As mass shooting events occur with increasing frequency, experts are emphasizing the need for civilians and law enforcement to have plans in place to ensure the best possible outcomes. These situations, named “active shooter events” by law enforcement, have been on the rise since 2000, according to a study prepared by Dr. Pete Blair, M. Hunter Martaindale, and Terry Nichols. The study defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, typically through the use of firearms.”

In 59 percent of active shooter events, the most powerful weapon used by the shooter is a pistol. “If you’re talking about an active shooter, the principles that are being taught now are run, hide, or fight,” said Bernard Gerst, chief of the Towson University Police Department. 

Gerst emphasized that, in the same way that one tries to be an informed consumer about purchases, one needs to be an informed consumer with respect to emergency plans in public locations such as malls, schools, offices, or houses of worship. While you cannot plan for everything, thinking about what to do in a potential emergency ahead of time is the best course of action.

Stephen Somers, vice president of Whelan Security, said situational awareness is the most important thing for civilians when navigating an active shooter event.

“You gotta worry about your personal plan first,” Somers said to the AFRO.

The Naval Yard shooting in September 2013 shook Somers’s belief in the hide portion of the run, hide, fight mantra. Somers prefers run, run, fight. Both Somers and Gerst, however, were clear that fighting is an absolutely last resort.

It is also important to understand the role of law enforcement in an active shooter event. “When we come running out of a building, and law enforcement goes running in, they don’t know if you’re a perpetrator or an innocent victim,” said Somers. “So keep your hands up, follow their instructions to a ‘T.'”

Somers also pointed out that the first priority of law enforcement when responding to an active shooter event is to neutralize the threat, not attend to the wounded.

Linda Dorsey-Walker, co-chair of the Coalition Opposed to Violence and Extremism (COVE), said a hate crime is often at the genesis of active shooter events. At a summit sponsored by COVE on May 6, representatives of the Jewish and Islamic community participated in the panel discussions on mass shootings.

“Unfortunately,” said Dorsey-Walker, “there was not the same level of emphasis placed on the same protections in the Christian community, which is a mistake.”

For anyone concerned about the level of preparedness for an active shooter event at their house of worship, Gerst noted that most police departments have officers with specialized training that can visit one’s place of worship, analyze the physical structure as well as standard procedures, such as how parents transport children from their cars to the daycare, and offer guidance on effective evacuation procedures as well as how to best address potential security flaws. Such services are offered free of charge.

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO