Neighborhood Watch Volunteers

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As a volunteer-based organization Neighborhood Watch leaders must understand the foundational concepts of volunteer management.  Unlike other organizations with paid employees where an employer/employee relationship helps to make the organization run effectively Neighborhood Watch leaders must understand how to recruit, motivate and lead their volunteers to ensure success of group efforts.

The basic steps involved in volunteer management are Volunteer Recruitment; Leadership and Team Building; and Volunteer Recognition. All of these steps are vital to the success of your volunteer program and are discussed on the following pages. Within the discussion of these steps, topics such as communication and conflict resolution are also highlighted. First, let’s look at volunteer recruitment.

1.      Volunteer Recruitment

There are two types of volunteer recruitment: focused recruitment and wide net recruitment.

Focused recruitment is the recruitment of members with specific skills. Focused recruitment is used when you have a position that is not suitable for just anyone, but calls for someone with specific skills, commitment, characteristics, or traits. You can conduct focused recruitment by sending a message to a few skilled individuals rather than broadcasting your message to the entire neighborhood.

When using the focused approach, you zero in on finding an individual with the needed skills. An example would be recruiting a person with computer expertise for a position requiring technology skills. When using this approach, you might use a flyer listing specific needs, or recruit through word-of-mouth.

Wide net recruitment is the recruitment of members for positions that can be filled by almost anyone because no special skills are required. Some common wide net recruitment approaches are:

As you begin recruiting members, you will need to use the type of recruitment most appropriate for the positions you need to fill.

Let’s take a look at some typical Neighborhood Watch positions: Area Watch Coordinator, Block Captain, and Member. Which type of recruitment would you use with each position, and why? Is it possible to use both types?

Responsibilities: Law Enforcement Liaison

The Law Enforcement Liaison is the link between law enforcement and citizens. The liaison provides the following services to citizens:

  • Offers training and information on topics of interest or concern to members
  • Provides guidance, support and motivation to Neighborhood
  • Watch groups
  • Provides technical assistance

 Responsibilities: Area Coordinator

The Area Coordinator is a citizen volunteer position. The Coordinator responsibilities include:

  • Serve as liaison between members, law enforcement, civic groups and block captain
  • Arrange neighborhood crime prevention training
  • Obtain and distribute crime prevention materials
  • Involve others in specific crime prevention projects

 Responsibilities: Block Captain

The Block Captain is also a citizen volunteer position. He or she:

  • Serves as spokesperson for the group
  • Organizes meetings
  • Maintains a list of participants
  • Arranges training programs
  • Designates work assignments
  • Distributes materials
  • Acts as liaison between group members and law enforcement

 Responsibilities: Watch Members

The last position we will look at is the watch member. Watch members are responsible for the following:

  • Attend meetings
  • Report suspicious or criminal activity
  • Help recruit new members
  • Practice safety measures at home and in community
  • Support captain and other leaders in their roles

 

 

Does your child know how to survive a school shooting?

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Statistically schools might still be some of the safest places in the country and yet when the news flashes the scenes of yet another school shooting parents and grandparents cringe in horror. As we watch scenes of chaos, children running, heavily armed police entering the school and children wounded or dying we can’t help but wonder does my precious little one know how to survive a school shooting? Since the first spate of school shootings in the late 1990’s, (Jonesboro, Pearl, Paducah and Columbine), schools have had an opportunity to prepare their students how to respond to these violent attacks. But beyond practicing lockdown drills what have they really taught our children about surviving an active shooter incident such as Virginia Tech?

Unfortunately, the answer is very little.  Teachers receive a minimal amount of instruction, some as little as fifteen minutes, during annual in-service training and most of that revolves around how to lock their doors and wait for the police.   Even more disconcerting is that other than practicing their drills once or twice a semester most students receive no training at all.

Should they run, hide or fight and under what circumstances should they take any action at all?  A lockdown procedure is a valuable and proven tool to deter offenders but what if their door is breached such as in Newtown or they are left exposed in an open gym or cafeteria like at Columbine?

While conducting research of both the actions taken, and decisions made, by actual victims of these horrific events some obvious commonalities emerged.

Beginning with the basics of  how to safely exit, through the need to find cover or conceal oneself from the offender, and finally to the last resort effort of engagement, any student can learn in an age appropriate manner the following six-step ESCAPE Model.

EXIT

SEEK COVER

  • SEEK COVER BEHIND OR UNDER ITEMS WHICH WILL STOP BULLETS

CONCEAL Yourself

  • HIDE FROM THE OFFENDER(S)
  • HIDING IN AN OPEN AREA UNDER TABLES AND CHAIRS IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
  • BE CREATIVE IN FINDING PLACES TO HIDE
  • REMAIN HIDDEN UNTIL RESCUED BY POLICE

ASSESS all alternatives;

  • OFFENDER
  • VICTIM
  • ENVIRONMENT

PRESENT a small target;

  • STAY LOW
  • CRAWL OR RUN IN A CROUCHED POSITION

ENGAGE

  • ENGAGE ONLY AS A LAST RESORT
  • ENGAGE WITH MULTIPLE INDIVIDUALS IF POSSIBLE

Although no training model can guarantee your child’s safety having the knowledge and practicing the skills needed can provide your precious loved one an increased chance of survival.

