Ep. 03 Active Shooter Awareness - Part 1

Appalachian State University Emergency Planner and host, Debi Trivette welcomes Capt. Johnny Brown of the Appalachian Police Department for a discussion of active shooter situations and how people can be prepared.


Debi Trivette: Thank you very much for joining us today for our third podcast about emergency management at Appalachian State. I'm Debi Trivette, the Emergency Planner for App State and we have a special guest with us today Captain Johnny Brown with App State Police Department. We are very excited to have you today Captain Brown, thank you for joining us. Please tell us a little bit about your role as a captain in our police department.

Capt. Johnny Brown: Absolutely, my role is patrol so day to day operations, we also plan special events but keeping officers here 24/7 is my job and that is our role.

DT: Thank you very much for what you do. The title of our podcast today is "Active Shooter Awareness" and I'd like to give folks information on what we teach and what we suggest folks do if they are faced in such a situation. I know we teach run, hide, fight, can you elaborate a little bit?

JB: Yes, first of all let me start by saying Boone is a great place. Boone is a great place to live but Boone is not immune to anything. I feel like a lot of people that live in Boone think Boone is never going to happen here Ville, that active shooter is just a thing that happens in large cities or that they were related to some type of terrorist attack or it was a domestic issue. But the bottom line is Boone isn't immune to anything so an active shooter can happen anywhere that you are at. It can happen at your house, it could happen at a place of worship, it could happen on educational property. The number one place it happens is commercial properties-so, workplace.

There is an old saying that "we don't plan to fail, we just fail to plan" so having some type of a plan in place and being able to fall on that when something happens is extremely critical. Even if you are just going out with your family or friends, when you go into a restaurant or you go into a commercial building, take a moment and just pay attention to your surroundings and look for the commercial exit signs and just think what would I do if somebody walked through this door and I had to leave very quickly with my family or maybe even without my family, depending on the circumstances, because it may be best to send your family away and you try to take some type of action so that they have that moment to escape. But you know where that exit is at and you are not spending those critical seconds thinking where am I going to go and just kind of fight or flight, you just freeze up. Well if you freeze up, that situation can already be on top of you before you know what happened.

So, we talk about running first. We know the best thing you can do is put distance between yourself and the shooter.

If you can't run, then maybe your best option is to hide and by hiding, thinking is there a room that I can go into, can I barricade this door? Even taking some time to think about how you can barricade doors, so being familiar with your workplace, your school environment, and your house. Making sure doors are locked and secured because that is a physical barrier that someone would have to get past to be able to gain access to you or your family. So, hiding, turning the lights off, silencing your phones and being extremely still-the hiding part, and you need to call 911. Law enforcement isn't going to arrive until somebody makes that 911 call and I feel like it is kind of like a power outage-somebody always figures somebody else has already called. Well, you don't know that for sure and if you don't know that for sure, make the call. You don't have to be loud, just make the call and say there is a shooter in this building, this address, and just stay on the line with the dispatcher so you don't have to sit there and scream to try to tell them and give away your position if somebody was looking for you.

Then the last option, we talk about fighting. I can tell you that if somebody was going to take my life, they are going to have to earn it. I am not going to give my life to anybody. There is a book written by Dr. Gavin de Becker, I think the title is Fear Less, and he had a great quote in that book that said, "somebody could label you a target, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you are going to be a victim". I thought that was a very powerful statement that yeah, somebody could choose to come rob me, somebody could choose to come assault me, but it's up to me to decide whether I am going to be a victim of that crime. Being a victim doesn't mean that he robbed me, if they come and take my money, oh well, I get paid once a month (laugh) they better catch me the first of the month, but how am I going to live from that? Am I going to be scared forever to go outside now because I was a victim? Or am I going to think I did exactly what I needed to do to survive that? I gave them my money and I let them leave-no issues. So, the fighting part is just knowing that deep down inside you have the ability to defend yourself. Your body will want to resist somebody hurting you and just thinking what would I do if something happened in this environment, at this moment, how could I run, hide, or fight? Where are my exits? How can I hide? How can I barricade the doors? And last what could I use as a weapon to defend me? If somebody came through this door wanting to hurt me, I am going to make them earn it. I am going to fight them with everything that I have, and I am looking for weapons. There're weapons around us everywhere that we go-staplers, books, fire extinguishers, there are all kinds of things you could use as a weapon. Have that plan in place and you are more apt to fall on that.

DT: Absolutely, thank you very much for that. That is great information. My mind went back when you were talking about having a plan, my mind went back to when they were having a meeting for school safety at Watauga High School and they had a former FBI agent speaking there. He said something that has stuck with me. He said, "the body will not go where the mind has never been". You know, he was talking about training and thinking about it. People do not like to think about active shooter-it's scary, it's frightening, it's upsetting, and I know when I'm talking to the Building Emergency Teams and the departments across campus, some people they just can't stand it, they can't take it, they freak out, they can't take talking about that but it is so very important to think about what you would do if it did happen because that might save your life.

JB: Exactly.

DT: Going back to what you are saying about weapons, we are not trying to advocate violence but when it is your life or their life, we want our people to come out on top. Even little things like throwing a piece of paper or a small box, or a piece of chalk or something-that is not going to hurt somebody but that might buy you a second to take the gun and knock it down. Running is the best option but if you can't do that, I like to tell people hiding works especially if they're good at it. Because, an example is when Sandy Hook happened, the shooter went into that first classroom and he shot the teacher, he went to the second classroom and he shot all those kids and the teacher too. That first classroom was full of kids, she hid them, he didn't see them, he didn't shoot them. I think that most of the time, and I would like for you to elaborate a little on this, most of the time in an active shooter event, the person is after the more people they can get. So, if it's harder for them to get to you, then they are probably going to go to an easier target unless they are after somebody specific and they will hunt them down. Which is a little bit different, I guess, but is that usually the way it goes?

