|A scene from a training video by the Houston mayor's office showing office workers fighting an active shooter.|
Everyone should be prepared to run, hide, and fight, said Lt. Brian Ruck in a presentation at a meeting of the Mason Police District’s community engagement Sept. 4.
According to the FBI, there were 20 active shooter incidents in 2016 and 30 in 2017 in the United States. During that period, 221 people were killed (excluding the shooters) and 722 were wounded. Between 2000 and 2015, 200 people were killed in active shooter incidents.
The number of incidents has been rising at a rate parallel to the increase in internet use, Ruck says, as potential shooters can increasingly find and encourage one another on online forums.
In an active shooter situation, “if you can get out, try to escape. Leave your belongings behind, try to prevent others from entering the danger zone, and call 911,” he says. Try to encourage others to leave with you, but if they won’t come, “don’t let them slow you down.”
If there’s no way to get out, Ruck advises concealing yourself behind a large object. If you’re in a room, turn out the lights, lock and barricade the door, and silence your phone.
As a last resort, if your life is at risk, fight the attacker with improvised weapons, such as a chair or fire extinguisher, he says. “Grab the heaviest object and hit the shooter in the back of the head.”
During the Virginia Tech shooting, everyone who ran or escaped out of a window survived. Some of those who hid under desks and played dead were lucky and some weren’t.
Most active shooter incidents last less than 10 minutes, Ruck says, although the Navy Yard shooting in D.C. in 2013 went on for 40 minutes because the shooter hunkered down and hid.
Fairfax County dealt with a violent incident in Merrifield last year, when a man entered a law firm on Gatehouse Road and fired rounds in the foyer. “He didn’t target anyone and no one was hit,” Ruck says. It took police six minutes to get into the building after getting a 911 call. The shooter committed suicide.
During a three-week period after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February there were 29 threats about school shootings in Fairfax County, Ruck says. It’s FCPD policy to follow up on every threat.
High schools in Fairfax County conduct lockdown drills, and staff are trained to get students out safely if possible and to barricade people inside a room. In July, the school board approved a $4 million plan to improve school security and strengthen mental health services.
First responders’ top priority is stopping the shooter, not evacuating victims, Ruck says, so people who are injured often bleed to death if first responders can’t get to them in time.
As a result, police and fire departments are working together on the Stop the Bleed campaign, which supports the distribution of first aid kits with tourniquets and trains people to use them.
If victims have a gun and try to engage with the shooter, Ruck says they should put it away immediately or risk being mistaken for the attacker and being shot by the police.
Social media is a two-edged sword. While it can encourage people on the edge – with radical ideas and no support system – to commit violence, it can also be used by law enforcement to monitor tips from the public and inform the community about a dangerous situation.
Ruck urges everyone to understand the levels of “situational awareness”:
- White: You are totally tuned out, often using your phone, and unaware of your surroundings.
- Yellow: Relaxed awareness, like when you’re driving a car.
- Orange: Focused awareness, as when you see someone walking around with a backpack and full coat in the summer, and it’s alarming enough that you alert security.
- Red: You’re actually in the fight or have to take evasive action when driving to avoid an accident.
- Black: You freeze up in a crisis and become comatose or lie there in a fetal position.
In a traumatic situation, Ruck says, some people go from “white” to “black” in a few seconds.