John Matthews is the executive director of the Community Safety Institute. He is the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival , School Safety 101 and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

 

30 Seconds to Surviving a Mass Shooting

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A common reaction by individuals involved in a mass shooting is to hesitate, to disregard the sounds of gunshots or explosions as “it must be something else, a shooting could never happen here.” Don’t be fooled … mass shootings have occurred in workplaces, schools, churches, parking lots and other public places. When your life could be at stake, you must act quickly and always assume the worst.  If you think you hear gunshots, immediately exit the area - don’t wait for someone to tell you to run.  What is the worst consequence of being wrong - a little embarrassment?  But if you’re right, you can stay alive. The single best action you can take during a mass shooting is to exit the area as fast as you can and go as far away from the scene as possible.  But don’t just run. Be smart.  If the shooting is inside, take an outside exit away from the sounds of gunfire.  Once outside, move as quickly as you can.  If you come under fire, run in a zig-zag pattern, in short bursts of 2 -3 seconds if possible, taking cover behind cars or trees as you keep moving away.  Cars, buildings, thick trees, even drainage ditches or concrete curbs can provide cover in an emergency.

If you are inside or in a location where you cannot safely exit the area, seek cover as soon as possible. Look for building support beams made of concrete or steel, commercial copiers, freezers, or concrete or brick walls -- anything that will provide cover by stopping a bullet.

If you are given the order to shelter-in-place, do so immediately. Do not leave your location until rescued by first responders, even if you believe the attack has stopped.  Mass shooters often commence their attack, then pause to reload or go outside to secure more weapons or ammunition, then return to continue their killing spree. Even in small buildings, clearing an area of an armed gunman can take law enforcement officers hours, so do not leave your safe location until rescued by police.

If exiting the area or finding protective cover are not options for you, then consider finding the nearest place to hide or, as referred to in Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, seek concealment. Locate anywhere out of the shooter’s line of site.  In a movie theater this may mean simply dropping down in between rows of seats. In a warehouse, it could mean hiding behind a pallet of boxes.  Office personnel can seek refuge in closets, cabinets or behind partitions. The key to concealment is that it must be out of the shooter’s line of sight.  Individuals who have hidden under office desks or under cafeteria tables but in the path of the shooter have not fared well.

If you are in a crowd of people and being shot at and you have no way to exit, seek cover or find concealment. Even falling to the floor and playing dead has worked on numerous occasions.

The key to surviving a mass shooting is to quickly recognize the threat and safely exit the location.  If exiting is not possible, seek cover to protect yourself from bullets, or concealment out of the shooter’s line of sight. Remember -- always stay sheltered-in-place until rescued by first responders.

 

using cover for protection from bullets

Hiding when cover is not available

About the author: John Matthews is a highly decorated, thirty-year law enforcement veteran and public safety consultant who has developed scores of federal law enforcement initiatives.  He is a recipient of a Texas Press Association award for column writing, the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a firsthand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

School Evacuations and Reunion Sites

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The following section is excerpted from School Safety 101 and describes the two most common types of school evacuation drills and the characteristics of a typical reunion site.  School evacuations and reunion sites should be detailed in the school crisis response plan and utilized in each campuses school safety drill program.  The Community Safety Institute recommends that schools practice an off-site evacuation drill once a year and on-site drills at least once per semester. EvacuationAn evacuation is necessary when imminent danger requires a move to a safer location.

  • On-site evacuation is when persons are removed from school to a safe location on the premises or nearby property.  The most common on-site evacuation is a fire drill where students are directed to leave the building and assemble at safe locations on or near the campus.  On-site evacuations involve moving students to within walking distance and most often remaining on campus.

Off-site evacuation occurs when persons are removed from the school to a remote safe location such as a primary evacuation site or directly to the reunion site.  An off-site evacuation usually requires transportation.

    • Primary Evacuation Site is a location used to secure individuals from potential harm.  The primary evacuation site may also be the reunion site if students are transported to the location; however, is at most schools a primary evacuation site is located within walking distance and utilized as a staging ground until students are transported to the designated Reunion Site.
    • Secondary Evacuation Site is an alternate location used to secure individuals and minimize harm.  This site can be on or off campus, and may be utilized until students are transported to the designated Reunion Site.
    • The Reunion Site is the secure physical location or place where students and their parents/guardians are reunited after an off-site evacuation has occurred.  This is the location to which students are transported, and the only place where students can be released to their parents/guardians after showing an official form of identification and completing a release form.

One important distinction between an evacuation site and a reunion site is that often evacuation sites are not publicized for fear of secondary attacks against school officials or students, but reunion sites are always made public. One reason for this difference is that school districts that coordinate with their local law enforcement agencies already have identified the reunion site, and as soon as an off-site evacuation is ordered, emergency responders will secure the reunion site and begin establishing perimeters to control all access to and from the site.

As part of their community or parent outreach programs, school districts typically work with their local media outlets to ensure that parents and guardians are aware of reunion sites and of the policies and procedures in the student checkout process.  Many districts send home information at the beginning of the school year, while others may use e-mails, phone trees or the district’s website to keep parents informed of the status of the incident and when and where to claim students. They may also provide important information such as the procedure to expect at the reunion site prior to releasing students to parents. Often school districts will require one or more forms of identification and that the parent or guardian who is claiming the child be listed on the student’s emergency contact sheet as having permission to take the child.

For school districts which have not yet designated a reunion site or are seeking another location, some characteristics to consider include:

Secure facility

  • Ample parking to accommodate buses, parents’ vehicles, and emergency vehicles
  • Ample space to house all students and staff
  • Area to properly out-process students
  • Appropriate communications capabilities

School Safety Book Cover

 

School Threat Assessments

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Unfortunately, conducting school threat assessments of potential offenders is becoming more commonplace. In School Safety 101, the following information for threat assessment team members assists them in determining both the type of threat and the level of concern.  Both of these elements are necessary in order to make an informed decision regarding school and/or law enforcement response.

