Bloomberg News

Active Shooter Joins Floods as Preparedness-Plan Focus

August 20, 2012

Run. Hide. Fight.

Add active shooters to the hurricanes, floods, blackouts and other threats that governments prepare residents for after a man wearing a gas mask, ballistic helmet and vest gunned down dozens of people in a Colorado movie theater last month.

A video titled “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event” produced by the city of Houston has gotten almost 900,000 hits on YouTube.com. The almost six-minute piece, made with U.S. Homeland Security Department funds, was released after the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and depicts a gun-wielding man invading an office and shooting workers.

“It may feel like just another day at the office,” the narrator says, before the violence begins. “But occasionally life feels more like an action movie than reality.”

The video, which suggests steps to take if confronted by a shooter, shows a shift by local governments from focusing on preparation against a terrorist attack to the threat posed by gun violence, said Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, a Doylestown, Pennsylvania-based law-enforcement group.

Local governments began recognizing and preparing for active shooters before the suspect in the Aurora incident opened fire July 20 in a crowded theater during an early morning showing of a new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” The accused gunman, James Holmes, left 12 people dead and 58 injured, according to Arapahoe County prosecutors.

Accelerating Pace

The New York Police Department published a report in 2011 recommending ways for those in charge of building security to prevent and respond to attacks after a study detailed 281 mass shootings from 1966 to 2010, with the pace accelerating in the past decade.

The NYPD began the study after terrorist and mass-shooting incidents in Bali, Mumbai and Virginia Tech. The result was oriented toward training building managers and police officers in rapid response, said Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne, a department spokesman. The force has instructed them on security procedures in the event of an attack, he said.

The run, hide, fight video isn’t in use in New York, to his knowledge, Browne said.

‘Common Sense’

“So many of these things are individualistic in terms of what victims may confront,” Browne said. “Is there any potential to resist? The answer is, it depends on the circumstances. A lot of the response depends on individuals exercising common sense.”

As in Aurora, events can happen so fast, victims are down before first-responders can arrive, he said.

“The problem with the lone shooter is the immediacy of it,” Browne said. “It doesn’t help you in the first couple of minutes or seconds when someone is there shooting a gun.”

The preparedness video and training in cities such as New York show how the rising number of incidents involving mass killing by gun-wielding suspects is prompting attention by municipalities nationwide, Lomax said.

“With the increase in the number of active domestic shooters, I see local governments becoming very active in protecting their local residents,” Lomax said. “It’s getting to the point where local government is realizing the severity of the situation.”

Adding Shooters

Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, originally began preparing under a federal Regional Catastrophic Planning Grant for a category 5 Hurricane, a terrorist attack with an improvised explosive device and a pandemic influenza event.

The city spent about $200,000 on the video, which was filmed in the offices where it issues building permits, Mayor Annise Parker said by telephone. The shooter in the video, made with professional actors and city employees, was an officer on the city’s special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, team, she said.

Last year the city added “active shooter” to the list of potential events that it should prepare for after the Mumbai attack “and other high profile active-shooter events,” said Jessica Michan, a Parker spokeswoman. In 2008, Pakistani gunmen killed about 160 people in the Indian city.

Houston used the grant for research and to run an exercise involving local first responders, state and federal authorities and companies, Michan said. During this active-shooter planning the city decided to produce the video and other written material to educate citizens on tips to protect themselves during such an event, Michan said.

Attack Anxiety

“We found that there were a lot of people out in the community with anxiety about how to respond to an active-shooter event,” Parker said. “There was clearly a need, so we decided it was appropriate.”

The video advises finding a quick way out of a location threatened by a gunman, or failing that, to hide and turn off lights and cell-phone ringers. As a last resort, it suggests fighting back with improvised weapons. The film depicts office workers responding to a shooting.

In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple before being wounded by police and taking his own life Aug. 5, Mayor Steve Scaffidi said he “struggled with the harshness” of the the video. It “could have been handled a little more sensitively,” he said.

“But I think any time you get a message that may save lives, it is valuable,” Scaffidi said. “These aren’t becoming rare occurrences. What, we’ve had three of them in two months, maybe more? These are things we’ll have to deal with.”

Surviving Shootings

Homeland Security also has developed a program that includes seminars, online courses, posters, a booklet and a pocket card highlighting how to survive a shooter attack. The guidance was first compiled in a 2008 booklet aimed at retailers and mall owners. Since then, 125,000 people in government and businesses have taken the training.

The National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group, approached the department about doing the booklet after a gunman killed eight people and took his own life in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, in December 2007.

Houston has received requests from law enforcement groups around the country, insurance companies and civic groups that want to use the video, Parker said. “It struck a chord.”

St. Louis County, Missouri, links to the video on its Police Department’s website. The Fairview Township Police Department, in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, also offers information on dealing with mass shootings on its website with some of the same tips Houston uses. Maine’s Emergency Management Agency this month announced a federal workshop on such events.

“You can’t stop crazy,” said Lomax. “But there things you can do to limit the craziness.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Darrell Preston in Dallas at dpreston@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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