Our own Steven May shares his thoughts on active shooter training
Until recently I didn’t give much thought to the topic of “active shooter.” In truth, the idea of a lengthy conversation seemed unnecessary. It appeared an investment in a discussion that pertained to a rare occurrence in a retail environment. That is not to say that it isn’t important to ensure the safety of employees. Active Shootings, while tragic, don’t seem to have a preventable solution. And my belief was that training should mostly rely on common sense. In the event of a shooting, employees should run and or hide. My ideas on the topic changed, however, after I attended a training seminar at the New England Organized Retail Crime Symposium, presented by the various retail associations of the New England states.
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Common sense advice to “run and hide” is still the best approach. The training seminar confirmed what I had always believed. What did change for me was how difficult common sense becomes when a person is thrown into a terrifying and senseless situation. In fact, people react abnormally when faced with an abnormal situation. In short, abnormal response becomes the norm for these horrific events.
During the seminar we watched several videos of actual active shooter events. The violence was what one would expect and the perpetrator acted as one would expect them to act. The responses of the victims, however, surprised me. The videos bring home a terrifying truth. In extreme events, people don’t rise to their expectations, they fall to their training. The videos made this clear. People tried to defend themselves by putting their arms in front of their faces. People hid behind glass walls in plain sight. People froze or ran towards instead of away from the sound of gun fire. Common sense or what we assumed would be instinctual appeared to dissolve at the exact moment that these folks needed it most.
Often we make assumptions about “what we would do” in a particular situation. We are often confident that faced with an emergency or a crisis we will react with confidence or at least consistent with what we know is the best course of action. The truth is far less flattering. Fear, panic, adrenaline, these things created confusion and uncertainty. Even our bodies react unpredictably when flushed with adrenaline. The hormone boost may increase our strength, speed or tolerance to pain, but it also makes fine motor skills clumsy. Things like turning a door handle become a difficult task. Our fear also clouds our thinking. In that way we do fall back to instincts. But escaping and hiding aren’t just a matter of “run and hide” they require some thoughts and actions on “in which direction” to run and “where” does it make sense to hide. I saw first-hand in these videos that without a plan, often an individual will not have the time nor the ability to figure out the “which” or the “where” during a violent event. As I stated, abnormal responses are what we get in an extremely abnormal situation.
So I’ve revised my thoughts on active shooter training. Although such events are still statistically unlikely, “if” it occurs the difference between survival and death comes down to an individual’s “dominant response” at the time of the event. Our dominant response will be dictated by our training and our practice. When there is no time to think, a person needs to react by memory - they need to fall back to their training. Conversations about senseless violence are uncomfortable. It’s a topic we’d rather not think about and one we pray we never encounter. As leaders, however, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our employees. We have a duty to provide as much education as we can to ensure our employees have as many tools as available to protect themselves.
In the coming months, I’ve asked the members of my team at LPI to spend time researching, developing, and partnering with experts to create a training program for the retail industry. Our hopes are that such training will never be required and that no situation ever calls for the need for an employee to remember where they should run or how they should hide. But as is often said, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
Steven May, President