The Four Types of Threats

There are four types of threats: direct, indirect, veiled, and conditional.

A direct threat identifies a specific act against a specific target and is delivered in a straight-forward, clear, and explicit manner. An indirect threat tends to be vague, unclear, and ambiguous. While violence is implied, the threat may be phrased tentatively. A veiled threat is one that hints at a possible violent act, but leaves it to the potential victim to interpret the message. It does not explicitly threaten violence. Last, a conditional threat is one typically seen in extortion cases.  It warns that a violent act will happen unless certain demands or terms are (or are not) met.

Assessing Threats

      In the next section, our attention turns to the actual concerns and factors involved in the threat assessment process.

Threat Assessment Concerns

When conducting a threat assessment, the Threat Assessment Team considers both concerns and factors to determine how to classify the threat and most appropriately respond. Concerns include:

Credibility – what is the credibility of the reporting person?

Seriousness – how serious would the consequences be if the threat was carried out?

Resources – what resources would the perpetrator need to carry out the threat?

Intent – what is the intent of the threatener?

Motivation – what is the motivation of the threatener?

Threat Assessment Factors

Four types of  school threat assessments factors are:

Plausible Details - includes identity of victim; reason for threat; the means, weapons, and method by which it will be carried out; date, time, place, and information about plans or preparations already made (Ex: details that are specific such as “I built a bomb using stuff in my garage and it’s going to explode during lunchtime.”)

Specific Details - indicate substantial thought, planning, and preparatory steps taken, suggesting higher level of risk that threatener will follow through with threat. (Ex: Student tells teacher that he has been following her, and that tomorrow when she goes to the parking lot to eat lunch and read her book in the car he will shoot her with a gun he borrowed from his older brother).

Emotional content - watch for melodramatic words, unusual punctuation, or incoherent passages referring to God or an ultimatum. (Ex: “I hate you! You have destroyed my life! God will punish you!”)

Precipitating factors - incidents, circumstances, or reactions that can trigger threat.  (Ex:  Before leaving for school, student has a fight with his mother, which  sets off emotional chain that leads to threat).

Primary Threat Concerns

When evaluating a threat, the two primary concerns are:

How credible and serious is the threat itself?

To what extent does the person making the threat appear to have the resources, intent, and motivation to carry out the threat?

Plausible Details

  • The identity of the victim(s)
  • Reason for the threat
  • Means, weapon, and method
  • Date, time and place
  • Plans or preparations already made

Some possible plausible details that the Threat Assessment Team should be aware of may include dates, times, specific places, general locations, weapons, practice drills, training, specific preparations, etc.

Specific Details

  • Substantial thought
  • Planning
  • Preparatory steps

Specific details may include what steps have been taken to prepare, including the securing of weapons, practice with weapons, and recruitment of others.

Emotional Content

  • Melodramatic words
  • Unusual punctuation
  • Incoherent passages referring to God
  • Ultimatum

Threats with emotional content that should be considered by the Threat Assessment Team may be phrased like: “God will get you for this” or “You have ruined my entire life!  It’s over now and you will pay!”

Precipitating Factors

  • Incidents
  • Circumstances
  • Reactions
  • Situations

Examples of precipitating factors may include: failing grade or failed tests, parent job loss, divorce in family, etc.

 

 

Successful Tactics to Survive a Mass Shooting

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An examination of successful tactics to survive a mass shooting by individuals who have survived these horrific incidents reveals that:

  • Locked or barricaded doors can slow or stop offenders; and
  • Playing dead (whether actually wounded or not) can save your life.

Both of these tactics are highlighted in Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival and have been successfully employed by victims during mass shootings or active shooter incidents.

1. Locked/barricaded doors can slow or stop offenders

On multiple occasions, especially in schools and workplaces, locking or barricading doors has proven to be a highly successful tactic. If you have an opportunity to lock the door with the offender on the outside, do so immediately.  If you do not feel that the lock will stop the shooter and you can safely move to barricade the door with chairs, tables, couches or other furniture, then do so.

You may be able to topple file cabinets (even if heavy) or other large items in order to impede the shooter’s path toward you. Often these obstructions will also serve as either cover or concealment and may frustrate the shooter in his attempt to enter so that he moves on to easier targets.

     Remember, mass shootings are usually not prolonged events.  They often take less than 12 minutes, so the offender usually does not have (or take) the time to shoot open a door and knock down a barricade to make entry.  Reports from survivors often recount how the shooter tried the lock or pushed on the door, but when unable to gain entry simply moved on, sparing the occupants inside. This is one of the main reasons school districts throughout the country practice lockdown procedures, and why corporations should implement these same successful tactics.

2. Playing dead has worked on a number of occasions

From the case analyses, I was surprised to discover that playing dead provided an extremely high survival chance during a shooting incident, regardless of whether the victims were previously injured or not. Upon closer analysis of these events I realized there is more than reasonable logic behind such a finding: during a mass shooting incident, especially when the shooter has a large number of targets (people) from which to choose, playing dead draws the least attention from the shooter.

Often shooters appear to be on a “mission” to kill as many people as possible.  If they believe they have already fatally wounded their targets, they may simply keep moving on to other victims instead of ensuring those already shot are dead.

