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An ‘active shooter’ in Marshall County...what would you do?

March 1, 2013

STATE POLICE, LOCAL AGENCIES GATHER TO DISCUSS, PLAN

According to presenters at an event last Thursday, chances are a mass shooter at a local school, business, or public place will already have departed, committed suicide, or been disarmed by a bystander before law enforcement agencies arrive at the scene -- in which case, civilians need to think ahead and plan, should the worst take place.

That was part of the message presented by the Indiana State Police Emergency Response Section during an event centered on helping local school officials and emergency response crews respond to an active shooter event of the type seen in recent years at Newtown, Connecticut and elsewhere.

Hosting was Culver Academies, which was represented by its safety and security director, Troy Heckaman as well as security officers, Facilities director Jeff Kutch, and leaders in the International and Summer Schools sections of the school. Marshall County sheriff Tom Chamberlin, Culver town marshal Wayne Bean, fire chief Terry Wakefield, and Culver Comm. High School principal Albert Hanselman and assistant elementary principal Erin Proskey were on hand as well. All were gathered at the Roberts Auditorium in the Academies' Roberts Hall of Science.

State Police Capt. Bob Rich, a Culver resident, began the event, noting that Doug Carter, the current (and 20th) superintendent, appointed by Gov. Pence, was also on hand, as was Dave Crawford of the FBI's South Bend and Fort Wayne offices, and State Police Capt. Brad Weaver, in charge of Special Operations. Rich noted Cory Collier of the State Police SWAT team, also present, had worked previously with the Academy in attending to the safety of the children of a foreign dignitary attending summer camp there.

Superintendent Carter told attendees of deep research he conducted just after the Columbine school shooting incident, even visiting the site.

"My world changed," he said, "seeing that memorial and what happened. If you're at any of the 27 or 28 (similar) incidents that occurred in our country, stop and see the environment. It's just like yours. The only difference is, it's in some other place. And now it's movie theaters, college universities, churches and synagogues, and private schools. It turns our stomachs to think about that reality, but now's the time. This cannot simply be a law enforcement issue.

"From today on," continued Carter, "I hope you understand the reality of what's facing us today; I know you don't want to."

He emphasized the importance of reporting anything believed to be suspicious to the authorities, pointing out one common denominator in every school shooting in America is the presence of warning signs not reported before the incident.

Carter also noted that, should a mass shooting incident happen here, law enforcement's initial efforts "won't be to assist you, but to go after the person creating carnage on the campus."

State Police SWAT officer Chris McQuerry pointed out the presenters couldn't give attendees what they often ask for in similar workshops: specific "what to do" instructions in response to an active shooter, since each scenario is unique. Instead, the intent is "setting ourselves up for success."

Fellow SWAT officer Shaun Armes described an increasingly common term, "the stopwatch of death," which pertains to the ratio of emergency response time to number of innocents killed or injured by a shooter. Most shooting incidents are over within 10 minutes of their beginning, he said, usually well before law enforcement agents are on-scene.

Armes asked the audience to pay particular attention to warning signs fitting common profiles of active shooters, including: an unexplained increase in absenteeism; a decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene; depression and withdrawal from others; repeated violation of the rules; mood swings; explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation; development of "everyone is against me" behavior; and suicidal talk or behavior. He emphasized, however, that not everyone displaying these traits is on the verge of committing a violent act.

"The 'everyone's against me' behavior scares me the most," added Armes, "because they feel they can't win and there's nothing to deter them from carrying out whatever act they've thought about."

He also challenged listeners to consider how well they know their students or co-workers and their families.

"You may be able to deter an act like this by pulling someone aside and asking, 'What's going on?' Open up communication."

While Armes stressed the need for institutions to develop a predetermined plan of action in the event of an active shooter, he also noted procedures and plans shouldn’t be cumbersome, or they won't be followed.

Armes quoted author Jeff Gonzales: "In a violent encounter, willingness to act is often more important than equipment and weaponry. Having a plan in place is key to survival."

"We're asking you to plan for this," said Armes.

McQuerry added that many people think mass shootings won't happen in their area, "but the chances are 50-50.

"Develop a lifestyle with a heightened sense of awareness of your surroundings," he said.

In addition to creating a plan and procedure, McQuerry pressed for institutions to test those procedures and look for complicating factors, such as Culver Academies' campus being more spread out than most high schools, and comprised of students of a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds.

McQuerry also showed a dramatized video of an active shooter incident which outlined priorities of response for those in its vicinity.

Getting out of the building as soon as possible is the first and best choice, he said, dialing 911 only after you are safe. If exiting proves impossible, the next best action is to find a place to hide, locking or barricading doors to prevent the shooter or attacker from entering. Turn out lights and silence cell phones while hiding, he added.

"If you have to fight," he said, "attempt to incapacitate the shooter; act with physical aggression, improvise weapons, and commit to your actions.

"We want to get your gears turning -- what would you do?"

Looking forward, McQuerry emphasized developing stronger relationships between those likely to respond to such a situation in this area: the Academies' campus security, the town marshal and Marshall County officers, the Plymouth police, and the Indiana State Police.

During discussion which followed, Kutch discussed trying to balance the culture of the Academies' open campus with safety and security.

"This is a right step," he added, referring to the event itself.

Armes praised town marshal Bean's emphasis on his department's willingness to work with all involved, and suggested local representatives follow up by meeting again and developing an evolving plan.

Sheriff Chamberlin, after echoing Bean's cooperative sentiment, added, "It's important that all emergency services work and train together for these type of incidents that are going to happen in our area at some point."

Principal Hanselman, noting he's also the school's safety specialist -- a position Indiana was the first state in the country to mandate, shortly after the Columbine shooting -- said he spends two days per year in training for the position. He requested that day's State Police program be presented at an upcoming school safety specialists' training event.

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