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What should you do to confront a shooter? Police officer lays out latest methods for safety

By Laura Hayes

Posted 6/5/19

Who would have thought there would be a shooting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse? Or at a Las Vegas music festival? Or a Florida school board meeting?

Or, most recently, at a Virginia Beach …

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What should you do to confront a shooter? Police officer lays out latest methods for safety


Who would have thought there would be a shooting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse? Or at a Las Vegas music festival? Or a Florida school board meeting?

Or, most recently, at a Virginia Beach municipal building?

“Unfortunately, we have to start thinking about these things. We have to starting thinking, ‘What am I going to do if this does happen?’ I’d rather have you have a general idea than panic and not know what to do,” said Derry Township Police Sgt. Anthony Clements.

Clements led an active shooter safety seminar held by state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara, on Thursday at the Lower Swatara Fire Hall.

The event took place one day before a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Building. Reports say that alleged shooter DeWayne Craddock was a public utilities engineer with the Virginia city who had emailed his resignation hours before he shot 12 people. Four were injured. Police shot and killed Craddock.

“Active shooting cases are very similar to sexual assault in they’re both about power and control,” Clements said. Shooters want to control how it happens and ends, he explained. “A majority of these people when they go into a building and they pull that trigger for the first time, they realize they already know how it’s going to end whether it’s the police shoot them or they take their own lives.”

About 50 people attended Thursday’s seminar. Clements said although some of them were retired, he tried to make his presentation applicable to everyone.

“Schools and workplaces, workplaces especially, are the majority where these shootings occur,” he said.

Before the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, Clements said officers’ response to an active shooter was to surround the building and wait for a SWAT team. Now, officers are equipped with items such as rifles and bolt cutters to get into locked rooms.

Also, according to Clements, law enforcement now recommends a more proactive approach, including an enhanced lockdown. That means securing doors, forming barricades and countering the shooter instead of locking the door, hiding in a corner and waiting for police to respond.

High schools are often the most occupied building in a community, but in other communities, such as Hershey, Clements said the most occupied building could be an employer such as the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center or Hersheypark.

Clements holds several active shooter safety seminars a month at churches, schools, day-cares and businesses.

“When I first started getting into teaching the civilian end of it, this was a tough one for me. Don’t count on the police to rescue you before you get killed,” Clements said.

Clements referenced the ALICE Training program, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, which was started by a police officer after the Columbine shooting after he asked his wife, who was an elementary school principal, how they responded to active shooters.

Most places have alert and lockdown procedures, such as announcing that there is an active shooter in the building over the PA system.

He recalled leading a training in a church. The church, he said, used the codeword “hairy wolf” if there was an active shooter. Only three people out of the 200 present knew the codeword.

Use plain English when issuing an alert, he said. Make sure the information center where there may be a PA system or cameras is secure, and have specific staff members who would report to the room. If you have access to the PA system and know where the shooter is, announce it. Announce that police are on scene, even if they aren’t, Clements said, because it might shorten the shooter’s timeline.

Don’t assume that someone else has called the police. Call if you’re in a safe place, he said. Don’t pull the fire alarm, Clements said, because the fire alarm encourages people to go into the hall where the shooter might be.

If you know that the shooter isn’t in your area because of updates over the PA system, try to escape, even through windows. Have a pre-determined evacuation location. Drop whatever you have and run.

“There’s nothing worth dying for,” he said.

He encouraged an enhanced lockdown. Under an enhanced lockdown, the door is further secured, for example, by using a belt to keep the door arm shut.

Make a barricade against the door with anything and everything — don’t stack items neatly, but make it a tangled mess, he said. Even if the shooter is able to make it past the barricade, a barricade would slow him down, giving more time for police to respond.

What do you do if the shooter makes it past the barricade?

“It’s not a hostage situation. He’s not coming in there like on the TV shows, saying, ‘I’ve got 20 people in here, give me a plane to Cuba and $50,000.’ It’s an active shooter. His only goal when he gets through that door is to kill as many people that he can,” Clements said.

Distract the shooter. Scatter — it’s harder to hit a moving target, he said.

There were two items that he suggested as improvised weapons — a fire extinguisher and aerosol sprays such as Raid. Empty a fire extinguisher in the shooter’s face, which would lower the accuracy of his shots. Throw chairs at the shooter.

When exiting a building, hold your hands up, palms open.

“What we’re saying is we want people not to take a passive response. We want people to take a proactive response in the event of an active shooter,” Clements said.

Lower Swatara Police Chief Jeff Vargo, who was at the event, said officers are available to meet with employees or township residents to discuss active shooter training. The department’s non-emergency number is 717-558-6900.