A mentally disturbed man entered a South Florida high school and killed at least 17 people with an AR-15 rifle. Nikolas Cruz was expelled from the school for erratic and violent behavior and was reported to have an obsession with guns. Social media posts were also thought to be “disturbing”. At present, at least a dozen people are still in the hospital, some in critical condition.
The recent shootings in diverse settings greet Americans with tragic news on a regular basis. Schools, churches, concerts, and other public venues are now fair game for those with bad intentions. Armed not only with weapons but with a blueprint from previous incidents, gunmen identify soft targets more and more easily and are more “successful” in achieving their goal of creating mass casualties.
Mass shootings are considered to be something that happens elsewhere, not your home town. This time, however, the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High occurred just a few miles from our house. There’s no reason to believe your area is immune.
There is no place safe from the deranged, disgruntled, or politically-motivated. The number of vehicular attacks, bombings, and shootings 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 of late by active shooters occur at random. The increase in the sheer number of casualties, however, reveal a strategy that is being refined, and to deadly effect.
The selection of soft targets is becoming a science, and is leading to higher numbers of deaths and injuries. In the South Florida school shooting, for example, the gunman activated the fire alarm to make sure there would be a wealth of targets in the hall. To create confusion, he tossed smoke bombs (but prudently wore a gas mask).
If the ill-intentioned are now that much better at creating mayhem, it stands to reason that our society must become better at thwarting those intentions. Here are ways that would, in my opinion, decrease the number of shooter incidents and the deaths caused by them:
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 may just be a matter of hiring more trained personnel, but establishing 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.
Establish volunteer safety officers in rural areas and small towns where there may not be law enforcement and emergency medical personnel just around the corner. These persons should have training in security, firearms, and first aid for bleeding wounds. If there are volunteer fire departments, while not trained volunteer safety departments?
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.
Situational awareness also involves always having a plan of action when a threat occurs, even if it’s as simple as making a note of the nearest exit at a concert. Seems like common sense, but in these days of smartphone distractions, many are oblivious of their surroundings.
Learn how to stop bleeding in emergencies
Teach our citizens to avoid the natural paralysis that occurs in an unexpected event. This paralysis occurs as a result of “normalcy bias”, the tendency to discount risks because most days proceed in a certain standard manner; we assume that today will be the same.
By teaching simple courses of action such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” triad, the decision-making process may be more intuitive and more rapidly implemented. This is more effectively taught and ingrained at a young age.
Teach our students 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.
Identify persons of interest through their social media posts. Many active shooters are vocal about their intentions. You might be concerned about “big brother” monitoring our public conversations on Facebook and other sites, but you must answer this question: How many deaths are you willing to accept in your community due to a lack of vigilance?
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 apprehend and interrogate suspicious characters.
Simple kits can be effective in the hands of Good Samaritans
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.
Despite the above recommendations, our response as a nation has been to do little to correct the problem. I say that era must end. Let’s stop being “soft” targets. We must forsake the notion that shootings are just part and parcel of the New Normal, and begin the process by which we change our attitude and level of vigilance, not in isolated cases, but as a society.
You don’t have to be a Department of Homeland Security official to know that there are more active shooter events on the horizon. A prepared nation wouldn’t be invulnerable to attacks, but its citizens would have a better chance to survive them.
Joe Alton MD
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