First Response

February 2014

Three perspectives on active shooter preparedness training

 

All state employees in New Mexico to receive active shooter preparedness training

 

I started my career in law enforcement in 1993, and then Columbine happened in 1999. That’s how long I’ve been involved with active shooter training—since 1999. I’ll always remember Columbine, because it happened on my son’s birthday. While my wife was in labor, I was watching the event unfold.

Having been involved with active shooter training since 1999, I’ve witnessed how it has changed over the years—as more and more shooting incidents have occurred—in how we teach law enforcement to respond and act in the active shooter scenario. Today, in addition to training law enforcement, I’m also involved with training New Mexico state employees, including those within the motor vehicle division, in how to be prepared and respond in the instance of an active shooter.

Prompted by current events, such as Sandy Hook and the incident that happened in Arizona with [Gabrielle] Giffords, in April 2013 the New Mexico State Personnel Office, the New Mexico General Services Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety got together and had a meeting in which we discussed how we could better educate state employees in how to protect themselves if such an event should occur. We then did a pilot program in which employees from around the state came to Santa Fe for these active shooter preparedness classes.

Our program teaches the employees how to respond when [an active shooting incident] begins. We show them different measures they can take to protect themselves and advise them to try to leave the area and get out. Always know the two nearest exits and have an exit plan. If they can’t leave, however, we teach them various tactics to hide and stay out of view, such as turning off the lights and barricading themselves in.

When looking at who should attend the trainings [first], we were looking at the state organizations that see a high volume of transactions. The motor vehicle division is one of the biggest because of the sheer number of individuals who show up for services on a daily basis.

To date, we have done more than 17 active shooter classes for the employees of New Mexico. I’ve trained 24 state police officers to go around and teach the active shooter program for civilians, and in January, these officers began taking the classes to outlying areas of New Mexico.

The great thing about this training is that it’s not just something New Mexico state employees can utilize at work. They can also utilize it in their private lives as well—in a shopping mall or movie theater, for example, the principles are the same.

 

Instructing Washington State law enforcement on how to respond to an active shooter

 

There are two kinds of active shooter training [in Washington State]: law enforcement and civilian. I am one of the people who provides training to our troopers and cadets when it comes to active shooter response.

For law enforcement, the primary thing we teach is to protect life. That’s what we want to do first and foremost. Additionally, the training instructs law enforcement to then identify the shooter, control the situation, get aid and continue through the actual investigation of the shooting.

In an active shooter incident, there are oftentimes many different agencies responding to the situation. For instance, depending on the location of the shooting, there could be state, county, and local law enforcement responding. For this reason, we keep law enforcement training synonymous across the various agencies.

Law enforcement should not be the only ones trained in active shooter response. I think a good analogy that I’ve heard is one that looks at fire response. A lot of times we don’t ask questions about the training we [as civilians] undergo for fires, and we have fire drills, fire extinguishers and evacuation routes. The same type of training and preparedness should be in place for active shooter incidents.

 

Active shooter preparedness training for Washington State employees

 

In Washington State, we had a situation in one of the regional offices in the Department of Labor and Industries about 10 years ago. A disgruntled claimant came into the office and somehow jumped over the counter and got into the employees’ area. He told everyone to get away and started smashing computers.

The employees said the most traumatic part of that experience was when the officers came in with their guns out because they didn’t know who the bad guys were. The duty of law enforcement is to stop the threat. When law enforcement arrives on the scene of an active shooter incident, we don’t know who the bad guy is. People, like these Labor and Industries employees, may find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun because we don’t know if they are the shooter. And that can be scary and startling.

Also, civilians should keep in mind that when law enforcement arrives, we are not there to take care of injured people until the threat is neutralized. We are focused on stopping the active shooter more than providing aid. We’re not trying to be mean, but we have a mission and goal in mind. Medics will come to help the injured.

Additionally, it’s important for civilians to think about the possibility of an active shooter before an occurrence happens. I like to draw a similarity to baseball: Before the ball is pitched, I already know what I’m going to do when I get the ball. The same should apply in the event of an active shooter. Be prepared.