By Karen Cornelius
He won’t stop until he’s ready. He wants to be on the news, have his name in headlines. He wants the fame. Who is he? This person is an active shooter with a goal to kill as many people as he can. Often this person, this shooter, sees himself as the victim seeking revenge perhaps from school bullying, perhaps from being fired or unemployed, or perhaps an ex-wife or girlfriend betrayed him.
The why is not as important as what students and ordinary civilians should do when threatened by an active shooter. This is a question Vermilion Police School Resource Officer Brian Beckwith wanted to answer with general guidelines to his audience at the Vermilion High School Auditorium on Thursday, August 17, from 9-11 a.m. and again on Friday, August 18, from 4-6 p.m.
Beckwith is a proponent of a program called ALICE which stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. His training seminar is a two-hour presentation advocating multiple response options to an active shooter situation rather than the stand-alone practice of lockdown to secure and stay in place, hide. In essence, people don’t have to be sitting ducks waiting to be shot.
Officer Beckwith told the audience he was a graduate of Vermilion High School, an Eagle Scout, and a graduate of Ashland University in Criminal Justice. He said it was an honor to work in the same Vermilion Local School District where he had also graduated. He stated that the school district has been been certified in ALICE procedures with all full-time teachers being trained so if an incident would happen they could direct their students.
Currently, ALICE has been modified to fit more situations nationally across the board. It can teach safety practices for active shooter events outside the school environment to apply to businesses, churches, hospitals, government, and public places such as malls, restaurants, and sporting events. Beckwith’s purpose in providing this training was to inform people on how ALICE could be used in situations other than the schools.
The police officer’s audience was a diverse group of school staff, most from outside neighboring school districts, church and business representatives, health care employees, parents, and the general public interested in the topic. Beckwith explained ALICE was created by a former police officer and his wife who was a school principal in Burleson, Texas. The couple wanted to find a better way to keep safe. They saw no sense in standing in a room with a shooter waiting to be shot. Instead they devised different steps in a chain based on the instinct to survive. Those steps would be alert-lockdown-inform-counter-evacuate.
Granted the topic was depressing, but the statistics related by Beckwith were even more depressing. He cited an FBI study of active shooter incidents done in 2014 focusing on those between 2000-2013 where an active shooter engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. The FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents with 11.4 occurring annually with an increasing trend from 2000 to 2013 with churches climbing higher. Incidents occurred in 40 of 50 states and the District of Columbia. It was revealed that 70 percent of the incidents were in a commerce or education environment with 60 percent ending before the police could even arrive. In 63 incidents, there were 44 ending in five minutes or less with 23 ending in 2 minutes or less.
What is sobering, is the finding that so many are just random. They occurred in small towns and large towns, in urban and in rural areas, and the shooters victimized young and old, male and female, family members, and people of all races, cultures, and religions. Another frightening finding, most incidents were over in just minutes before law enforcement assistance could even help. Civilians were forced to make life and death decisions on their own. Of the 160 incidents, at least 107 ended before the police arrived and could engage the shooter. They ended usually because a citizen intervened, the shooter fled, or the shooter committed suicide or was killed by someone at the scene. As far as shooters, in six instances the shooter was female and all others were male. In all, but two of the 160 incldents, the shooters chose to act alone.
A total of 1,043 casualties occurred during these incidents that were studied with 486 killed and 557 wounded. These statistics caused Beckwith to explain why “alert” was so important to cut down the police response time. He said it often took three to five minutes to call 911 then time for the dispatcher to act, and police to respond and go to the scene which at best could be 10-12 minutes. By then 40 could be wounded and 40 killed. Assembling a SWAT team could even take 55 minutes. He advised 911 calls need to be made sooner to save lives. He said the fact shootings are over in minutes calls for citizens to receive training, have a plan. He thought teaching options is knowledge to carry for the rest of our lives.
While lockdown is an important step from keeping the shooter out of some areas, it’s not the only answer. Beckwith played the 911 tape from Columbine where students were hiding in the library getting down on the floor. They were all easy targets. It was chilling, but resulted in some lessons learned on hindsight. Today, everyone has to be his or her own first responder. “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” said Beckwith. “The worst thing you can do is do nothing.” He cited Virginia Tech where the shooter took nine minutes to look for the most people. Beckwith said by barricading a door, the shooter will probably keep moving if he can’t get inside quickly. Locked doors and barricades with furniture and heavy objects are a deterrant. In one incident, a college professor barricaded his classroom door with his own body allowing most of the class to escape out the windows.
Inform is another option after people are secured. He said use social media to communicate where the shooter is or use a PA system if there is one or even a bullhorn. If no option works, Beckwith talked about “counter” measures depending on age groups such as distracting the shooter by throwing things at him or her. The officer asked for volunteers from the audience to demonstrate how this could work in certain situations. He had one man hold a gun simulating a real weapon with a laser pointed at another volunteer. Then he had other volunteers gather and rush the supposed gunman with tennis balls, boxes, and other objects all yelling. This interrupted the gunman’s train of thought catching him off guard and the laser was no longer on his victim. In one incident, it was as simple as a gym teacher yelling “Hey” at the top of his voice that distracted the shooter who fled from a Chardon High cafeteria. In a do what you have to do mode, Beckwith said it is possible for adults to distract the shooter even throwing chairs, removing the gun by throwing it in a trash can, and holding him down until the police showup. Even use thumbs to go after his eyes.
One of the best options is to “evacuate” which is escaping out a window or another exit if possible. Once out, run and go as far as a person can. “If you hide under a desk, you are just an object,” said Beckwith. “The farther you get from the shooter, the better survival rate.” He added that 87 percent of the victims make it if shot once. Beckwith also advised not to use a car to retreat because the driver could windup in gridlock with others escaping or police coming in. “Run and get out. Establish a re-unification point, a plan for a safe place to go.”
The officer said when the police are at a scene, they ask everyone to evacuate with their hands up. While these people are probably all victims, no chance can be taken as you can’t really tell who’s the shooter after just arriving. Also, Beckwith said you might see law enforcement stepover an injured person. That’s because police are focused on stopping the shooter first, stopping the threat first.
Throughout the two hours, Beckwith strongly encouraged the audience to constantly be doing something. “Don’t wait for the police. Don’t wait to die. Citizens are capable of surviving an active shooter incident. They need to trust their own natural instincts.” At best, everyone should think about it and come up with a game plan. Once again, be your own first responder.”