Similar in nature to a locked door which slows down the attacker, most shooters move quickly through a location and do not take the time to check on each and every victim.  The possible exception to this might be if the shooter had a specific target or primary victim(s) in mind, such a student who bullied them or a boss who fired them, and they wanted to ensure that their attack had been successfully concluded.

It is important to note there appears to be no unified explanation as to why certain people decided to play dead. Some did it as a result of extreme fear, some did it because they were badly injured or immobilized, and some did it as a conscious strategy to stay alive.

 

Mass Shootings is John Matthews' most recent book and focuses on the information and techniques one needs to know in case they find themselves in a mass shooting scenario.

Safety in the Community

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Community safety is not the sole responsibility of the men and women in blue but rather a duty that is incumbent on all of us. As a law enforcement officer and Executive Director of the Community Safety Institute I have had the great fortune of being able to travel all throughout this great country of ours.  I’ve been to the largest cities and the smallest communities and although we are as diverse as one might expect when it comes to community safety it amazes me how similar we really are.  Across the country citizens just like you all want the same thing.  We want to be safe and secure in our homes and our neighborhoods.

Allow me to share with you my formula for community safety.  It is simple, successful and user friendly.

Proactive Law Enforcement + Community Mobilization = Community Safety

 Proactive Law Enforcement – Actively engages the community and seeks to minimize victimization… seeks out opportunities to share (receive and give) information to the community

In our downtown business district we developed an e-mail and text system where business owners could contact me directly about crimes that had occurred, suspects, or even suspicious persons in their stores at the moment.  The system was great because it was a non-intrusive. Where they would not have picked up the phone and called 911 they would shoot off an e-mail or text message from their phone, computer or PDA.  They were engaged and the criminals paid the price.  On one occasion I caught two robbers loading their weapons in the parking of a 7-11, we arrested them for a number of violations and didn’t wait until they robbed the store or killed someone before moving in.  We minimized victimization, averted a major crime and still placed the bad guys behind bars.

That’s proactive law enforcement, engaging the community, minimizing victimization and taking every opportunity possible to share information with the community.  Now, let’s turn our attention to what most of you are here for the community mobilization side of this successful formula….

Community Mobilization – Citizens taking an active role in protecting their community.  Now, I’m not necessarily endorsing Citizens on Patrol although there are many great volunteer programs out there but any activity that brings law enforcement and citizens together to fight crime.  This could be participating in a Neighborhood Watch group or volunteering with at–risk children in the community.

Another law enforcement truism I have learned over the past quarter century in policing is that we will never have enough cops.  Throughout the entire country with over 300 million people to protect we have less than 1 million first responders, that’s police, fire, ems, everyone.  No matter what government program they roll out we will never have a cop on every corner and quite frankly I’m not sure I want more.

Citizens not only have to take responsibility for their actions but also for their safety.  That’s why crime prevention and knowledge about personal safety is so important.  Don’t place yourself in circumstances where you will be the victim.  Be aware of your surroundings and take all of those crime prevention measures that your police department has been suggesting for all of these years, whether it is shop in groups during the holidays, walk with your keys in your hand and stay in well lighted parking areas or always lock your doors and garage each time you leave your house you will be less likely to become a victim of crime.

I had one Florida police chief tell me one time if he could just get his citizens to close and lock their garages wherever they were not in use then his property crime rate which by the way accounted for 90% of all crime in his senior citizen community would fall by over 60%.  That’s it just closing and locking the garage when not in use is one proactive form of community mobilization.  Other aspects of community mobilization include: engaged citizens, shared vision and goals, partnership oriented and an organized leadership team that inspires others.

Engaged citizens – Do something, don’t just sit there.  It is your community.  Yes the police are paid to protect and serve but as we discussed they can’t be everywhere all of the time and have limited resources.  As citizens working together we have almost unlimited resources, whether it is time, talent, money, personnel, expertise, etc…. Volunteer even one hour a week to play a proactive role in protecting or serving your community… update your neighborhood phone or e-mail list, work on a neighborhood clean-up or be even more innovative.  One citizen I know took it upon herself to call the cable company after seeing cable installers in her neighborhood and developed a special class for their employees on observation skills and reporting so there would be just that many more eyes and ears out in the community during the day protecting homes.  It didn’t cost a thing just a little time and a commitment from the cable company.

 Shared vision and goals – The second characteristic of community mobilization is a shared vision of the future, whether that future is next month or next year.  I have travelled the country, been to every state, most multiple times and discovered we as citizens have more in common than different.  We all want a safe community where we can raise our children and not live in fear of victimization.

 Partnership oriented – Just as the police cannot do it alone often communities must come together, form partnerships with other neighborhoods, business groups or as I love to say those civic, social and service organizations that play such an important role in our communities.

 Organized leadership team that inspires others to action -  Individual volunteers are great and sorely needed but when group become organized and leaders emerge you can attain amazing results in your neighborhood.

It really is simple… become actively involved in working with law enforcement to improve the safety in the community, security and quality of life.

Preparing Workplaces for Mass Shooter Attacks

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In Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival, the author uses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) definition of mass shooting, which is “four or more killed in a single event.”  Using that definition, a USA Today analysis of 146 mass shootings indicated that more than 900 people have died in mass shootings during the past seven years. Workplaces should prepare for active shooter incidents by providing training to their entire staff and having a crisis response plan that is studied and practiced by all employees.  It is recommended that active shooter drills and their corresponding lockdown and/or evacuation plans are practiced at least twice per year.  Below is some additional information on preparing workplaces for active shooters attacks and how businesses can establish plans and provide training for these unlikely but often deadly attacks.

