Active shooter: What to do when the unthinkable happens

MARSHALL – It’s in the news and it’s every parent’s nightmare: school shootings.

Recent incidents in Connecticut, California and Texas have set off a nationwide debate on multiple issues and has raised concerns everywhere.

The good news, if there is any such thing as good news in the context of tragedy, is that school shootings are still considered quite rare.

“You have a greater chance of being hit by lightning,” said Matthew Loeslie, law enforcement coordinator at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Another hopeful point, according to Loeslie, is that a suicidal shooter – roughly eight out of 10 active shooter incidents end with the shooter’s suicide – usually stops when confronted by anyone armed, a policeman or a civilian with a concealed carry permit.

Another is that even moderate preparation increases the chance of survival in the event of an active shooter situation.

To this end, Loeslie offers a course though Minnesota West on how to respond to an active shooter for teachers and school officials in southwest Minnesota.

Loeslie gave the course in Canby last week, with teleconference connections to nine other locations. The course lasts only an hour and 15 minutes.

“We’re doing this as a resource for local schools,” Loeslie said. “If they wait until something happens, people will panic and freeze if they haven’t thought through what to do. If they have thought it through, survival chances increase.”

The course is based on the five identifiable phases of an active shooting and three simple strategies to respond.

The five phases are: fantasy phase, planning phase, preparation phase, approach phase and implementation phase.

“It’s rare that somebody gets up in the morning and decides to do this,” Loeslie said.

The three response strategies are: get out, hide out, take out.

If there is a clear escape route, everybody at the scene of an active shooting should get out and immediately call 911 with as much information as you have, Loeslie said. Help others get out if possible but go regardless of whether other people follow, don’t try to take belongings and warn other people from entering the danger zone.

And show your hands and be aware that the police responding to the call don’t know who the shooter is – and they don’t know it isn’t you.

“Remember, this is not a typical police call-out,” Loeslie said. “If you’re jacked up, their adrenaline is through the roof.”

If people can’t get out, they should hide – find a place the shooter can’t see you and be aware of the difference between concealment and cover. It’s better to hide behind something that stops bullets. Don’t hide in a place that traps you in if at all possible and check if it’s possible to lock or blockade the room you’re in.

As a last resort when your life is in imminent danger, try to take out the shooter. Act aggressively as possible, throw things, find improvised weapons, yell, and above all, commit to your actions.

“At Virginia Tech, the shooter walked into a classroom and just went down a row of people sitting in their seats shooting,” Loeslie said. “What if all 30 people had ganged up on him and started throwing staplers, books, anything at him?”

The goal of the course is to give school faculty and staff knowledge of active shooter incidents and how to best respond to them.

Loeslie started working on the course four years ago but cautions it is always a work in progress, as trends change and new evidence comes to light.

“Use common sense,” Loeslie said.

During the course, participants study the Columbine incident, which though not typical because it involved two shooters, is to date the most thoroughly examined incident of its kind and resulted in a radical change of doctrine for active shooter incidents.

“Before Columbine, the doctrine was to seal the perimeter and treat it like a hostage situation,” Loeslie said. “Now they try to determine, is this a hostage situation or is this person trying to kill as many as possible?”

But, Loeslie said, doctrine now used in a number of places is not satisfactory, and he is urging another look at it.

“After Columbine it was changed to assemble four officers and enter in a SWAT formation,” Loeslie said. “But there has never been a documented case of a shooting stopped by this tactic.”

What Loeslie recommends is that the first officer on the scene enters immediately if he is confident of his abilities, or wait for one other officer to arrive.

“It’s such a time sensitive thing,” Loeslie said.

Loeslie also said in his opinion a good approach would be for schools to encourage some teachers get concealed carry permits, though he acknowledges it could be a long time before public opinion is comfortable with this.

Loeslie teaches a concealed carry course through Minnesota West but said a course for teachers should be on a higher level than the six- to eight-hour course required by law for a carry permit and include regular psychiatric evaluation and refresher courses.

“It’s a perishable skill,” Loeslie said.

Loeslie pointed out that anyone who wants to die and take innocent victims with him will go to soft targets, places were there are large groups of helpless people and schools are at present the most attractive option for a potential shooter.

Uniformed armed guards are another option, but at best, they would simply motivate a potential shooter to go where there weren’t any. The advantage of trained teachers would be that a potential shooter would never be certain if a school was a soft target or not.

“Columbine had a security guard,” Loeslie said, “but his job was to catch smokers in the parking lot. And when the shooting happened he wasn’t supposed to go in.”

The course is available through Minnesota West and costs $200, but Loeslie said if a school positively can’t afford it, he’ll find a way to work with them.