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Experts share tips to increase survival in an active shooter attack

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 4, 2020

 Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop recalled the active shooter event he was involved in on June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia, during an active shooter awareness discussion at the Royal Park Hotel Jan. 23.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop recalled the active shooter event he was involved in on June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia, during an active shooter awareness discussion at the Royal Park Hotel Jan. 23.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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ROCHESTER — It can happen anywhere, at any time. You could be at the movies or a shopping center, at work or a school event, a place of worship or even a park.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop was on a baseball field practicing for a charity game at Simpson Park in Alexandria, Virginia, when an active shooter opened fire on June 14, 2017.

“All of a sudden a loud explosion broke the serenity,” Bishop said, recalling the event for a crowd of hundreds during an active shooter awareness discussion hosted by Frank Rewold & Son Jan. 23 at the Royal Park Hotel. “At that moment, you didn’t think — at least I didn’t; I don’t have a trained ear — that it was a gun. To me, it was an explosion of some kind. It didn’t sound like a weapon being fired.”

Chaos erupted as members of the congressional baseball team scrambled to get to safety while the gunman — James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois — targeted the team.

“The third baseman came running at me in a serpentine pattern, yelling, ‘Shooter! Shooter!’ I looked over his shoulder at the third base line, and sure enough, there was a guy standing there with a weapon, with a rifle. As I watched him, he lowered the weapon, leveled it and started pointing it in our direction. I was still frozen. I had no idea what was going on. And then he fired twice,” Bishop said. “I stood there and watched and finally realized I better get down, so I hit the ground.”

Over 100 shots were fired in the 10-minute shootout, some injuring then-U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, U.S. Capitol Police Special Agent Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth and lobbyist Matt Mika.

“As I’m lying there on my belly, he was firing. I looked up to see if anybody else was on the field, and my colleague, Steve Scalise, was on second base. I watched him get hit. It lifted him right off the ground, flipped him over and he landed on his back. I heard him screaming and writhing in pain. It was a crazy situation. I still hadn’t comprehended that it was all going on — most people don’t,” Bishop recalled.

All victims survived the brutal attack. The gunman, however, was eventually shot by police and died from his wounds at the hospital later that day.

It was a day Bishop will never forget.

“I can assure you that when this happens, no matter how many times you’ve been through in your mind what you would do in a scenario like this … sheer terror takes over, your mind turns off and you’re rendered helpless,” Bishop said.

When panic ensues, he said, the most important thing you can do is try to get back to a calm state and start to think about what to do.

“No matter what happens — if it’s a fire or if it’s a shooter — you have to get your bearing and get your mind and body back to a place where you can make good decisions. You’ll have to decide whether you should run, hide, fight or help others — or all of those things. But you have to make that decision quickly, and you’ve got to trust your instinct.”

Active shooter killings are a tragic and unpredictable reality that is becoming more common each year.

According to data from the FBI, there were 277 active shooter incidents resulting in 884 deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2018.

The number of shootings — and related deaths — is on the rise. In 2000, there was one reported active shooter incident resulting in seven deaths, a statistic that rose to 19 incidents with 65 deaths in 2009, and up again to 27 incidents with 138 deaths in 2018.

Although active shooter attacks are becoming more common, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said the odds of being involved in one are still very slim.

Nevertheless, he said that making a plan in advance can make all the difference when every second counts.

“Don’t be afraid to go out. Don’t be nervous about things. Be prepared,” Bouchard said.

The risk is real, so it’s extremely important to immediately report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.

“Let that tingly spidey sense everybody has on the back of their necks stand up. Listen to it and react to it,” Bouchard said.

Wherever you go, get in the habit of identifying at least two nearby exits to help cut down your escape time in the event of an attack. Note all places to hide — including rooms without windows, solid doors with locks and large furniture.

“When us, in law enforcement, walk in a room, we immediately know where the exits are, so if we had to get out, (we know) where we would go. Most people don’t take note of that in their everyday life. That becomes important,” Bouchard said.

Those in charge of a house of worship, workplace or school are urged to create an emergency plan.

“(Think about) how do you harden the target — meaning how do you make it more difficult for somebody to commit a violent act at your location? We teach that all the time, all across the county,” Bouchard said.

Participating in active shooter discussions and drills is another great way to train your mind to react quickly in an emergency.

If you do find yourself targeted by an active shooter, you have three options.

