Homeland Security and Public Safety

Active Shooter Workshop Teaches Communities to Win, not Survive

The University of California at Davis Police Department works to educate community organizations and members on how to react to an active shooter scenario.

The Shriners hospital in Sacramento, Calif., treats children with burns, spinal cord injuries and myriad other ailments unfortunate children are cursed with. But the environment is designed to be bright, colorful and friendly to put kids at ease. Those factors make it difficult to picture the hospital amid an active shooter scenario.

But that scenario is within the realm of possibilities and that’s why it was addressed in the form of an active shooter survival workshop, conducted recently by the University of California at Davis Police Department.

“Five years ago, none of us would have thought of this as part of our hospital emergency preparedness,” said Allan Johnson, who is in charge of emergency preparedness at Shriners. “But everyone’s awareness has been raised, these things have happened.”

More than 100 people, including Shriners staff, UC Davis staff and community members participated in the approximately 90-minute workshop in an auditorium setting. The workshop included video and demonstrations, which included weapons and simulation of an active shooter scenario.

“It was actually a very interesting presentation,” Johnson said. “The power of the presentation was that there were 100 people sitting in that room who now have the same mentality if something like this were to happen.”

There is no template for the active shooter response, but being aware of surroundings and having an idea of how to react are important keys to surviving. “The main takeaway was being prepared,” Johnson said. “We can plan all we want but it’s not the plan on paper but raised awareness and hopefully having a step or two in our heads that we can remember quickly.”

Not Surviving, Winning

When UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael talks about being prepared for an active shooter scenario, he talks of winning, not surviving. “This is self-defense 101,” said Carmichael, who’s been delivering the workshop for six years. “Self-defense is confidence, commitment and belief that you are going to be successful.”

Carmichael said success comes from taking action, which means some training and thinking about what to do before an incident occurs. During a shooting event, the action to take is escape if possible, hide if you can’t escape or fight if neither of the first two options is available.

The workshop teaches students that when they map out their new classes each fall or spring to find three escape routes in the area. That’s one of the lessons Carmichael provides on his tours of schools, universities and hospitals throughout the country.

“Everyone is good at going to work or class the same way every day,” Carmichael said. “Just for fun, walk three routes, build that memory, be aware of your surroundings and where you can escape to.”

The workshop describes the “butt theory” when running away. That means making a target of your rear end and shielding vital organs, if possible, Carmichael said. “Banking, getting low, moving, dodging and not being an easy target.”

Another strategy is to find a safe place to hide in case of such an emergency. If there is a safe place and running away is off the table, Carmichael suggests hiding quietly with the lights off, making sure to put any cellphones on vibrate. 

So how do you know when to run and when to hide? “If there’s a safe way for you to get out, you get out,” Carmichael said. “You run if it’s safe and hide if it’s not. It’s that simple.” But if someone is cornered or in close quarters with a gunman, going for the gun may be the only option.

The workshop teaches what to do before law enforcement gets to the scene and then how to respond when the cops show up. “Remember, law enforcement is not going to be there right away,” Carmichael said, acknowledging that these incidents usually only last minutes and the gunman often kills himself before police arrive.

Carmichael said that law enforcement has become better prepared for these incidents and has changed strategy from waiting the gunman out to going in immediately. But the public has been left out of the preparedness equation.

“We’re just reinforcing and sharing our experiences so we can help the community,” he said.

The workshops include demonstrations of weapons and what they sound like when being reloaded, which might provide an opportunity to run. And they include a U.S. Department of Homeland Security video on active shooters toward the end.

Carmichael advocates that every business, school, university, hospital, etc., connect with the local police department to develop a crime fighting strategy for an active shooter scenario.

“When we are invited to an area, our message is you have to go back to your local law enforcement and work with them,” Carmichael said. “Working with a private vendor is fine, but those aren’t the people who will come to help you when you’re in the middle of it.”

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.