The Barracuda saw sales surge by 431 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the first quarter in 2017. It is designed as a layer of protection to slow down and frustrate attackers, thus buying time for people to escape and/or law enforcement to arrive and intervene. It is designed to work in conjunction with a facility's Emergency Operations Plans.
Churches also have felt the need to teach worshippers how to respond in case of an active shooter. Marvin Rutter, who worked in law enforcement for 26 years, now directs the safety and security team at a school and church in central Ohio. The church's pastor asked him a decade ago to evaluate its security protocols. "When the pastor came to me and said he wanted to start a security element, I said 'Are you kidding me? I don't think it's necessary.' I told him we need to pray about this. I never dreamed we'd be where we are today. People carrying guns in a house of worship? It takes me by surprise, but when you look at the nationwide statistics, it's something we need to do," Rutter said.
Rutter's security team includes 42 members on four units. They are prepared to attend to the medical needs of their members if an attack occurs. "You have to get in, you have to get your hands dirty," Rutter said. "You have to be prepared mentally and physically for what might happen."
Proper and intense training can help save lives in an active shooting tragedy. It is also essential, however, to have on hand the equipment necessary to treat victims. Businesses and other groups should have trauma dressings, gloves, gauze, tape, scissors, emergency blankets and tourniquets stored nearby. Silverback offers a Basic Improvised Trauma Treatment kit (BITT Kit) that includes the supplies people will need in case of an active shooting situation.
Platoni said lives could have been saved at Fort Hood if the proper tools had been available. "People were using underwear, belts, anything they could grab," she said. "People were throwing computers off tables to get the tablecloths to use as blankets. There were no medical supplies at all."
Now, Platoni keeps a kit in her office at all times. She learned firsthand the importance to be adequately prepared with training and equipment in case an active shooter decides to create workplace mayhem.
"I think training should be mandatory," Platoni said. "In this day and age, no one can say that they will never be a target. Whether you're an elementary school student or on the assembly line at Honda, you could be a victim in the line of fire. I know that firsthand."
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.