Mass Shooter Defined

A mass shooter may be defined as one or more persons who participate in a random or systematic shooting spree demonstrating their intent to continuously harm or kill others.

There is no apparent pattern or method to their selection of victims. The activity is not contained, and there is immediate risk of death and injury to victims.

These situations are dynamic and evolve rapidly, demanding immediate deployment of law enforcement to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to innocent victims.

In most cases, active shooters use firearms, and may continue to shoot even in the presence of police. They are often willing to fire upon unarmed citizens.

Serious Threat

Mass shooters are considered a serious threat to workplaces  throughout the United States.  Nationally accepted law enforcement response plans have been developed to address active shooter incidents.

All workplace staff, not just security officers, need to be informed of law enforcement’s response plans, need to know their own corporate policies and procedures, and need to be able to take protective measures in a mass shooter event.  Training of staff is imperative and a core element of preparedness.   The research-based ESCAPE Model presented in Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival has been developed to train employees on how to survive an active shooter attack.

Active Shooter 

It is impossible to predict from where an mass shooter threat may appear. Assailants are not always  employees or people with any connection to the workplace.

In many instances, there are no obvious specific targets, and the victims were unaware they were being targeted until the attack occurred.

Active Shooter Mentality

With an active shooter:

•             The desire is to kill and seriously injure without concern for his safety or threat of capture

•             He normally has intended victims and will search them out. However, as we pointed out previously, there may be no obvious or apparent method to the selection of victims.

•             He accepts targets of opportunity while searching for, or after finding, intended victims

•             He will continue to move throughout the building/area until stopped by law enforcement, suicide, or other intervention

Mass Shooters: Common Characteristics 

There are common characteristics of mass shooters:

•             The suspect has likely planned the operation

•             The situation is ongoing and aggressive

•             Mass casualties are likely

•             The suspect is heavily armed

•             They control the situation

•             Their actions result in mass confusion

•             The rescue/evacuation of innocents is necessary

Workplace Priorities During "Mass Shooter" Situations 

In a mass shooter situation, the priorities of corporate personnel are to:

•             Protect the lives of workers and visitors

•             Implement Crisis Plan “Armed Intruder” procedure

•             Notify police

•             Provide follow-up counseling to staff

•             Restore the work environment

All workplaces should prepare for mass shooter scenarios just as they plan for weather and other hazardous incidents.  Businesses should develop crisis response and contingency plans for active shooter incidents as well as provide staff with both training and practice.  Mass shooter attacks are often deadly and businesses are obligated to provide a safe working environment.  Practicing security procedures such as lockdowns and evacuations and providing training in the ESCAPE Model could mitigate the incident and reduce corporate liability if an attack occurs.

 

 

Managing a Neighborhood Watch Group

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One of the biggest challenges to any Neighborhood Watch group is maintaining momentum after the problems are “solved.” When NW groups organize around safety concerns, enthusiasm is usually high and participation good. A few months later, the excitement dies down and communication often flags. In order to maintain a strong group, expand the focus of your Watch group. It is important to find other activities to keep your group engaged. The newly-revitalized Neighborhood Watch program embraces this idea by encouraging partnerships and viewing NW in an all-hazards approach. Here are some options to consider:

Increase Membership. Form a team to actively recruit new members or encourage previous members to attend. Lack of attendance can sometimes be due to a lack of information. If neighbors are informed about safety and security issues, they may be more willing to attend.

Information Sharing. Write your own Neighborhood Watch newsletter. An electronic newsletter will save copying and mailing costs and can often be linked to your local law enforcement agency's homepage. It can provide essential information and keep residents up-to-date on crime or other subjects of interest. However, never write in newsletters about neighbors leaving town until they are back from their trip.

Expand NW concerns beyond crime prevention to include quality-of-life issues and fun activities to build community spirit. Examples include:

Garage Sale. Pitch in together and plan a big neighborhood sale. You can use the money raised to purchase signs, radios. and vests for your Neighborhood Watch group.

Neighborhood Cleanup and Landscape Trimming. Rent a dumpster for a weekend. Neighbors can share tools and expertise to help one another. Cap the day with a barbecue or a night of desserts and visiting.

Winter Emergency Planning. Develop a game plan for emergencies. Who has a gas stove? Who owns and can operate a four-wheel drive vehicle? Does anyone have special needs? Identify your neighborhood resources.

Training Sessions. Start and participate in training sessions given by volunteers.

Creative Pot-Lucks or BBQs. Get together every 3-6 months to re-connect with other volunteers. Remember to keep it fun and light.

Local Interest Groups. Politicians and community service groups could share what is happening with your group.

Neighborhood Maps. A neighborhood map is a powerful tool contained on just a sheet of paper. Along with a phone tree, a map can give residents information on where everyone in the neighborhood lives, and also put landmarks and distance from house to house into perspective. The map will familiarize NW members with families living in the neighborhood, as well as address any potential dangers during an emergency.

Exercise or Walking Groups. It’s easier to pursue fitness with a companion. Arrange with some of your neighbors to run, walk. or bike regularly. While doing this you may notice subtle changes in your neighborhood, or unusual activity.

[cta headline="Neighborhood Watch 101" buttontext="Purchase!" buttonlink="http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/neighborhood-watch-book/" ] Neighborhood Watch 101 is a comprehensive guide for both law enforcement officers who are charged with overseeing local Neighborhood Watch initiatives and for citizens who are interested in volunteering or leading a local Neighborhood Watch group. [/cta]

 

How to Form a Neighborhood Watch Team

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In Neighborhood Watch 101 we discuss the Neighborhood Watch team. We’re going to review the roles in this team, look at team activities, and discuss strategies for helping your group grow. Assigning Roles

Assigning roles within a group is important. Why is that? The assignment of roles outlines clearly-defined tasks and responsibilities and establishes authority and boundaries. When everyone understands his or her role, there is less confusion, and teamwork efforts are enhanced.

