Active Shooter Events

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Shootings in “Safe” areas

A 28-year-old gunman opened fire on a crowd, killing 11 patrons and a police sergeant, at a Thousand Oaks, California bar before dying of a possibly self-inflicted wound. The shooter, Ian David Long, was a former U.S. Marine who, according to authorities, may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Long, dressed in black with a scarf covering his face, threw smoke bombs and methodically fired into a crowd of people Wednesday night at the Borderline Bar & Grill. He arrived a little after 11 pm and began shooting employees and patrons at the country-western venue with a handgun. Witness say that the gunman was silent throughout the event.

(Aside: Before the event, Thousand Oaks, California was considered the third safest city in the state)

It should be clear to everyone that there is no place safe from the deranged, disgruntled, or politically-motivated. The number of vehicular attacks and shootings in the last few years indicate that these events have become part of the “New Normal”. Should we just get used to them?

You might think that the “successes” achieved by active shooters occur at random. I believe, however, that they reveal a developing strategy that is being refined to deadly effect. The recent shooting in California mirrored the nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, except that the California shooter was former military and used smoke bombs to create confusion. He surely would have caused more casualties if it hadn’t been for the rapid arrival (6 minutes), immediate action, and sacrifice by law enforcement.

As those with lethal intentions become better at identifying “soft” targets, it stands to reason that our society must become better at thwarting such intentions. In my opinion, there are ways that might decrease the number of shooting incidents and the deaths caused by them. Perhaps not all of the below might have worked in California, but here they are for your consideration:

  • Improve security in areas at risk. I would define an “area at risk” as just about anywhere where a crowd of people would gather. Better protection at malls and nightclubs may just be a matter of hiring more trained personnel, but establishing a plan of protection and training a safety team in other places, such as a church, school, or workplace, can increase the level of vigilance and identify threats early.
  • Instill a culture of situational awareness in our society. Situational awareness is a state of calm, relaxed observation of factors that might indicate a threat. These are called “anomalies”; learning to recognize them can identify suspicious individuals and save lives if citizens maintain vigilance and make note of something as simple as the where the nearest exit might be. This may seem like common sense to you, but in these days of smartphone distractions, many folks are oblivious of their surroundings. Add to that the natural paralysis that occurs in an unexpected event as a result of “normalcy bias”. Normalcy bias is the tendency to discount risks because most days proceed in a certain standard manner; we assume that today will be the same.
    Department of Homeland Security Triad
  • Teach courses of action such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” triad. This is a simple decision-making process that is intuitive and can be rapidly implemented. This is more effectively taught and ingrained at a young age. More on this strategy in special situations here.
  • Young people such as the victims of the California shooting should be taught simple first aid strategies to stop bleeding (the most likely cause of death in these scenarios). Rapid action by bystanders is thought to decrease the number of deaths from hemorrhage. Add “Reduce” hemorrhage to “Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic” as part of school curriculum, and lives might be saved.
  • Provide first aid kits for bleeding in public venues that can be accessed by those at the scene. With supplies, the Good Samaritan will be more likely to save a life. I predict that these kits will be fixtures on the wall next to the fire extinguisher in the uncertain future. Although you might consider it overkill, putting a tourniquet in your high school student’s backpack (and teaching them how to use it) may not be a bad idea.
  • Identify persons of interest through their social media posts and police records. Many active shooters are vocal about their intentions. Others signal a troubled nature with their behavior online or in real life. You might be concerned about “big brother” monitoring public conversations on Facebook and other sites, but you must answer this question: How many deaths are acceptable in your community due to lack of diligence? One? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand?Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” In the age of active shooters, is this still true?

We must always be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Even if this drives some potential gunmen underground, it might identify others in time to abort their mission. As such, each municipality must set a mechanism (and a trigger) for the authorities to identify and evaluate suspicious characters.

Let’s stop being “soft” targets. Forsake the notion that shootings are just part and parcel of the New Normal. We must begin the process by which we change our society’s attitude and level of vigilance.

There are more active shooter events on the horizon. A prepared nation wouldn’t be invulnerable to attacks, but its citizens might have a better chance to survive them.

Joe Alton MD

Joe Alton MD

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