By Marci Narum
No one expects to be in a “lockdown” during a possible active shooter situation, much less see it happen in your own community, or watch it unfold live on social media with people you know. But the unexpected happened just a few short weeks ago, when Bismarck State College went into emergency lockdown for four-and-a-half hours on January 14th while authorities investigated the credible threat of a shooter on campus. It was a first for BSC, although the administration had trained its staff members on procedures to keep everyone safe.
Considering the times we live in, it makes sense that an institute of high learning would plan and prepare for an active shooter scenario. But how does the average person—you and I—respond in a situation like this? As we have seen countless times in cities across the country, it could happen anywhere.
Would you know what to do and what not to do?
We know the appropriate steps to take in the event of a fire or severe weather. But this new threat requires a new level of awareness, understanding, and training.
School Resource Officer Preston McKay coordinates school lockdown and active shooting training for Bismarck Public Schools, and has trained other agencies. He says the two worst things you can do during an active shooter situation is freeze or go into hysteria.
“During an active shooter situation you have three choices: avoid deny or defend. First, if you can, avoid the situation. If you are near an exit, get out immediately. Next, if you can’t escape, then get into a room where you can lock the doors and deny the active shooter entry. Basically get into a lockdown situation. Turn off the lights, lock the door and wait for officers. Finally, defend—if the only option is to fight off an attacker, you have the legal right to defend yourself. The only option might be kill or be killed. Go ‘mama bear’ on them.”
McKay adds, “Each situation is going to be different and this is not an order that you have to go in, but choices for you if you ever find yourself in one of these incidents.”
If it’s a lockdown situation—McKay says don’t open the door for anyone, even if someone announces, “Police!” He says the real authorities will find a way to get in. Stay away from windows. McKay says an active shooter is going to be looking for easy targets.
“I don’t know of anyone in an active shooter situation who has gotten into a locked or barricaded room.
In Virginia Tech, someone blocked the door with their foot. The shooter never got in. In the Sandy Hook massacre, the shooter got into a classroom that was not locked.”
McKay’s number one piece of advice in the event of a lockdown situation involves the number one thing you will likely reach for: your cell phone.
“Put your phone on silent and stay off your cell phone as much as possible so as not to crash the cell towers. Only use your phone if it is an emergency situation. Use text messages instead which won’t affect cell towers. We understand people are going to want information, but we are going to want those lines open for emergency responders.”
Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin urges you to not use your cell phone to post on social media while in a lockdown.
“They should not be using their Facebook page or Twitter to communicate where they are because although it’s unlikely, if the shooter knows them, is ‘friends’ or is ‘following’ them and they are posting their location, if they are a primary target of the shooter, then they’ll have that info. Again, highly unlikely a shooter is going to take the time to watch their phone while actively shooting people, but if they have a single target in mind, you never know. In any case, texting is much better than certainly ‘calling’ where a voice can be heard.”
Officer McKay says another reason to stay off your cell phone is to have your hands free to defend yourself, if necessary.
“Look around. There are everyday objects you can use to defend yourself—scissors, a computer, or there might be a vase. Anything can be used as a weapon. Think on your feet. What do I need to do to go home to my family tonight?
“Also when officers arrive to take individuals out of the area you are in you do not want anything in your hands that may be misconstrued as a weapon. When the time comes for officers to escort you out of the area follow all their commands, keep your hands free of any objects and above your head with your fingers spread, do not make any sudden movements and don’t stop to ask the officers questions. Know that until the officers can verify that you are not a suspect all precautions will be taken to insure the safety of the people in the area as well as the officers.”
McKay says the last thing he wants to do is foster fear, but he says nowadays, thinking about and preparing for an active shooter situation is a smart choice wherever you go—the mall, theater, or grocery store, for example. He says it’s no different than taking general safety and awareness precautions wherever you go.
He suggests playing “what-if” games. ‘What-if I have to avoid, deny, or defend while I am here? Where are the closest exits if I have to escape? If I can’t get to an exit, where can I hide safely? How am I going to defend myself if it comes to that?’
“We want the result to be that you come out alive and we get the bad guy.”
To request information about civilian response for Active Shooter Training, contact Officer Preston McKay at the Bismarck Police Department: 707-355-1928.