That’s how well an active-shooter drill went at the Columbus Water Works’ Veterans Parkway office, said Columbus Homeland Security Director Robert Futrell: Five seconds after the sheriff’s deputy portraying the shooter walked through the door and fired one blank blast from his shotgun, the floor was cleared.
Everyone who’d been through an hour-long classroom training session knew what to do, and they acted instantly – fleeing or sheltering in designated secure zones the shooter couldn’t get to.
“We walked through the entire building, and couldn’t find one person to shoot,” said Futrell, also a deputy fire chief, who has headed homeland security here since 2014.
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He made the mistake of getting between a receptionist and her safe zone when the shotgun fired. “I thought she was going to take me out,” he said of her shoving past him.
That fast action is part of active-shooter training, based largely on an FBI model called “Run, Hide, Fight,” for which a six-minute instructional video can be found on YouTube:
Don’t wait for other people to act. If they hesitate, if they decide to stay instead of flee, leave them. Fractions of a second can mean the difference between getting out and getting shot.
Similarly, don’t stop to call 911, or to gather your belongings, said both Futrell and Muscogee Sheriff’s Maj. Joe McCrea. McCrea has served not only in the sheriff’s office that oversees Government Center security, but also as director of security for St. Francis Hospital.
Though the loss may impede later efforts to call police or let loved ones know you’re OK, even a cell phone is not worth stopping to collect, they said, nor is a purse or a laptop computer. When you hear gunfire, go.
While reiterating such advice after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Futrell and McCrea noted the Vegas situation was not the usual active-shooter scenario in a single location such as a school, church or office. The Vegas shooter was so far away people couldn’t tell where the gunfire came from.
“That was really a unique situation that no one could plan for,” Futrell said, adding public safety professionals will study it for years to come.
Said McCrea: “This presents a totally new challenge, because when you’re in a work environment, you’re relatively enclosed, so if there’s an active-shooter situation, it may be easier to determine where it’s coming from.”
An expansive, open-air venue is another matter:
“When you look at that situation in Vegas, with all these buildings around you, and you’re in this big, open area, one of the things that I wondered is how quickly, if at all, people were able to tell where this was coming from. Because at the point you start running, do you know whether you’re running away from it, or directly into it? So, the situational awareness takes on a whole new perspective, in an environment like that.”
“Situational awareness” used to be a wonky phrase reserved for combat veterans, law enforcement officers and others facing violent threats. They’re always looking for trouble, for ways to escape and places to take cover. Some won’t sit with their backs to an entrance.
Now situational awareness is for everyone. Futrell compares it to airline travel: Your flight doesn’t take off until the attendants have instructed you to look for the nearest exit, which could be behind you.
Similarly, you should note every available exit when you go to the movie theater, or any other entertainment venue. If you work in an office, you should know every escape route, and you should have more than one.
“Run” is always the first advice, when a gunman’s looking to rack up as high a body count as he can get, but it’s not always an option. So, “hide” comes next.
Like finding your escape routes, finding safe hiding places takes planning, too. If you’re going to run to another room, pick one with a door you can lock and barricade, if possible.
Turn off the lights, and silence anything that could alert the shooter to your presence – a cell phone, radio or computer.
If you can’t escape or get to another room, try to find an object that completely conceals you to hide behind.
If you’ve got no place to run to, and no place to hide, then you have to fight.
That means improvising weapons – using office furniture or a fire extinguisher, anything that can inflict injury, disable or disarm the gunman. If others are with you, attack in force and fight like your life depends on it, because it does.
Finally, consider what to do once you’re safe. If you’ve escaped, you’re advised to warn others away from the danger, if you safely can do so, and call 911, if you have a phone.
If you have taken cover inside, and you see first-responders come in hunting for the shooter, don’t get in their way, and don’t expect them to stop to tend the wounded. Their first priority is to eliminate the threat. If they run across you as they search, keep your hands up and open so they know you’re not a threat.
The standard law enforcement response these days is not to await the arrival of a SWAT unit, but to form a team with the officers available and go in, to stop the shooter as soon as possible. In Columbus, officers from different agencies have cross-trained to form a team with whoever’s available.
Futrell said homeland security here will conduct active-shooter training for businesses, schools, churches and other organizations that request it. The classroom training usually takes around 45 minutes, but participants always want to ask questions, he said.
The follow-up drill conducted at the Water Works took about 30 minutes, but it required closing the office and ensuring the 911 center knew what was happening, to avoid misunderstandings.
Anyone interested in the training may call homeland security at 706-225-4213.