WAXAHACHIE — Active shooter incidents are often unpredictable and pose a chaotic threat to public safety.
To prepare the workplace for moments of emergency, the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Waxahachie Police Department held a special training seminar for members to enhance their survival responses in case of such an incident.
“This can be used in your everyday life, walking around doing what you do as a profession and how you would respond to something of this manner,” explained Dustin Jordan, a community service officer for the Waxahachie Police Department. "Not every day is there going to be a tragedy, but it’s good to put some process behind ‘what would I do’ and ‘where would I be?’ the ‘what if’s,’ before an active shooter event occurs."
On Aug. 2, the “Success in Sixty: Citizen Response to Active Shooter Training” session not only addressed the room of about 30 attendees on how to prepare for dangerous scenarios but how to also process through them.
“An active shooter event is simple; it’s an attempted mass murder, and it's someone coming in to create as much harm and disaster as possible,” Jordan defined.
A study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014 identified that 70 percent of the active shooter incidents occurred in either a commerce, business or educational setting.
Out of 160 occurrences identified by the FBI, 73 shootings were in areas of business, which included storefronts open to pedestrian traffic at 27 percent, businesses closed to pedestrian traffic at 14 percent, and malls at three percent.
“The number of deaths is a product of two things,” Jordan began. “One, how quickly the police have arrived, and two, the target availability of how many folks are in the area that the active shooter comes through.”
Teaching the three stages of disaster response in high-stress situations, Jordan listed the core phases for citizens to familiarize themselves with – ‘denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment.’
“If you hear something you normally don’t hear, like a gunshot, your body doesn’t want to admit something violent is occurring, so denial is the first reaction to any source of stress,” Jordan explained. “If it sounds like a gun shot, it’s probably a gun shot, so recognize it and address it.”
“Denial and social proofing go hand-in-hand and you having a hand in that can get you to the deliberation phase,” he expounded.
Jordan further described that it’s common for everyday civilians to interpret disaster on a “normalcy basis,” denying present dangers.
However, after the initial shock and the threat have been recognized, the next phase is to alert authorities and deliberate a course of action.
“Deliberation is the decision phase and your brain isn’t functioning well and moving up in the chart of stress and losing the moment to think clearly, because fear kicks in and adrenaline starts pumping, ” Jordan acknowledged.
When making decisions under high levels of duress, a person’s heart rate goes through five escalations of palpitations, drastically affecting both information intake and planning output.
From the resting heart rate of 60 beats-per-minute (BPM) to 90 BPM of fine motor skills weakening to 120-150 BMP of complex motor and cognitive processing skills waning to the final 175 BPM of complete system overload, if not taken care of, the body will go into shock.
Common side effects Jordan listed throughout these phases are tunnel vision, audio exclusion, time delays, and “out of body” experiences.
“There are four things you have to do to prepare for moments like this,” Jordan simplified. “Calm yourself to combat stress and prepare for it, shift your emotion and change from that overwhelming moment of excitement and make a plan, control your breathing, and stay fit.”
“This will help you reprogram your brain to teach yourself how to respond to these things and then your ‘lizard brain’ does a better job when you’re under stress,” he added.
At the point of emergency, Jordan clarifies two automatic operating systems the brain naturally endures – the “lizard brain” and the “human brain.”
The “lizard brain” is the more instinctive, emotional setting with lightning-like responses, whereas the “human brain” is rationally logical with programmed responses, lacking in quickness.
“The biggest thing is asking yourself the 'what if' questions and keeping yourself prepared if you were to run into a situation like that,” Jordan stressed. “Have a plan and prepare mentally for what could come and continue to think daily to ‘avoid, deny, defend.’ That will help program the 'lizard brain.'”
With advice for the pursued to avoid the attacker if possible, Jordan emphasized the class to be aware of their surroundings at all times, and find primary and secondary exits nearby.
“The best strategy is to ‘avoid,’ if you can get out, go for it. If all else has failed and there’s no room to escape then ‘deny the shooter,’ and make a physical stop,” Jordan instructed.
“Lock doors, turn lights out and get out of sight. Physically make barricades and put something between you and the shooter, deny their entrance to that space and make it difficult for them to get to you,” he included.
The FBI study also reflected the damage that could occur in a matter of minutes. In 63 incidents where the duration of the case could be ascertained, 44 of 63 events ended in 5 minutes or less, with 23 ending in 2 minutes or less.
Even when law enforcement was present or able to respond within minutes, civilians often had to make life and death decisions at a moment’s notice, and if fleeing to an exit is no longer an option, a new decision must be made.
“If it comes down to it and you can’t get away, then fight, fight, fight,” Jordan encouraged. “Be aggressive and attack. Position yourself for when he comes into the room and be ready to get in that fight.”
Jordan also notes that “playing dead” or letting one's self “freeze or hide” is never a good idea.
“'Hide and hope' is probably one of the most problematic and causality-driven concepts and is not a valid option,” Jordan stated. “I’ve heard parents tell their kids just to lie there and we’ve learned that the shooter is coming in and shooting bodies. It doesn’t matter if they’re under a table, sitting in a chair, or lying still, the shooter is there to cause harm.”
The FBI study also found many incidents ended before police arrived on the scene. Of the 160 incidents recorded, 66 percent ended before police could engage the shooter, either because a citizen intervened, the shooter fled, or the shooter committed suicide or was killed by someone at the scene.
Jordan goes on to add that when law enforcement arrives, the officer’s top priority is to stop the killing immediately.
“When we come into a room, even if I know your face, I may not see your face because I’ve got more adrenalin going on knowing I’m going into a shooting, I may not know if the shooter is down or not,” Jordan rationalized. “I’m coming in to make sure I don’t get shot, my partner doesn’t get shot, or you don’t get shot, and I’m on a hunt for that bad guy because I don’t know who he is.”
“When the police arrive - follow commands, show your hands, and do not move,” he instructed. “Just make it clear that you’re not a threat because our first goal is to stop the killing, then stop the dying, and then evaluate the area.”
Following the police, Jordan mentioned medical procedures would quickly ensure the elimination of the threat.
As for the aftermath of the incident, Jordan warns against "naming the shooter."
“If we want to effectively stop these shootings, don’t give that shooter a name,” Jordan confirmed. “Take out that glory and don’t give them that infamy that they’re looking for. That guy was a bad shooter, don’t give them a name.”
Though Waxahachie’s crime rate remains low and active shooter incidences are uncommon, Jordan encourages the community to always be prepared and continue learning and practicing emergency protocols.
“Every community around is pretty safe with a pocket of incidences here and there,” Jordan recognized. “But by all means, Waxahachie has a risk just like any place does.”
“We do have a safe community as a whole, and we pray that that is never something that comes up that we have to address. But we want to be prepared and have our community be prepared as well if it did happen,” he concluded.
To learn more about responding to an active shooter, visit the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT)™ Program at Texas State University at avoiddenydefend.org
To connect with the Waxahachie Police Department, go to waxahachiepd.org or call the non-emergency number at (469)-309-4400, and for emergencies dial 911.
To get in touch with the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce for future events and opportunities, visit waxahachiechamber.com or call (972)-937-2390.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer