The balloon popped and the speaker asked the room a question that no one wants to hear.
“Shots have been fired,” he said. “What do you do?”
It was a hypothetical scenario, but one that may help save lives. As part of the talk “Developing a survival mindset: Preparing for an active shooter,” which was hosted by the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, a group of county businesspeople built awareness in planning for a life-or-death situation.
The presentation covered the Department of Homeland Security’s recommended strategies for dealing with an active shooter, including potential scenarios and getting attendees to think actively about what they would do should a shooting occur in the workplace.
Rick Capozzi, who speaks to organizations about preparing for such a situation, told those gathered in Hoag’s Celebration Hall that following basic guidelines can improve one’s chances of survival.
“In a scenario like this, even a simple little training program can get someone to the point where they know what to do rather than panicking,” he said.
When he popped the balloon, the room started. Then there was a pause. Reaction time, he said, can make the difference in getting out alive. Identifying makeshift barricades or ad-hoc weapons may be necessary. A fire extinguisher, for instance, is a ready-made self-defense tool.
It may be one resource involved in the “run, hide, fight” concept, a DHS-suggested plan for dealing with an active shooter scenario. It outlines the basics: Leave possessions behind, visualize potential escape routes and take others with you, but don’t stay if they refuse to leave. If escape is impossible, lock and barricade doors, turn off lights, silence cellphones. But call 911 as soon as possible.
Because oftentimes, when trapped in confined spaces, people react in ways that decrease their chances of survival. They freeze, Capozzi said, or may adopt a “survival of the fittest mindset,” which can make for clogged exits and chaos.
“It’s good to take a look and see what we can update,” said Dave Carson, who manages a retirement community. “It was a simple, basic, not to hard to digest.”
Cheryl Johnson, the executive director of the Private Industry Council of the Central Corridor, said fighting inaction was paramount, a point Capozzi stressed in the beginning of the talk.
“One of the most powerful parts is get some training so you think it through ahead of time, and you don’t just sit there,” Johnson said.
Having a protocol in place can save lives, Capozzi added. It’s not a situation that organizations like to think about, he said, but it’s one worth practicing.
“It’s a muscle memory thing,” he said. “If a school has a driver safety program, (the students) typically become a better driver. Even with something like a fire drill, we don’t think twice about doing it, but in the United States today, you’re actually more likely to face an active shooter than you are to be in a building fire.”
In 2014, there were 8,244 more deaths from assault with a firearm in the U.S. than there were fire-related deaths, according to data from the CDC and the U.S. Fire Administration. According to a 2014 FBI study, more than half of active shooter situations ended with the shooter committing suicide, fleeing or stopping the act of shooting. Seven out of 10 occurred in a commerce setting, while about a quarter occurred in an education setting.
“One of the keys is developing that survival mindset, that perspective that I’ve decided ahead of time that I’m going to live another day,” Capozzi said. “I’m going to do what I can to keep myself alive and keep others alive as well.”