How to respond to an active shooter

Hays County Sheriff Cutler and Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hood began the civilian response training session in the Dripping Springs High School Auditorium.

By: 
John Pacheco

 

The Hays County Sheriff’s office and Precinct 4 Constable hosted a 2-hour session aimed at teaching civilians how to respond in a shooting event, last Thursday evening. The class, held in the Dripping Springs High School Auditorium, was heavily attended and attracted attendees from surrounding towns such as Driftwood, Wimberley, and Johnson City.

The class called “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events” (CRASE) was taught by Lieutenant David Burns of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. Burns is one of the founding members of Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALLERT), and has taught extensively throughout the country on how to respond to active shooter crisis. He is also a twenty-two-year veteran in law enforcement, and a former U.S. Army Paratrooper.

“After the Columbine High School incident in 1999, active shooter events became one of the biggest issues that faced all law enforcement. It was also broadcasted on everybody’s television. I’ll never forget the morning after the incident, I heard somebody say on the radio, ‘I’d rather see dead cops than dead kids.’ Once the emotion of hearing that statement wore off, I started thinking—not that anybody wants to see dead cops-- but that the caller had a point. We had to do more than just sit outside and wait for guys with hair gel and Velcro [SWAT Teams] to show up, and we had to be the guys going inside the building as soon as possible. At Columbine, it took them 45 minutes to form an ad-hoc SWAT team and go inside the school. Meanwhile 2 cowards were running around with complete run of the place. But at the same time, I recognized that we had to train our first responders, and give them the tools they needed to respond to these types of shooting events, and that was the beginning of the ALLERT Program,” Burns said.

“ALLERT started here in Texas. The office of the governor gave us our first grant, and it has always been between the San Marcos Police Department, Texas State University, and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. Those 3 elements all came together to form the ALLERT Program,” Burns said.

The program was viable in 2002, and shortly thereafter by 2003, law enforcement officers started asking ALLERT, “What should we tell civilians to do in these shooting situations,” and that was the birth of CRASE.

CRASE is largely based on the acronym ADD, which stands for Avoid, Deny, and Defend. “ADD is basically what we tell civilians to do in a shooting situation, while they wait for the police to arrive,” Burns said. “Because there wasn’t going to be any more of this 45 minutes delay like at Columbine. If there are shots actively being fired when the first police officer arrives, then we train that first officer to go in by himself. If he arrives and there are no shots being fired, then he may wait for a second or third officer to arrive before they jointly enter the building or situation.”

 

The biggest point Burns wanted civilians to know is that the average response time by law enforcement to a shooting incident is 3 minutes, from the time the initial call is made to 911. “Civilians have to think about what they need to do in those 3 minutes. And that response time is the average across the United States. And so, the principals of ADD are the same across the United States,” Burns said.

As an interesting aside, Burns said that in a terror debrief, law enforcement learned that the 3-minute response time is the reason terrorists don’t like the idea of using shooting events in the United States.

“Of course, the 3 minutes is from the time we’re called. Unfortunately, many times it takes 2, 3, 5 minutes before we’re called,” Burns said.

Burns said that the delayed response by civilians to danger, is in part a denial mechanism in the brain. “Oh, what was that? Is somebody setting off fireworks? And of course, the question you have to ask yourself is—is it normal for fireworks being set off down the hall?” Burns said. He also stressed that gun shots can sound muffled inside cement and steel buildings. “Normalcy bias in the brain can hurt you. In the back of your mind your thinking, if those are shots I just heard, then it’s an unpleasant thing, and I don’t want to think about unpleasant things; but you need to allow yourself to think about unpleasant things so that you can visualize your response to them,” Burns said.

“The person who survives is the person that moves quickly passed denial and acts,” Burns said.

“That leads me to the first word in ADD—Avoid. If you think you heard gunfire, or something that could have been gun fire, don’t deliberate, don’t delay, get out of the building and call 911. As you leave the building urge others to leave the building with you,” Burns said. Burns explained human beings have a pack mentality. In the presentation Burns gave video examples of people submitting to group think and not responding to an event because they saw no one else responding. “We [law enforcement] would much rather be called to a false alarm, than to be delayed in real situation.”

Burns also blamed delayed civilian response to danger on electronic devices, in particular smart phones, and how they impede situational awareness.

The second word in ADD is Deny. “If you can’t run away and escape, the next step is to try to deny the shooter access to your location by locking or barricading the door. Also turn off the lights, and hide out of sight so that the shooter believes your location to be empty,” Burns said.

In Deny, Burns emphasized the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment is the use of something to visually hide a person from a shooter, while cover is hiding behind an object that could actually stop a round. Burns joked that due to bad TV shows people believe car doors to be cover. “The engine block might be cover, but the door sure isn’t,” Burns said.

Finally, if Avoid and Deny fail, Defend is the third action. “Please remember that you have a legal and moral right to defend yourself. And don’t fight fair. Use any tool at your disposal. Hit them hard, be aggressive. The weak spots are the eyes, groin, neck. Best time to hit an attacker is when they first enter the room. Attack as a group. If you have a license to carry, then use it. If you have baseball bat or something similar use it,” Burns said. “Remember ADD is for the 3 minutes we spoke about.”

The presentation also had a segment that explained how cognitive skills and motor skills deteriorated due to stress. Burns showed 5 categories ranging from condition white at a normal 60 to 90 bpm (heartbeats-per-minute), to what he called condition black at 175 bpm.

“At 175 bpm the cognitive process almost shuts down,” Burns said. He stressed that this was something that applied not only to the civilian caught in a deadly situation, but also to the police officers responding.

“Remember that the police officers responding is human as well, and very nervous. So, do whatever the police officer tells you to do. Above all show him your hands. We are trained to look at your hands. Also, if you have a license to carry, don’t run around with the gun in your hand. The officers have no way of knowing who you are. It’s not like in the movies where a policeman yells out ‘Police! Drop your Weapon!’ Don’t go around the building trying to run down the bad guys. If you want to do that, join the police department. Remember the police officer’s heartbeat will be just as accelerated as yours,” Burns said. “So when the police arrive, follow their commands, show your palms, do not move.”

Of the presentations slides Burns used was a slide showing over 200 shooting incidents in the United States from the early 2000’s to 2015. He noted that out of 200, only 6 were in Texas. “Now why do you think that is?” Burns said. He asked audience members to think which states had strict gun laws, and then to note the states with the heavier incidents. “These guys [shooters] are cowards. Although some have an ‘avenger mind-set,’ there is no real profile,” Burns said. He was also critical of the press giving shooters publicity and therefore fame. “I will not use these cowards’ names and give them that satisfaction. I think we should call out the press on this.”

In closing, Burns urged audience members to have first aid kits on hands, and to learn basic first aid, including the proper use of a tourniquet.

Future CRASE class dates will be announced as they become available.

The CRASE presentation is available to individuals, civilian groups, including schools, businesses, civic organizations, faith-based organizations, or others. Please note: This presentation includes video and audio from previous active shooter events, and though not graphic may not be suitable for everyone.

Organizations or individuals interested in scheduling a CRASE presentation should contact Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hood at (512) 858-7605.

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