What do you do if a shooter shows up at your office? How do you get your staff ready for an active shooter?
Those are the questions that brought Boise Police Officer J. Mika to talk to the assembled Statesman staff last week. Most of the time Mika is a school resource officer at Fairmont Junior High. But he’s also a trainer and adviser on active-shooter incidents.
The Statesman asked the Boise Police Department to review our office safety and talk to our staff following the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, that killed five people. It’s a capital-city paper in a peaceful university town, not unlike us.
What grabbed my attention as Mika showed us slides recapping the history of U.S. mass shootings were these facts:
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▪ Of 63 shootings of known duration, 44 were over within five minutes. That’s almost 70 percent.
▪ Twenty-three shootings — more than a third — were over within two minutes.
▪ Three of every five shootings ended before the cops ever arrived.
If Mika wants to impress us with the importance of thinking ahead and preparing ahead, it works. If your office is attacked, you can’t wait for the police to save you. “By the time we get there,” says Mika, “it may be over.”
It’s understandable that few people want to dwell on having a shooter show up at your office. But avoidance is not smart. “Denial is the worst problem we have,” said Mika. “Denial will kill you.”
MAKE YOURSELF A HARD TARGET
More and more companies are thinking and planning ahead. Boise police have delivered this training session to 50 businesses, retirement centers, banks, schools and citizen groups so far this year. The department has enough trainers, from SWAT team members to school resource officers, that there’s no waiting list, says Stephanie Kendall, the crime prevention specialist who coordinates the sessions. Want to schedule training for your business? Email Kendall at email@example.com.
We’re all familiar with attacks on schools and the Las Vegas concert, but businesses are nearly twice as likely as schools to be attacked, according to Mika’s FBI data from 2000 to 2013.
The police presentation lasts more than an hour, with more details than I can share here. But a few of the messages that I took away from Mika’s tutorial:
▪ “Shooters must decide between easy and hard targets.” Message: Make yourself a hard target. Doors need locks. Windows need “shooter shades.” A gunman won’t fight with a locked door if he – they’re almost always guys – can’t tell if targets are inside.
▪ ”Don’t fight fair.” Message: It doesn’t take a gun to fight back. Keep a hammer at your desk. Or grab your scissors. In Annapolis, one of the staffers killed heroically rushed the gunman with a trash can. “Do what you gotta do,” says Mika.
▪ ”Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.” Message: The first signs of trouble might not be obvious. You might hear strange sounds. Or no sound, a sudden silence. Or a trick of sound: A gunshot on another side of the building may sound like a builder hammering, not what you expect gunshot to sound like.
RUN? HIDE? FIGHT? THAT DEPENDS
Like me, several Statesman staffers hoped to hear definitive advice about preventing a shooting, or what to do once it starts. But what you learn is that there’s no single, or easy, way to be prepared.
One of the common strategies you read and hear about is “Run/Hide/Fight,” which means be prepared with a route and plan, but also be ready to lock and barricade doors and stay out of sight, with a silenced phone. But if your life is in immediate danger, disrupt or incapacitate the shooter any way you can: Throw things, improvise weapons, be as aggressive as possible.
So following “Run/Hide/Fight” can mean combining all three, or doing them in any order. Running is not the first or the best strategy if you run into the shooter. Staying in place and out of sight may be your smartest bet. “Those are not sequential,” Mika said. “Fight might be first.”
The options are frustratingly general, which is why we’re all supposed to be taking account of our workplaces and schools and homes well before we find ourselves facing these decisions.
“I encourage you to have discussions, professionally and personally,” Mika told us. “Planning is the biggest thing.”
CALM, EMOTIONLESS, METHODICAL
We didn’t need Mika to remind us that newspapers and TV stations can be targets for angry or upset people. Anybody who’s been in the news business for long has regulars who call to harass them, people who are mildly annoying to aggressively hostile. Threats of violence, though rare, do occur and we do report them to the police. But what do you report? When does an irritant become a threat to take seriously?
One man who has harassed women reporters for years called a colleague in another department last week with his virulent misogyny, shaking up several of our staffers. To listen to the caller’s voice, the recipient told me, you wouldn’t know he’s angry or unbalanced. The words were chilling, not the tone or the volume. So she debated whether to make a big deal out of it or not.
But as Mika explained to our staff, three of the qualities common to shooters are that they are calm, emotionless and methodical.
So after hearing Mika’s presentation, my colleague was glad she’d reported the call to her supervisors and police. “Do you want to be the person who blows that off?” she wondered aloud. “Or do you want to be the person who maybe overreacted just a little bit?”
Rebecca Poynter is the Statesman publisher, the CEO who oversees news, advertising and all the other departments. She told Statesman staffers to err on the side of acting, even when we fear we’re overreacting.
She noted that attacks on businesses are often by former or current employees, or someone in a victim’s family. Staying aware of our colleagues’ work and personal lives is important.
The staffers she’s talked with following the Annapolis shooting are concerned about safety, but not panicking. She said people have been comforted by the training and the knowledge that Boise police offered good advice about making our building safer.
Poynter likened the training to thinking about your surroundings when you board a plane, making note of the nearest exits. “Situational awareness” is how Mika puts it in police talk.
That awareness about the risks of modern life was driven home to me as I walked to the training with Kevin Davenport, a science-writing fellow from the University of Utah spending the summer at the Statesman.
“What does it say about the world,” he asked, “that this is the third active-shooter session I’ve been to?