It’s a sad fact of today’s violent culture — going back to school also means the possibility of dealing with a school shooter. For the last several years, San Diego State University (SDSU) has taken a proactive approach to the threat of active shooters by training students and staff how to be prepared in the event of an incident like the kind that too often make headlines in this country. On Sept. 17, SDSU shared that training to a small group of community members at the College-Rolando Library.
“The more we see this happening in public spaces that we’re all in, the more important it becomes that we all have access to information,” said SDSU Communications Director Rachell Gregg, who organized the active shooter response training that was free and open to the public.
SDSU Police Community Resource Officer Mark Peterson conducted the hour-long training. He said that there are several different active shooter training methods but that they all “want you to respond actively in an active shooter event. You want to be taking steps, making the actions that will help us go to the place we call home at the end of the day.”
In an active shooter situation, there are three basic responses — fight, flight and freeze.
“Freeze is what we don’t want to do in this situation,” he said. “So this training is helping you get solutions so that you don’t freeze or are less likely to freeze in the event of an attack.”
Nationally, Peterson said, there are three traditional responses to an active shooter: lockdown, secure the environment and hide — usually under a desk — and wait for help to arrive.
“We’re going to give some additional options,” he said. “The first option, if you can — run. If you have an opportunity to get out and do so safely, go ahead and take it.”
Before running, it is important to know where the attacker is and know all available exits — including windows, fire escapes and even through ceiling tiles. The decision to feel should be immediately acted on, and Peterson advised to not worry about taking along purses, backpacks, brief cases, etc. as they would slow down an escape. Once out of a room or building, look for a wall or vehicle to shield yourself and keep your hands raised to help law enforcement know that you are not the shooter.
If leaving the building is impossible or dangerous, another option is to hide, although that is not a term Peterson thinks should be used.
“It sounds very passive,” he said. “I want this to be an active response. We are actively taking steps to make this attacker think we are not there.”
Some active steps to hide include locking or blockading doorways, overturning desks, turning off lights, silencing cell phones and searching out places in the room where you will be out of sight from the entrance way. Peterson also advised people to not lay down while hiding, but rather stay crouched and ready to move if need be.
“If you can’t run, if you can’t hide, the last option is to fight. And you’re only fighting when that person comes to your space,” Peterson said. “If somebody is intent on doing unimaginable harm and nothing is done to disrupt them, are they likely to be successful? In my opinion they are.”
When it comes to “fighting” an attacker, the main goal is to disrupt their actions. This can be achieved successfully by a variety of methods like throwing objects at him or spraying a fire extinguisher at him to distract his actions and then following through with a move to take him down and restrain him. Once restrained, the best strategy is to hold him down until police arrive.
“Going on the offensive, not all of us are going to be willing to do that. That’s the reality of life,” he said. “But if you are willing to do it, a little bit of coordination ahead of time and a willingness to engage are what you need.”
Other aspects of the training included how to gather information about the situation using your senses, what to share with police when you reach a 911 operator, a video clip exercise in awareness and practicing “what if” scenarios to make mental plans in case of an emergency situation.
Although there were few community members in attendance at the training, Peterson said it is something that SDSU would likely offer the public again.
“I think it’s something that is beneficial to be offered to the public,” he said. “By even attending this course, it gets you thinking about this stuff and thinking about it is the quickest way that you’re not going to freeze.”
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.