The Neighborhood Watch Team has four components:

  • Law Enforcement Liaison
  • Area Coordinator
  • Block Captain
  • Watch Member

All of these positions are important to the success of the program. Let’s take a closer look at each position, and the responsibilities assigned to it.

Responsibilities: Law Enforcement Liaison

The Law Enforcement Liaison is the link between law enforcement and citizens. The liaison provides the following services to citizens:

  • Offers training and information on topics of interest or concern to members
  • Provides guidance, support and motivation to Neighborhood Watch groups
  • Provides technical assistance

Responsibilities: Area Coordinator

The Area Coordinator is a citizen volunteer position. The Coordinator responsibilities include:

  • Serve as liaison between members, law enforcement, civic groups and block captain
  • Arrange neighborhood crime prevention training
  • Obtain and distribute crime prevention materials
  • Involve others in specific crime prevention projects

[cta headline="Neighborhood Watch 101" buttontext="Purchase!" buttonlink="http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/neighborhood-watch-book/" ] Neighborhood Watch 101 is a comprehensive guide for both law enforcement officers who are charged with overseeing local Neighborhood Watch initiatives and for citizens who are interested in volunteering or leading a local Neighborhood Watch group. [/cta]

Responsibilities: Block Captain

The Block Captain is also a citizen volunteer position. He or she:

  • Serves as spokesperson for the group
  • Organizes meetings
  • Maintains a list of participants
  • Arranges training programs
  • Designates work assignments
  • Distributes materials
  • Acts as liaison between group members and law enforcement

Responsibilities: Neighborhood Watch Team Members

The last position we will look at is the watch member. Watch members are responsible for:

  • Attending meetings
  • Reporting suspicious or criminal activity
  • Helping recruit new members
  • Practicing safety measures at home and in community
  • Supporting captain and other leaders in their roles

 Neighborhood Watch Members

Neighborhood Watch members have several responsibilities. One of the most important things a member can do is to remain active. An active member will help create and maintain a level of excitement about the program. This will help recruit more members, which will lead to a higher level of crime prevention.

It is the responsibility of members to stay informed about issues in their neighborhood and community.  This information can come from neighborhood assessments and/or crime statistics kept by local law enforcement. This information should be shared with others to keep members motivated and to prevent the group from becoming stagnant.

Partners

A partner is any formal or organized group that a NW group affiliates with to improve safety, security and quality of life.  Neighborhood Watch partners can be citizen groups and/or city or regional government agencies. These groups will provide information, resources and support to existing groups. They help broaden the scope of Neighborhood Watch groups and help to coordinate responses for neighborhood issues.

Some potential partners could be:

  • VIPS (Volunteers in Police Services)
  • CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams)
  • TRIAD (partnerships of law enforcement, older adults, and community groups)
  • Citizen Corps
  • Local fire, EMS and police, Parks and Recreation, Code Enforcement, Public Works, Health and Social Services
  • Local news media

 

 

Spate of Summer 2013 Shootings

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With three summer 2013 shootings in three weeks, the dog days of summer have suddenly become deadly.  First, on July 27,  a gunman opened fire in an apartment complex in Hialeah, Florida, killing six, including a man who was just walking down the street after returning from his son’s boxing practice.  Just over a week later, on August 7, a junk dealer who had been feuding with local officials over his property killed three men and wounded two others who were attending a town meeting in Ross Township, Pennsylvania.  This morning the third spree killing in three weeks occurred in Dallas, Texas and its neighboring suburb of Desoto as an armed suspect shot eight people at two separate residences, killing four and wounding four more. In just three weeks, spree killers have murdered 13 people and wounded six others. Citizens are wondering what to do if they suddenly find themselves thrust into a spree shooting near their home, an active attack at a school, or a mass shooting such as the one that occurred almost exactly two months ago in Santa Monica, California.

Although these incidents are dynamic in nature and constantly changing based on the attackers' motivation, skills and weapons, there are some steps the average citizen can take to increase their chances of survival.  The ESCAPE Model developed by the Community Safety Institute details specific survival tactics including:

EXIT

  • AS SOON AS POSSIBLE WHEN SAFE TO DO SO
  • WITHOUT PRESENTING A TARGET FOR THE SHOOTER
  • WITHOUT DRAWING ATTENTION TO YOURSELF

SEEK COVER

  • TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM HARM
  • OBJECTS THAT PROVIDE COVER FROM BULLETS INCLUDE BRICK WALLS, BUILDING SUPPORT BEAMS, STEEL MAILBOXES OR EVEN THE BASE OF THICK TREES

CONCEAL Yourself

  • HIDE FROM THE OFFENDER(S)
  • HIDING IN AN OPEN AREA UNDER TABLES AND CHAIRS IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
  • BE CREATIVE IN FINDING PLACES TO HIDE
  • REMAIN HIDDEN UNTIL RESCUED BY POLICE

ASSESS all alternatives

  • OFFENDER
  • VICTIM
  • ENVIRONMENT

PRESENT a small target

  • STAY LOW
  • CRAWL OR RUN IN A CROUCHED POSITION

ENGAGE

  • ENGAGE ONLY AS A LAST RESORT
  • ENGAGE WITH MULTIPLE INDIVIDUALS IF POSSIBLE

No one ever expects to be involved in any type of shooting - but if you are, these six simple steps can increase your chances for survival.