JB: So, the FBI studied active shooter events, for the last I think 15-20 years, to come up with statistics about what are active shooters and there is no norm for active shooters. You name it and they all have different goals of what they're wanting. But the number one thing they have in common is mass killing. So, they like people bunched up, they want lots of numbers together, they don't want to spend a lot of time trying to work through a door to get one person. They want to find that room that has 20 or 30 people in it.

And think about just something as simple as spending time to get through that door. Law enforcement is enroute if they have been called; if someone has made that 911 call, you have police officers coming to help you. Our goal is to take the threat away from you. We want that person to focus on us now. We want to force their hand. Either they are going to run or fight us. Once we get in the building we're trying to identify where that is at so that we can quickly get there and basically take the shooter's attention away from the innocent and put it back on us. So, absolutely, hiding is a great option, fighting is a great option.

You talked about that some people haven't prepared for an event like this in their mind and I do think that is a very true statement because the people that don't want to think about it, their body is not ready for that event. I had a doctor once tell me that "have you ever had a dream that you are trying to fight somebody, and your punch doesn't land or as you are running away from someone, it feels like you are in slow motion? Whatever you are trying to do does not work ever if you try to hit the person, it does not hurt them" and he said that "that's your body telling you that you are not ready for that event to happen and that you have to get your body ready for that event. He said that "you have got to go train, take a martial arts class, go run, start running more, be more active, because your body is basically telling you that that event you are dreaming of you are not ready for it to happen." I have these dreams, I have these dreams all the time, I'm chasing somebody, and I can't catch them. I had the dream that I am in a fight with somebody and I could not hurt them no matter what I did. As soon as I heard him talk about this, you start training a little bit, the dreams go away-you don't have them again. If you start having them again, then start training harder, work your body more and at least for me they went away.

You mentioned throwing things at somebody when they come through the door so let's just visualize for a minute that we're sitting in a classroom and we hear what we think are gunshots. What is the first thing we are going to do? We're instantly going to have fight or flight and the number one thing I would say is if you think it is a gunshot, treat it like it is a gunshot. Don't assume that it was a firework, don't assume that it was something dropping, maybe you don't need to open up the door and peek down the hallway to see what it was. That sounded like a gunshot so let's treat it like a gunshot. So, let's lock this door, let's barricade door, somebody call 911 and tell them where you are at and that you think you heard a gunshot. There is nothing wrong with that what-so-ever; it's going to trigger a big response, but we would rather get there and realize it's not a gunshot then to think oh well I'm sure it wasn't a gunshot, we're not going to call law enforcement out to this.

So, now you've locked yourself in the room so you have out of that room, I would say more than half are in true fight or flight mode right now-they have not planned for this event to happen. But let's say five people, just five people in that room, have planned for this event to happen. Those five people can help steer that conversation a little bit—okay, this is what we are going to do if somebody comes through that door, I'm going to hit them with this chair. I want everybody else in this room to throw something at them. What does throwing something, even if it was a book, what does that do to somebody? There was a Vietnam pilot that won lots and lots of dog fights in the air and they ask him how he was able to win all of those fights and he talked about something that he called the OODA loop. And what the OODA loop is Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. He said if he could do that faster than his enemy then he always won the fight. So, he observed what was going on, he would orient to that, make a decision, and quickly act on it. So, if a suspect or an active shooter walks into your room, and a book is thrown at them, he's already oriented himself to you. Well, now he's looking at this book, so now he's starting that process all over again. Now he is orienting to this object flying at him and he has to make an observation about that and then make a decision on is he going to put his hands up to block it or is he going to step to the side, but it's disrupted his thought process. So, once it's disrupted, now the edge is back to the people in the room and everyone of us have reflexes so if somebody throws something at you, you usually don't have time to think what is that object coming at me; is that a piece of foam or is that a piece of concrete, is that really going to hurt me, how quickly is it coming through the air, what's the drop on it? Most of us will just quickly turn our head-we naturally want to protect our face we don't really care if we get hit anywhere else, but we want to protect our face. So, if that happened and there are people stacked on the door ready to jump on this person when they come in the room, then you could maybe get the upper hand. With that being said, that doesn't mean that somebody's not going to get hurt but the chances of you winning this fight increase greatly. Somebody could get hurt but I guarantee you that if you sit in that room and you do nothing, and you allow a gunman to control that space, a lot of people are going to get hurt. So, that comes back to make them earn it.

DT: And I like what I heard you say previously at another training that just because you get shot doesn't mean you're dead. So, fight and no matter what don't give up is so important. Another thing I want to go back to is when you were talking about it was so important to call, make that call. The campus Active Shooter Exercise we did in May of 2017, it was like six and a half minutes before the first call went to dispatch and what is it two to two and a half minutes for a response time?

JB: Yeah, if not sooner.

DT: So, you are looking at maybe nine minutes of somebody shooting at you.

JB: That is a long time.

DT: They thought somebody else made that call like you said so it is so important to do that and I want to tell you that there is also a way folks can text in if it's too dangerous for them to call or have that noise. If you will go to emergency.appstate.edu, we have a safety app called Rave Guardian and the information for downloading the safety app, below that is information where you can text straight into App State Police.

Thank you so much, Captain Brown, for joining us today, we're about out of time but we might do an episode II on Active Shooter Awareness because I'd like to talk a little bit further about this. And please join us next month for our next episode. In the meantime, if you would like more emergency information, please go to emergency.appstate.edu and you can email any questions to safety@appstate.edu. Thank you very much.