“The three basic premises are run, hide or fight — and (what you should do) depends on your circumstance. If you’re a kindergarten teacher on the second story, you can’t run, because your kids aren’t going to keep up with you and you can’t abandon the little kids … so you may jump to option No. 2: hide — shelter in place,” Bouchard said.

If you can’t get away safely, find a place out of the shooter’s view to hide and stay very quiet. Lock and block doors, close blinds, and turn off the lights.

“You don’t want to get behind something that is not going to stop a bullet. At the very least, you want to be out of sight, but it is better to be out of sight in a secured environment. That’s the best option,” Bouchard said. “As you look around, you might think, I know that door is especially thick, or I know there is a cement wall there. You build that into your thought process without even knowing it after a while.”

When an active shooter event starts, Bouchard said, the average police response time is somewhere between three and five minutes in the United States.

“Every second that can be delayed — by physicality or different things that you have thought out and planned in advance — allows the cavalry to get that much closer,” he said.

If you can’t run or hide and an active shooter breaches your location, you have no other option but to fight.

“Fight means whatever you have to do to stay alive,” Bouchard said. “You are empowered, encouraged and enabled to do — up to and including taking that threat’s life. You don’t want to do it, and we don’t want to do it, but you have to stop the threat. If you are in that Alamo moment, that’s your job. Whatever is at your disposal becomes a weapon.”

Frank Rewold said it’s tragic that people have to think about how to respond to an active shooter, but it’s the world we live in today.

“I’d rather know what to do if it happens,” Rewold said.

Rochester Hills residents Stephen and Corsu Moran brought their 10-year-old twin daughters, Kaitlyn and Kassidy, to the discussion for the very same reason.

“We weren’t sure if this was kid appropriate, but with them being the age they are, we thought it was a very important subject and … sadly, it’s something that we have to be aware of these days,” Corsu Moran said. “My husband and I both like to inform our children. We think awareness is half the (battle). Ignorance is not going to help you.”

Stephen Moran said he’s glad they decided to make it a family outing.

“We came to this discussion not only for us but for our girls, to properly train them to have that mindset of staying calm, because when you become chaotic, you make bad decisions,” he explained. “The whole point was giving them the education, so if they were ever in that situation, they could be leaders and to be able to assess and execute the decisions they make.”

The twins, who attend Rochester Community Schools, participate in various emergency drills at their school.

“We do tornado drills, fire drills and lockdown drills in school,” Kassidy said.

The girls said they learned a lot from the discussion.

“If there is ever a shooting, you run, hide or fight,” Kaitlyn remembered.

RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner said approximately $6 million of the district’s five-year, $185 million bond issue that voters passed in 2015 was earmarked for enhancing school safety and security — redesigning and securing all building entrances, adding interior locks on schools and classrooms, providing building lockdown capabilities, installing video surveillance cameras on schools and buses, and updating the district’s phone and public address system.

“Particularly (important are) secure entrances, where we can have limited access to our offices and we can lock our offices down electronically, if we need to. In addition to that, actually, believe it or not, we did not have a camera system in the school district prior to our bond issue. We appreciate the community’s support on that. We are a lot safer for it,” he said.

After securing an $850,000 grant from the state of Michigan, the district was able to further improve the safety and security of its buildings.

“If you walk into one of our schools, you will notice there is security film on the windows, so you can’t see into the office and you can’t see into the school. That’s part of the security grant, and part of it is enhanced camera systems,” Shaner said.

Whenever a threat is made at a school, Shaner said, it is considered serious until proven otherwise. When a written or verbal threat is made against a building, school administrators work with law enforcement to verify the information and review the facts. During the investigation, Shaner said the district may conduct interviews, sweep the building for safety and review available camera footage. Based on that, the community may experience increased security precautions, additional police presence, or random searches of backpacks and bags. On rare occasions, he said it may also become necessary to cancel school based on the advice of local law enforcement.

Shaner said the district’s critical incident team regularly consults with safety experts to enhance daily operating procedures within the schools — including ensuring that all visitors use a main entrance, show a picture ID and sign in before entering any school; locking all exterior doors throughout the day; locking all interior classroom doors during instruction; and keeping all hallways and exits clear. Throughout the school year, each school conducts a minimum of three lockdown, shelter-in-place drills; five fire drills; and two tornado drills at both structured and unstructured times.

The district also encourages students to talk to a trusted adult if they see or hear something that doesn’t seem right.

To report a threat anonymously, visit www.michigan.gov/oktosay.com or text 652729.

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