More people in the US get training to handle shooters

A makeshift memorial to the 14 people killed by a terrorist couple in San Bernardino, California, earlier this month. As the number of mass shootings in the US rises, companies are training their staff in ways to fight back.
A makeshift memorial to the 14 people killed by a terrorist couple in San Bernardino, California, earlier this month. As the number of mass shootings in the US rises, companies are training their staff in ways to fight back.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

More people training to handle shooters at the workplace as such incidents in the US rise

WASHINGTON • A year of high-profile shooting rampages has led to nervous companies and organisations in the United States rushing to train their workers in how to react to a shooter at their workplace.

And instead of telling workers to lock down and shelter in place, as they have done for decades, they are teaching them to fight back if evacuating is not an option, reported the Washington Post this week.

The idea is for the employees to work as a team to disrupt and confuse the attackers, opening up a split second to take them down, the newspaper reported.

At NeighbourWorks America, a Washington DC affordable housing group, for example, a former Swat team officer guided workers through such an exercise - going after the attacker instead of hiding.

Mr Temony McNeil, 39, at 1.82m and 109kg, found himself grabbed by the neck by colleagues and overpowered by them. "They had me down," said the senior accounting manager who had been tapped to play the role of an active shooter in the exercise that took place just a day after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, earlier this month that left 14 people dead.

This new approach to the threat of active shooters has been gaining ground throughout the country, said the Post. This shift in response from passive to active, it said, has been endorsed and promoted by the Department of Homeland Security. It has recommended that workplaces of the federal government adopt a programme it helped develop - "Run, Hide, Fight".

The Post quoted Washington police chief Cathy Lanier as saying on TV programme 60 Minutes last month: "Your options are run, hide or fight. I always say, if you can get out, getting out's your first option, your best option. If you're in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it's the best option for saving lives before police can get there."

At the workplace where guns are often banned, employees can use items close at hand to overcome the attacker. At NeighbourWorks, almost three dozen workers were taught to throw things at a shooter - chairs, books, purses, pens, phones, anything - and swarm.

"If you can move him from offence to defence, you have changed the outcome of the event," Mr Greg Crane, a former Swat officer, was quoted by the Post as saying. His company, the Alice Training Institute, trained workers at NeighbourWorks as well as at Facebook and Apple. "He's thinking about what you are doing to him, not what he's doing to you. Mentally, he's going through a whole different process."

Apart from Ohio-based Alice, which started operations in 2001, more such outfits have sprung up in the past few years as mass shooting incidents have increased, with targets including moviegoers, schoolchildren, TV journalists and college students, the Post reported.

Some, like the Crisis Consultant Group in Richmond, are run by Iraq War veterans while others, including K17 Security in Maryland, are run by current or former police officers, said the paper.

While the idea of confronting a mass shooter can be startling to many people, security professionals are pushing this response because, for one thing, it works. According of a Federal Bureau of Investigation study of active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013, 13 per cent of these were stopped "after unarmed citizens safely and successfully restrained the shooter".

For another, there are not many other options as the police usually arrive after the attack is over. It is also hoped that this shift would be a deterrent to would-be attackers, who now face little resistance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline 'Throwing the book at your attacker'. Print Edition | Subscribe