About the author: John Matthews is a highly decorated, 30-year law enforcement veteran and public safety consultant who has developed scores of federal law enforcement initiatives.  He is a recipient of a Texas Press Association award for column writing,  authored Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, and co-authored of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

 

How to Respond to School Violence Using the RAIN Model

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The RAIN Model is four-step process developed by the Community Safety Institute in the 1990’s after reviewing numerous school shootings throughout the decade. RAIN has been taught to thousands of educators throughout the nation over the past two decades. It has been successfully used as a classroom teacher’s response to school violence in order to minimize injuries and reduce victimization.

The RAIN Model for Responding to School Violence

The RAIN Model has been developed for classroom teachers to utilize if there is a crisis or conflict in the classroom.  RAIN is a great tool for educators and the model can be taught and practiced in staff development training and then re-practiced with discussion or tabletop exercises. RAIN is comprised of four primary elements:

      RESPOND refers to the necessity to do something, and not to freeze up.

     ASSESS refers to the teacher’s ability to clearly determine the status of the offender, the physical set-up of the location, and the medical condition of victims, or the possibility of additional victims if the conflict escalates or violence continues.  

     ISOLATE refers to separating the offender from victims or possible victims, and keeping a safe distance between teacher and offender.

Finally, NOTIFY stresses the need to notify the proper authorities without delay.

Respond

In School Safety 101 it was noted that the two most typical responses that we see from teachers during the role-playing exercise are that they either “freeze” or “freak out” and panic.

The RESPOND step emphasizes the importance of doing something. In violent situations, students look toward the adults for instruction and guidance.  Teachers must receive the proper training so that they know how to respond. They must take control of the situation, stay calm, and above all else, remain safe so they can continue to lead the students and guide the process.

In a classroom, 20+ students will be looking to you to see how you are reacting and will be following your lead. You must stay calm and assume leadership of the situation because, like it or not, everyone will be turning to you for guidance.

The most critical aspect of the Respond step is to remain safe. If you are not safe and if you expose yourself to danger, you have only aggravated the situation and not assisted anyone. On airplanes, flight attendants stress this principle when they announce “If we lose pressure in the cabin, place the drop-down mask over your face first before assisting others.” In a nice way they are also saying you must be safe before you can help your children, spouse or anyone else.

[cta headline="CSI's School Safety 101" buttontext="Purchase!" buttonlink="http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/bookstore-mass-shootings-six-steps-to-survival/paperback/school-safety-101-paperback/" ]  School Safety 101 presents detailed information on all essential elements of school safety including the standard crisis response drills such as shelter-in-place, evacuation and lockdown. Specific emphasis is placed in the book on developing internal capacity in schools through campus safety teams and crisis response teams. Because classroom teachers and substitutes need to know how to respond to a wide variety of incidents in the schools the RAIN Model is presented. For everyone else, including students, parents and volunteers the ESCAPE Model is presented for the first time in this edition of School Safety 101. [/cta]

In the police academy we stress the importance of officer safety by telling new recruits that if they don’t arrive on the scene safely but instead have a wreck, they have not helped anyone and have actually made the situation worse because they have become victims themselves.

Teaching is a very caring profession and helping is part of your nature, but before you can help others you must be safe and make good decisions about how to assist during a school crisis. These are some key terms in the correct method of response:

Quick

Safe

Deliberate

Calm

Controlled

Command

 Assess

- Assess the offender – his actions, weapons, and history.  Note his emotional state - is he calm and controlled, or frantic and out of control?

- Assess the victims – their medical needs and status, the potential of injury to others, and the need for immediate assistance.

- Assess the location – the building design (whether public area or isolated); the access to safety or help (doors and windows); communications systems available (intercom, radios); and available cover or concealment.

Though we have examined three separate aspects of the Assess portion of the RAIN Model, remember that this assessment should take only seconds.  Prior time spent in assessing your surroundings, escape routes, exits, cover, or concealment will expedite this process in the event of a crisis.

In the RAIN Model, “I” stands for Isolate. Once your assessment is completed, or if you are in harm’s way as you are sizing up the situation, you will want to isolate yourself and/or others from harm. In such an instance, isolate refers to separating the offender from victims or potential victims, and keeping a safe distance between yourself and the offender.

Finally, Notify stresses the need to notify the proper authorities without delay. The old Red Cross rule of thumb is best here: make sure you send several different people to get help and notify emergency responders. You might tell one student to “Call 911,” another to “Call the police,” and a third to “Go get help.” This way you are specifically assigning someone to a task. Thus, the Notify step means to assign someone to go for help, or to call emergency personnel immediately.

Additionally, staff may want to:

  • Hit the panic button
  • Open the intercom or campus radio system
  • Call 911 on their cell phones
  • Send a computer or text message

The key to Notify is to get the word out in as many ways as possible that you need help, and not to assume that someone else is calling on your behalf or asking for help.

 

Neighborhood Watch Basics: Communication

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Traditionally, Neighborhood Watch groups form and grow in response to a community threat such as a crime wave in the neighborhood. During these times, citizens seem to come out of the bushes, both seeking help and volunteering to assist to restore safety and security.  When criminals are at their worst neighbors seem to be at their best, but then when the wrongdoer is apprehended or the crime wave subsides, volunteers can also become scarce.  This is usually because little is offered by local Neighborhood Watch groups to keep them engaged. One of the most fundamental aspects of engagement is communication.  Neighborhood Watch leaders must constantly communicate to their volunteers and provide useful information in order to keep them informed and engaged.  The following section offers some information on keeping Neighborhood Watch volunteers informed.

