Run, hide, fight: Police help you plan for an active shooter

Albemarle County police officer Steve Watson teaches a class on how to prepare for an active shooter. Photo by Ryan Jones Albemarle County police officer Steve Watson teaches a class on how to prepare for an active shooter. Photo by Ryan Jones

Just days after six people were killed in a weekend shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Albemarle Police Department and the Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management hosted an active shooter training session to encourage community members to plan for such an incident, though the odds are “one in a million,” presenting officer Steve Watson says.

“Time and time again, you hear people say, ‘I had no idea what to do,’” says Officer Andrew Gluba. “Research has shown that if someone has something to draw from, they’ll react. We’re trying to give them something to draw from.”

Sticking with the motto, “run, hide, fight,” Albemarle police say steps should be taken in that order, with fighting for your life the last alternative. If fighting an active shooter is the only option, Watson suggests turning any feasible object into a weapon to strike or throw at the shooter. “You’re on the front lines,” he says, adding that it’s incredibly important to keep a survival mindset during such an attack.

If hiding from an active shooter, try to lock yourself in a room or barricade a door with heavy objects, and never hide in a room without a door to lock or block, like a bathroom that a shooter could trap you in, or cubicles, which Watson calls “little death traps.” Keep your phone on silent, he suggests, and be as quiet as possible.

During a recent trip to a restaurant, Watson asked his wife to stand and leave the eatery through the exit she would take if an active shooter were to enter and open fire. Though she was annoyed, Watson says it’s a good strategy to practice, and people should always note at least two exits in every building they enter.

When escaping on foot, which is the best option, Watson says, “Don’t crawl. Run.”

“Quick decisions can mean the difference between life and death,” Watson adds. “It’s sad to say we’re living in those times.”

Active shooter incidents usually last about 10 to 15 minutes, according to Watson, and when police initially respond, don’t expect them to tend to the wounded. Emergency responders will follow and they’ll take care of those who have been injured. As police enter the building, don’t scream or make sudden movements, Watson says. Keep your hands empty and where police can see them. Don’t come out of a hiding place until police have identified themselves and said it’s safe to do so.

What’s most important, Watson and Gluba say, is to rehearse for such a situation.

Albemarle police help organizations such as retirement homes and faith-based communities review their emergency action plans, which Gluba says should include training for an active shooter situation. “Unfortunately the times have changed in our society,” he says, referring to the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Gluba also says school and airport shootings are becoming more prevalent.

Albemarle County schools are prepared to go into “lockdown mode” in an emergency situation, spokesperson Phil Giaramita says.

Classroom doors now lock from the inside and a protective coating on door windows makes it more difficult to break them. Each exterior door in county schools is now numbered so an emergency responder will know ahead of time which door he should enter to get to the area that needs assistance, according to Giaramita.

In Charlottesville, individual schools form teams to make crisis plans that are specific to their schools. Staff and students also have two lockdown drills each year, according to Jim Henderson, a city associate superintendent.