(TNS) - If the unthinkable happens, it’s best to have thought about it.
That, in essence, is the reason for offering workplace active-shooter training.
And with the number of mass shootings increasing in recent years across the country, a growing number of Chippewa Valley companies and organizations are pursuing such training for their employees.
“I absolutely think it’s a good idea,” said Kyle Roder, public relations officer for the Eau Claire Police Department. “The reality is these kinds of incidents could happen anywhere — at any school, church or business — and every organization should have a plan.”
While mass shootings and violent encounters at schools tend to generate the most attention, Roder cited an FBI report about U.S. active-shooter incidents from 2000 through 2016 that showed 43 percent occurred in locations of commerce, nearly double the rate in schools and four times that in government workplaces.
An organization called Disaster Ready Chippewa Valley hosted a seminar in May at Chippewa Valley Technical College focusing on what local companies and organizations can do to recognize, de-escalate and prevent active-shooter threats. It was the third active-shooter/?workplace violence session the organization has conducted since 2011, and all of them have attracted among the highest attendance of the semiannual emergency training seminars it conducts, said DRCV administrator Chris Straight.
“I think folks are concerned and rightly so,” Straight said.
At the latest seminar, Roder and Eric Anderson, CVTC’s director of criminal justice and law enforcement, discussed everything from situational awareness — being cognizant of surroundings, exits and people that seem out of place — to ways to respond if a gunman shows up at the office.
Christina Thrun, executive officer of the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association, joined the rest of her staff in attending and came away believing it will be helpful in planning for something she obviously hopes never happens and also for learning strategies that might help de-escalate a potentially violent situation.
“Given everything that’s happening now in the world and in our country, I think it’s really important that we’re prepared,” Thrun said. “We serve customers, and you never know when you might have a disgruntled customer.”
Ben Bella, safety and compliance coordinator for regional electric cooperatives in Eau Claire, Black River Falls, Arcadia and Tomah, went to the seminar in hopes of picking up new tips for reducing the risk of a workplace shooting incident.
Bella previously invited Anderson to do training at all of the co-ops in an attempt to be proactive regarding how to deal with potential internal or external threats. Employees are well aware of the increase in mass shootings and generally have been extremely appreciative of the opportunity for such training, he said.
UW-Eau Claire Police Chief David Sprick, who is certified in an active-shooter training program called ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), said he has trained more than 300 students, staff and faculty on campus and also has gotten positive feedback.
“For a topic that can be terrifying, people seem to get involved and take it seriously,” Sprick said.
Going through drills and hands-on scenarios is helpful because people are more likely to remember such experiences during a crisis, he said, adding that it gives people “kind of a file card in the brain’s Rolodex to go back to in the event of a similar type incident.”
Roder developed an active-shooter training program that he has presented to several area businesses and organizations but stressed there are numerous groups and individuals that offer similar training. The key, he said, is that plans be individualized for specific workplaces.
“Every organization should have a plan,” Roder said. “We don’t want people to be paranoid, but we do want them to plan ahead for something that may never happen, just like they do with fire and tornado drills.”
Anderson has been providing active-shooter training for companies through CVTC since about 2012, and he said demand is steadily increasing, with more requests after each horrific mass shooting. The college has provided this training to 15 organizations, including two public institutions, one church and 12 businesses — mostly manufacturers and financial institutions.
“I hear a concern for a threat coming into their space,” Anderson said. “They accept this doesn’t happen all the time and the chances are something like this will never happen at their workplace, but they’ve seen what could happen and they want to know what their staff should do given a situation like that.”
Many local trainers use some variation of the easy-to-remember “Run-Hide-Fight” protocol promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which calls for people faced with an active-shooter emergency to flee if possible, conceal themselves if they can’t get away and, as a last resort, fight back against the attacker with whatever tools are available.
“There is a lot of stuff in this training that people don’t necessarily want to talk about or think about, but you could find yourself in a situation where it might mean the difference between life and death,” said CVTC public safety manager William Henning, also a certified ALICE instructor.
An example, Henning said, is that the program teaches that hiding should really be more like barricading. That means knowing ways to lock doors or brace them shut and how to make it as difficult as possible for a shooter to enter a room.
The frightening nature of such scenarios really hits home when trainers discuss the possibility of taking physical countermeasures against someone armed with a gun.
“Anything around you could be used as a weapon if necessary,” Roder said, mentioning a scissors, pen or letter opener in an office setting.
“Maybe a laptop upside the head,” Anderson told folks attending the May seminar at CVTC.
To take a little of the mystery and fear out of being in the presence of a gun, Anderson brought a Glock 17 pistol and AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to the event and invited people to take a closer look. He even demonstrated what it looks like when someone reloads those firearms or attempts to fix a malfunction, possibly presenting an opportunity for trapped individuals to fight back.
“Knowledge is power,” he said.
Once things escalate to that desperate point, Anderson said, the goal is to distract, disorient or cause pain for the attacker — he advised people to target the eyes, ears, neck, throat, groin or joints if possible — until potential victims can escape or help arrives.
“Fighting is a last resort,” he emphasized. “It takes 100 percent commitment. You are fighting for your life.”
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