I was originally going to do this column about family quirks around the holidays, but with the tragic events over the last few weeks with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut and the Clackamas Mall shooting in Oregon, we are reminded of the ever increasing threat of an active shooter anywhere in the country. Not holiday feel good stuff, but something we can’t ignore.
Regardless if the reason is your belief is that an influx of guns in society is the cause, lack of treatment for mental illness, or the actual violator is to blame, we have to ensure that responsible companies and government agencies are taking preventative measures and have a plan in place should an incident occur. Even so, we have to personally be prepared if we found ourselves in that situation.
While it is not comforting to acknowledge that these types of threats are ever increasing; the preparation for such an incident increases the chance of survival.
To see evidence of the lack of organization for such an event, one only needs to take a look at the disparity in society between fire prevention and that of an active shooter.
It has been many years, not since the late 1940s, since a child was killed in a school fire. However, since the Columbine, Colorado Shooting of 1999, there have been over 31 reported school shootings in the US with fatalities. (There have also been over 60 mass-killing incidents in hospitals, shopping malls, and other public facilities.)
In today’s times many school districts will regularly practice quarterly fire drills yet many avoid any lockdown or active shooter drills despite the fact of a child killed or injured in a school shooting is countless times greater than in a fire. Those that do practice lockdown drills only go through the basics and rarely do not keep updated on recent trends or coordinate their drills with local police.
Every school and public building is prepared for the threat of a fire. We see it with sprinklers, extinguishers, alarms that are commonplace and strategically placed throughout the building. Signs that will stay lit to the end of time announce exits. Fireproof and resistant materials are used in building construction. Fire departments make regular inspections to ensure compliance.
But what about the threat of an active shooter? How prepared are those we entrust to handle such a situation. For that matter, how will we react if faced with the danger?
We want to believe we are safe in our surroundings, that our children will be protected in school, that we are secure in a movie theatre or shopping mall.
But at any moment, a deranged individual in a public place, a disgruntled co-worker at the job site, an angry parent, a jilted lover, or a bullied student may create the flashpoint which triggers workplace, public setting, or school violence causing subsequent chaos and grief.
To ignore the possibility is living in denial.
I always thought there were two human responses to danger – fight or flight. But after my years in law enforcement I learned experts were discovering another reaction – freeze. Those that were in menacing situations were not doing anything for themselves, a risky gamble.
In fight or flight, the affected individual is responding with hope; that they can out run or overcome the attacker. With the freeze response, the individual is submitting, giving up any hope of survival.
During the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which a crazed gunman killed thirty-two people before turning the gun on himself, many survivors reported falling to the ground upon hearing the shots and entering what they described as a type of catatonic trance even though they had not been hit. Some of the casualties were found still sitting at their desks having done nothing for their welfare.
Toward the end of my previous police career, I attended much training on active shooters and workplace violence – it’s what you’d expect of a school cop. Some of the methods and suggestions were implemented by my employer, but there were those within the district that questioned the necessity or branded the process as “paranoia.” Others in authority cautioned on the public image it would portray if there was the belief to the necessity for lockdown drills.
Advice by experts for those caught in such an episode is to “evacuate, evade, or engage.”
Flee (evacuate) if you can or barricade and take cover (evade). A tactical escape beats an encounter every time. Only consider fighting (engage) the threat if imminent danger exists. If you decide to engage, fight like your life depends on it because it does!
After 26 years of being a cop and being honorably retired, I still feel the need to be prepared for anything, anytime, anywhere. Don't tell me I'm paranoid. I am not - I am prepared. Know the difference.
Don't ask me what I will do to protect my family and those around me. Know I will do what it takes. I will never fully let my guard down because I could never live with myself if I were knowingly complacent when I should have been prepared and it cost others their lives when I could have prevented it. Denial kills. Don't judge by asking why. It’s something that has just been engrained.
Richard Paloma is a retired police officer and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.