County offers safety training

Seminar focuses on employee response to workplace violence

Run. Hide. Fight.

Those are the best means of survival if a heavily armed shooter bursts into your workplace, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the chief deputy for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

No one can outline a step-by-step plan for escape; the key is to consider all options and a tentative plan in place before disaster strikes, he told a group of 50 people gathered at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex Friday morning.

This week, Burkhart hosted a voluntary active shooter response seminar for county employees. Plans to offer the training came earlier this year after the sheriff’s department received several requests from county workers seeking guidance on how to be prepared.

The hope is that all of the county’s 300 employees will sit through the training, officials said. The sheriff’s department hopes to eventually couple the classroom-based lectures with active scenario drills.

The presentations given this week detailed the most effective ways to react to an emergency while discussing the commonality of mass shootings and the suspects who carry out those attacks.

The killings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, where 12 teens were murdered by two classmates, marked a drastic change in the way police and communities trained to handle active shooters, Burkhart said.

Students inside the school were told to stay put and hide under tables while the gunshots rang out through the building, Burkhart said. Outside the school, police were setting up a perimeter around the building as they’d been trained to do in any SWAT incident where a person has been threatened by a gun, he said. Nearly an hour passed before the first officer entered the building, he said.

Now, police know they need to enter a building under attack as quickly as possible, while those inside are encouraged to flee or barricade themselves in a place where the shooter cannot find them.

“Hiding under a table gives you nothing,” Burkhart said. “You just wait and sit and hope and pray that somebody doesn’t just see you and shoot you.”

Employees should know of all paths in and out of their workplace, as running away from the shooter is the primary way to stay safe. If emergency exits are blocked or could put someone in harm’s way, hiding might be the more appropriate option, Burkhart said.

“Seconds are going to matter in these situations,” he said. “Statistically, these situations only last 10 to 15 minutes. They are going to kill as many people as they can, and then they are going to kill themselves or be killed by police.”

Lock or barricade yourself inside a closet or office, he said. If a room is fairly large, has glass doors or windows, turn the lights off and hide somewhere you cannot be seen, Burkhart suggested.

But if the shooter is too close for you hid or run from, fight back, Burkhart said. Throw things at the shooter to distract them, creating an opportunity to then run away, he said.

Burkhart cautioned that once police arrive on the scene, their priority is to find and take down the shooter; officers cannot pause to help the wounded or answer questions from frightened victims, he said.

When police enter the room employees have hidden in, stay calm, put your hands up and move quickly and quietly out of the room and out of the building, Burkhart said. Do not stop to grab belongings or look for friends, he said.

There are also things employees can do prior to a shooting to prevent the incident from happening at their workplace, Burkhart said.

Because roughly half of mass shootings are usually conducted by someone familiar with the targeted location, monitor the behavior of customers or even fellow employees, he said. Contact law enforcement if an employee’s behavior gradually becomes more aggressive or if a suspicious person is frequently seen in the area. Officers would rather respond to a false alarm than to a disaster suspicious onlookers didn’t think to report ahead of time, he said.

Burkhart allowed those attending the lesson to ask questions about their specific office area and offered to visit those workplaces to give more detailed tips about where to escape or hide.

County auditor Robin Lowder and planning director Mike Dale both expressed concerned about the safety in the annex, where each of their offices are housed.

Lowder said she often thinks about the safest path out of the commissioner’s courtroom with its glass doorways, where many county meeting are conducted, sometimes attended by disgruntled residents. Dale, too, said he’s concerned about lack of security cameras within the building and means of alerting first-responders to a potential emergency.

Burkhart said he has discussed with county officials how to improve security within all county buildings. Metal detectors were recently installed at the local courthouse, and further improvements in other county-owned structures are planned, he said.

Judy Ann Wilson, who works in the county’s assessor’s office in the annex, attended a training Thursday morning and said afterward she though Burkhart’s message was powerful.

She’d assumed if an angry resident ever came into the office with a gun, she’d simply tuck beneath her desk and stay still until police arrived. Now she knows that’s not the best option, and she planned to return to her office and talk with colleagues about putting together a better plan.

“It’s scary, but you can’t deny the reality,” she said.

Workplace training

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department will visit any workplace in the county to conduct active-shooter crisis training.

Call 317-477-1147 for more information.

Stay safe

Law enforcement officials say these strategies could keep you safe if an active shooter is in your workplace:

Run — Always be aware of your surroundings and take note of the two nearest exits to any room you’re in. In an emergency, get out of the building as quickly as possible. Leave your belongings behind, and keep your hands visible. Do not stop to help the wounded.

Hide — If leaving the building is not an option, hide away from the shooter’s view. Block the entry to your hiding place with heavy furniture and lock the doors. Silence your cellphone and turn off all electronics and lights. This should give the shooter the impression that no one is in the room. Stay put until police come and evacuate the area.

Fight — As a last resort and only if your life is in imminent danger, try to attack the shooter. Throw things in the shooter’s direction to distract them, and look for an opportunity to run, tackle them or take their weapon.

Source: Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Homeland Security

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.