FBI agent conducts shooter seminar

LISBON – A gunman enters a business or school where you are located. What would you do?

This scenario and the many ways people react was discussed Wednesday night at an Active Shooter Seminar at the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center.

Todd Werth, a special agent with the Cleveland FBI, said in reality there is no right answer. What is important is for people to get past the first shock that hits everyone and get into survival mode.

“You need to mentally and physically prepare yourself,” Werth said. “For everyone the first thoughts include panic, fear, disbelief and denial. If we’ve thought about it before, we have a prepared response and reaction time is quicker.”

Werth defines an active shooter as anyone actively trying to harm or kill as many people as possible. Most incidents take only 10 to 15 minutes and in more than 50 percent of the cases, the shooter is dead at the end, most from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Between 2002 and 2012, there were 154 active shooter incidents in the United States, Werth said. In 96 percent of the cases the shooter is male and acted alone.

There are a lot of different scenarios which can cause someone to suddenly decide to become an active shooter. Werth points out there is no way to know for certain who or when something could happen.

Adding guards, locking doors and other security measures are only part of preparing for an armed gunman in a building. Some schools have focused on lock downs, which Werth said is a good start, but additional planning is needed. For instance, what happens if the gunman was outside the school where students are leaving or arriving.

“If you focus only on the physical security of your school, business or your home, you are setting yourself up for failure,” Werth said.

Instead he suggests teaching students, employees and others the way they react from the moment they see or hear danger can possibly save their lives.

“We don’t live our lives in fear,” he said. “But we are aware of our surroundings.”

Once the initial shock is over, it is important for people to try to evacuate or hide. Lock the doors and block them with furniture if the shooter is not in the room. Get behind something solid, a wall or door as opposed to a curtain. Remember not to hide in tight groups. Silence your cell phone. If the opportunity arises get out a back door or a window. If there is no where to hide, lay down and play dead.

He suggests only taking action toward the shooter as a last resort.

“Once you make that decision, there is no going back,” Werth said, adding throw things, yell and act as aggressively as possible.

There were school officials and business owners in the audience. In the light of recent school shootings, Werth notes many are starting to place armed security in the schools. He believes it is a good thing for students not to be afraid of police. In a situation where a shooter may be down the hall in the same building down, law enforcement helping to clear the building may have to bark orders to try to help as many people get out as quickly as possible.

Teachers can find themselves in the position of needing the think of ways to help younger students, who may take longer to react.

Werth notes the importance of putting hands in the open and keeping them empty, even of your cell phone when evacuating the building. During various active shooter scenarios he has been involved in, law enforcement is going through the building looking for both people hiding and the shooter. People coming out of hiding need to show they are not the gunman.

While the cell phones everyone is carrying these days is great for letting authorities know about the situation, it can also be a detriment. At school shootings like in Chardon, frightened students began sending text messages to their parents. Those parents, wanting to come get their children from the building began parking along the street, making it more difficult for ambulances, fire trucks and law enforcement to get to the building.

Werth believes in many cases while law enforcement is looking for the shooter, it can be important for EMS to be able to go into areas of the building already cleared to help wounded people.

Finally, businesses and schools should create a safe location, where people can meet and be accounted for. Werth said it is important people do not leave the safe location until authorities instruct them to do so.

Bob Zehentbauer, the director of public health emergency preparedness for the Columbiana County General Health District, said the seminar was developed to help local agencies and government officials prepare in the case of a violent crime. He points out it is tragic the current trends make such training necessary.

“It has to start somewhere,” Zehentbauer said. “Today was a good training. Everyone can take something they learned back with them from this.”