Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events

by Emanuel Kapelsohn

October’s LVCPO meeting featured a presentation of “CRASE,” a program for non-police developed by Texas State University’s Center for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.  Sponsored by Lesavoy Butz & Seitz LLC, the program was taught by that firm’s resident law enforcement training and use-of-force expert, Emanuel Kapelsohn, who is a CRASE-certified instructor.

Whether perpetrated at a school, office, movie theater, shopping mall or nightclub, “active shooter” events – perhaps more appropriately called rapid mass murder (“RMM”) events – have regrettably become all too common an occurrence.  Examples include Columbine High School (1999: 12 killed, 21 injured); Virginia Tech (2007: 32 killed, 17 wounded); Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (2012: 28 killed, 2 wounded); the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting (2012: 12 killed, 70 injured); San Bernardino (2015: 14 killed, 22 seriously injured); and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (2016: 49 killed, 53 wounded).

At the time of Columbine, police were trained to contain the incident and call for SWAT, as regular patrol officers were not believed to have the necessary training or equipment to engage an active shooter effectively. The problem soon became apparent:  while the SWAT team takes on average 40-60 minutes to deploy with its equipment on scene, RMM incidents are often over, from start to finish, in less than 10 minutes.

Following the obvious shortcomings of the police response at Columbine, police nationwide began training patrol officers to enter facilities where RMM’s were taking place in teams of 4 to 5 — that is, arriving officers would wait until there were four or five officers present before “going in.”  This evolved into more quickly-assembled teams of 2-3, and today many police departments are directing the first arriving officer to go in immediately.  But even when a single officer goes in alone, without waiting for backup, several minutes have typically elapsed between the start of the shooting and the first call to 911, several more minutes before the police arrive on scene (“police response time”), and more time still before an officer can enter a large, often multi-story building and find the shooter.

Ron Borsch, a police trainer, specializing in strategies to counter RMM events, grimly terms this issue the “Stopwatch of Death.”  While the killer in the 1966 Texas Tower incident made one murder attempt every 2 minutes, the Columbine incident involved 2.1 murder attempts per minute, and Virginia Tech 7.9 murder attempts per minute.  Given this reality, waiting for the police to arrive during a mass shooting is like waiting in a burning building for the fire trucks to appear.  Or, as the saying goes, “911:  When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

When a mass killer is rampaging through a public venue, “hiding and hoping” has, unfortunately, proven to be a poor strategy.  Instead, use the CRASE program’s recommended response, “Avoid-Deny-Defend.”  (The USDHS video, “Run-Hide-Fight,” available online, urges a similar response.)

AVOID:  Upon becoming aware that an RMM is occurring, immediately seek to AVOID the attacker by taking any safe path of escape.  Don’t stop to gather your belongings.  Encourage others to leave with you, but don’t linger if they won’t leave.  As soon as you can safely do so, call 911.

DENY:  If you cannot AVOID the attacker, take steps to DENY him access to you.  Lock and/or barricade doors between the attacker and you.  If you have locked yourself in a room, turn out the lights, silence your cell phone, and get behind large objects that will stop bullets.
DEFEND:  Be prepared to DEFEND yourself physically against the attacker.  Most workplaces have many objects that can be used effectively as weapons.  Scissors, staplers, tools, telephone handsets, and fire extinguishers are just a few examples.  Even without weapons other than their own hands, feet, elbows and knees, many intended victims have stopped active killers by overpowering and disarming them. A killer entering an office or classroom with several people in it has less chance if everyone attacks him at once than if they hide under their desks, waiting to be killed. Attack aggressively, commit to your actions, strike as hard as you can, and don’t stop until the attacker is incapacitated.  Your life and the lives of others will depend on it.

Whether to AVOID, DENY, or DEFEND, there is no substitute for having a plan in advance.  Know the exit routes in your workplace, and learn more than one exit in any building you enter.  At work, know which doors can be locked or barricaded.  Know what weapons are available.  The three steps – AVOID, DENY, DEFEND – are not necessarily linear. For instance, you and your co-workers may have a better opportunity to DEFEND at the outset of an attack, rather than attempting to AVOID the attacker or DENY him access to you.
Every school in the country, K-12, has fire drills required by law, even though no K-12 child has died in a school fire since 1950.  In that same period, hundreds of children and teachers have died in RMM incidents.  Clearly, denial of the problem isn’t an effective strategy, and “active shooter drills” that go beyond the simplistic “lockdowns” of schools and other public buildings must be considered.

You should also know what to expect when police arrive.  Police will enter with guns drawn, bypassing the injured to find and stop the killer as soon as possible. Police will not know whether you are a victim or an attacker, so keep your hands empty and visible, make no sudden movements that could appear threatening, and follow all police commands instantly and to the letter.

Remember:  Have a plan in advance, so if the unthinkable occurs, you won’t freeze in place, or make a futile attempt to “hide” under your desk.  Instead, be prepared to AVOID – DENY—and DEFEND!

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