Active Shooter

Of the many workshops offered at this year’s Abilities Expo in L.A., surviving an active shooter was high on the roster

By Brittany Martin

With recent events such as the terror attack on Westminster Bridge in London and similar attacks and active-shooter incidents around the world and across the U.S., the topic of a workshop at the 2017 Los Angeles Abilities Expo was right on cue.

Mona Curry, Valley Bureau emergency manager for the Emergency Management Department for the City of Los Angeles, and Vance Taylor who works on accessibility issues for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), presented “Run, Hide, and Fight: Options for Surviving an Active Shooter,” at the expo, which took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California March 24-26.

Warning Signs

Curry’s department holds training sessions for people in the community to learn how to save themselves in active-shooter situations, regardless whether the events occur at work, school, a place of worship, at a movie theater or open spaces like a mall, parade or marathon.

“Every 2.9 or three months, we do see a situation, and now it’s even more frequent … but 62 percent of active shooters are stopped by civilians, which means you really can’t wait until law arrives to save you,” Curry said. “You have to know how to save yourself and get out of harm’s way so you would either run, hide or fight.”

Curry said incidents occur more frequently in big cities but can happen anywhere.

She said there have been times when some incidents could have possibly been prevented.

“Some of the people who committed those incidents were showing signs that they were headed in that direction … you have to be aware and pay attention to those things. So the first thing is prevention,” Curry said. “They can look like anyone, there’s no profile.”

Mona Curry speaks during the Abilities Expo-Los Angeles. (Photo by Brittany Martin).

Curry said people with an intent to harm others will go to great lengths to plan and practice their attacks, and others should be aware of behaviors that indicate they are about to carry out their plans.

“People who say they have empathy for others who commit crimes … or what if somebody’s sad or depressed for a long time and then all of a sudden they’re happy, what do you think that could mean? It could mean they’ve developed their plan and now they feel happy because they’re going to be executing their plan, and they’ll be vindicated soon for whatever injustice happened to them,” Curry said.

Know What To Do

The most important decision in an active-shooter situation, Curry said, is deciding to survive no matter what.

The best option in an emergency is to leave the area as quickly as possible, taking others with you if you can, or leaving them behind if they freeze up or refuse to go.

The second option is to hide in order to fool the shooter into thinking you’re not there. In that scenario, Curry said you should turn off any lights, silence your cellphone and look for a weapon.

“You’re not hiding to die, you’re hiding to get ready to fight or be rescued or be able to run if the shooter goes that way,” Curry said.

Fighting is the very last option when there’s no other choice.

“You have to be really violent when you do it, because you know you have to stop the shooter from coming after you,” Curry said. “So when you start to fight, you have to follow through with it and take it to the limit, and you would use anything … keep in mind almost anything can be a weapon. A power wheelchair, especially if it’s really heavy. Does an active shooter expect to be attacked with a wheelchair? No. So you’re going to surprise them, and you’re going to give yourself or someone else an opportunity to attack them while you’re distracting them with your wheelchair.”

When police arrive, Curry said not to approach them because they might mistake you for the shooter. Comply with commands and communicate verbally to the best of your ability.

For some people, the “run, hide, fight” actions are instinctual, while some have to learn and develop it over time and others will never get it because they’re in denial. One way to develop the necessary mindset to survive an active shooter, Curry said, is to visualize yourself in different scenarios.

“If I can’t run or escape, I’m going to start thinking about things I can get to protect myself if I have to fight,” Curry said. “When you go to the market tomorrow, I want you to think about, you’re in the aisle and visualize, ‘What would I do if I heard gunshots right now? Where would I go, which way would I run, where would I hide, what would I use as a weapon if I had to?’ ”

Lost Me At ‘Run’

Taylor, who was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease at age 7 and uses a power wheelchair, spoke about ways people with disabilities can incorporate “run, hide, fight.”

“When you watch the Run, Hide, Fight video, what you won’t see is anyone with a disability running, hiding or fighting,” Taylor said. “So the question came up, what are we supposed to do? And the way I posed the question was, ‘Run, hide, fight is great, but you lost me at run.’ So we pulled together a coalition.”

Ultimately, Cal OES developed an updated guidance document, Active Shooter Awareness Guidance, regarding access and functional needs considerations associated with an active shooter attack.

“When we talk about run, we had to really think about this one. What are we trying to say? Get away, evacuate, leave. Take off, don’t stick around,” Taylor said. “Whether it’s me in my wheelchair, someone on crutches or using another mobility device or an individual who’s running, we want people to leave the situation … don’t stick around, and say, ‘Hey, what’s that. Let me see what’s going to happen.’ Don’t pull out your phone, or anything like that. Just get out of there.”

For people who have a caretaker, it’s important to have a conversation about what assistance would be required in an active-shooter situation.

“If there are places you go to consistently, have a plan set up for those places,” Taylor said. “And if somebody’s not there that’s a trusted individual who knows my needs, how would I express that to someone else? I need you to open a door, I need you to move my hand. I have to be prepared to do that.”

An exit isn’t always available where or when it’s needed, so then hiding becomes the best option.

“We have to get a little creative. You might have to actually get out of your wheelchair, get out of a place that’s comfortable. You might have to be physically uncomfortable,” Taylor said. “You might need assistance. If you’re at work, you might have to tell a coworker, ‘I might need you to help shove me under a desk.’ If you’re at work and there’s an active shooter and you cannot evacuate, the best way to ensure your personal safety is to flip off the light and shut the door.”

When the only option is to fight, Taylor echoed Curry’s suggestion of finding the closest weapon, whether it’s a wheelchair, crutch or other durable medical equipment, as well as screaming.

“Get creative, and then get medieval,” Taylor said.

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