I spent this morning in a training room with members of Maine's ASIS chapter (Security Director News is based in Yarmouth, Maine), where officers from the Saco Police Department were giving a presentation on planning & preparation for an active-shooter scenario.
The turnout was good. Approximately 27 security professionals from around southern Maine were able to attend, including security personnel from L.L. Bean, Fairchild Semiconductor and Southern Maine Medical Center.
Any discussion about active-shooter situations inevitably includes the Columbine tragedy of April 20, 1999. The event has informed all the preparation and training law enforcement and private security professionals now undertake to handle future active shooters.
Saco PD Deputy Chief Ray Demers offered one example of how Columbine changed law enforcement training. On the morning of the Columbine shooting, the high school's School Resource Officer, Neil Gardner, briefly exchanged gunfire with shooter Eric Harris outside the school. It was 11:24 a.m. At the time, Harris and Dylan Klebold had killed two people. After entering his clip at Gardner, Harris was able to enter the school. However, rather than pursue Harris, Gardner had been trained to disengage and wait for the SWAT team to show up. The first SWAT team didn't enter the school until 11:46 a.m., 22 minutes after Gardner's interaction with Harris. By that time, 13 people were dead.
Today, Gardner would not have disengaged. "That's the difference," Demers said. "He would have chased him to hell and back." Training now dictates that the primary goal in any active-shooter scenario is to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible.
This morning's seminar touched on many of the basic best practices for preparing an active-shooter response plan. Obviously, cooperating with local law enforcement beforehand is key, including sharing building plans, doing walk-throughs, discussing response plans, etc.
I asked Aarin Miles, a project manager for Securitas who handles security for a major Maine bank, as well as secretary of the Maine ASIS chapter, what he thought of the seminar. "The seminar reminded me how strange it is that in our current era of near immediate access to media stories relating to public shooting sprees as they occur and with the frequency that we hear of them, that so few businesses have yet to implement formal emergency plans," he said. "With the exception of some academic and health-related institutions, which either have seen these sort of events firsthand or have a responsibility for the safety of their patrons, the greater community seems to still suffer from the old assumption that something random or violent couldn't occur at their own facility."
One key point the Saco PD officers made was that shooters like Columbine's Harris and Klebold and Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho are unpredictable, rarely have an exit strategy and are focused primarily on killing as many people as possible.
In the event that an active shooter ever did enter your workplace, Sgt. Scott Sicard warned attendees to expect chaos. "You're going to be scared, it's loud and you don't know where the shooting is coming from," Sicard said.
In those situations, the best laid plans can fall apart. Though you can never be completely prepared for the tragedies that befell Columbine and Virginia Tech, preparation is still essential. "While no one can plan for every eventuality, being aware and putting some thought into how to mitigate the risk to your staff/students/visitors could be the difference between lives saved and lives lost," Miles said.
Thanks to the officers of the Saco Police Department for offering this free event that benefited the Maine chapter of ASIS International. Thanks, as well, to Lou McAuliffe, VP of security and facilities for Saco & Biddeford Savings Institute, for getting the ball rolling on the seminar and Jim Fraser, a fire fighter and EMT with the Cape Elizabeth Fire Department, for his help organizing the event.