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5 ways to prepare your community for active shooters

Conducting presentations for the community about preparing for emergencies is nothing new. Most police departments have been giving more or less the same presentation for years.

But in the wake of the Newtown elementary school shooting and the many gun-related threats in schools that followed, preparation for gun violence is on the minds of school administrators, personnel, and police departments more than ever.

Police Captain Tad Appleby of the Bullhead City, Arizona, Police Department has been giving such presentations several times a year for nearly 17 years, but in the past few weeks he’s had to increase the frequency of them. His most recent presentation was in January, where about 100 community members gathered at a local church to hear him speak.

Western Arizona Law Enforcement Agencies (WALEA) is a group of agencies that all participate in giving this presentation. Every agency from the Mexican border to the Utah border participate.

“I’m lucky to have my department, and WALEA. We work together, it’s a combined effort and we have the same overall goal,” Appleby said.

Advice for fellow departments

1.) Use powerful visual learning tools. The ‘Run Hide Fight’ video created by the Department of Homeland Security is a great resource to have somewhere in the middle of your presentation. It’s a great tool for getting the information out there, making it as easy as possible to understand.

Run Hide Fight

“‘Run Hide Fight’ encapsulates what we’ve been teaching. It’s well put-together — even the title is just very to the point,” Appleby said.

“The video caters to the individual mindset — if you don’t have the capabilities to fight, if you’re not the type of person who can hurt or kill someone else, then your  best option is to run, and that doesn’t mean set a record — it means create as much distance as you can between yourself and the threat. If you can’t run, you hide, and you become the world champion of hide and seek.”

2.) Be Straight with Your Community

Let them know a shooter situation like this can happen here, and it can happen to you. If they can mentally understand that, they can better prepare for the situation if and when it happens. 

“If they can react better, then they aren’t playing a victim, and police have more time to secure the situation. That can lead to fewer casualties, which is always the goal,” Appleby said. 

3.) De-fantasize Their Expectations

“It’s induced by Hollywood – people believe there’s a definitive gunshot sound. They don’t understand that guns sound differently behind and in front of the weapon. It will sound different coming from another room, or ricocheting off a wall,” Appleby said.  

“Denial creeps in. They hear gunshots and tell themselves it’s something else that made the noise.”

4.) Destruct Their Mindset on Who the Active Shooter Will Be

For example, Thomas Hamilton, the mass murderer responsible for killing 16 children and one adult in a Scottish school in 1996, looked like a librarian. 

“You can’t judge them by their looks, judge them by their content, by what they’re doing,” Appleby said. 

“React to the threat, not to the preconceptions.”

Appleby said officers need to remind their communities that there is no list of number one warning signals, or common traits that these people have.

“They aren’t Frankenstein, they’re real people. And they’re going to look like real people. They’re going to look like everybody else.”

5.) Hold Separate Drills for Police and Administration

“We’re very cautious when it comes to running drills,” Appleby said. “We give the public plenty of warning that that is what we’re doing, and we do it when there are as few people around as possible.”

The Bullhead City police do drills at schools after the school day has ended to avoid creating inadvertent panic.

“Our school district is very proactive about doing drills,” Appleby said. “We participate occasionally, but for the most part, they have their own drill for what happens in an active shooter incident, and we have ours. Once we can get those plans squared away, then we can start to collaborate.” 

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