Neighborhood Watch Basics: Keeping in Touch

As with most volunteer groups, one of the challenges faced by the group is keeping in touch with volunteers with information they believe is beneficial to them, or helpful and important to the organization.  If Neighborhood Watch leaders do not actively work to keep their volunteers both energized and mobilized, they will see their membership wane and the group will slowly die out.  some suggestions on staying connected and communicating with your volunteers can be found in Neighborhood Watch 101 and include:

E-mail

Today e-mail is one of the best ways to get in touch with your neighbors. Your group can organize an e-mail contact list much like that of a phone tree. When a neighborhood issue arises, you can contact residents quickly and efficiently by e-mail. However, keep in mind that there are people who do not have Internet access at home or by smart phone.

The local Neighborhood Watch group will have to decide who will maintain and update the email lists and what information should be included. For our Neighborhood Watch basics purposes, we recommend the following: meeting reminders, information on crime in the neighborhood, business related directly to the group, and information law enforcement has asked the group to share. Information that should not be shared includes: chain emails, personal information about a neighbor, news articles unrelated to the group. The NW phone tree should not be used for purposes of solicitation or personal communications.

[cta headline="Neighborhood Watch 101" buttontext="Purchase!" buttonlink="http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/neighborhood-watch-book/" ] Neighborhood Watch 101 is a comprehensive guide for both law enforcement officers who are charged with overseeing local Neighborhood Watch initiatives and for citizens who are interested in volunteering or leading a local Neighborhood Watch group. [/cta]

Social Media

The way we send and receive information is changing - newspaper subscriptions are falling and television news ratings are dropping because so many people receive their information from social media and electronic communications. Law enforcement agencies and their community partners should be on the forefront of providing timely and accurate information to increase public safety. Today social media is used to:

  • Communicate - Interact with the public in an effort to stay in touch electronically
  • Connect – In an effort to mobilize and empower citizens
  • Promote - Positive accomplishments through stories, pictures and videos
  • Inform - On breaking news events, traffic accidents and crimes
  • Educate - On issues and instruct on topics from crime prevention to personal safety
  • Request  - Information on offenses by posting surveillance pictures or video
  • Notify - Make real-time emergency notifications, i.e. weather emergencies, missing persons

Utilizing Facebook in Neighborhood Watch

  • Get neighbors to “like” your Facebook page so they can regularly follow you.
  • Actively market and promote your page to potential users.
  • Post signs in your office, place Facebook logos on websites and in e-mails, and encourage users attending local activities or events to view your page and tell others.
  • Provide valuable information and frequent updates to keep citizens coming back for more information.
  • Post photos and video links to make your page come to life.
  • Provide updates to breaking news events.
  • Ask questions to generate interest and discussions.
  • Upload videos of Neighborhood Watch-sponsored activities such as community cleanups.

 Utilizing Twitter in Neighborhood Watch

Actively promote, and regularly tweet useful or beneficial information such as:

  • Real-time traffic updates
  • Breaking news stories about crime
  • Real-time warnings about criminal activity in specific areas
  • Links to neighborhood Facebook page or YouTube videos

Utilizing Blogs in Neighborhood Watch

  • Tell the story of your law enforcement agency or citizen group
  • Promote positive achievements
  • Offer advice and information to make the community safer or more secure

Utilizing E-Mail in Neighborhood Watch

  • Is sender- and receiver-specific
  • Can contain messages, pictures or videos
  • Can be used to stay connected and exchange information and materials
  • Must be responsive to citizen reports; don’t give out an e-mail address and never check it.

Utilizing YouTube in NW

Videos are an extremely powerful form of media, and short videos can easily be made with today’s technology on a smartphone, tablet or similar device.  Record some of your Neighborhood Watch activities or portions of them and upload to YouTube to share your success stories.

 

School Safety Drills

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In School Safety 101 we emphasize the fact that school safety plans and their corresponding school safety drills are of vital importance for districts large and small.  The following illustrates the two primary types of school safety drills which should be practiced by staff and students alike at least once a semester. Throughout the nation, schools are developing, enhancing or modifying their Crisis Response Plans to include a variety of possible incidents that districts may face during the course of the school year. As these plans are provided to staff, administrators must be cognizant of the terms that are being used.

In some districts the terms “shelter-in-place” and “lockdown” are often used interchangeably, when in fact these terms have separate and distinct meanings.  In fact, schools can ‘shelter-in-place’ in the event of bad weather, effectively ‘locking down’ their students inside while keeping their doors open and accessible for others on the outside seeking shelter from the storm. On the other hand, a “lockdown” denotes that the building is secured and that no one enters or leaves the premises until the “All Clear” is given or when directed to do so by school or emergency personnel.

[cta headline="CSI's School Safety 101" buttontext="Purchase!" buttonlink="http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/bookstore-mass-shootings-six-steps-to-survival/paperback/school-safety-101-paperback/" ]  School Safety 101 presents detailed information on all essential elements of school safety including the standard crisis response drills such as shelter-in-place, evacuation and lockdown. Specific emphasis is placed in the book on developing internal capacity in schools through campus safety teams and crisis response teams. Because classroom teachers and substitutes need to know how to respond to a wide variety of incidents in the schools the RAIN Model is presented. For everyone else, including students, parents and volunteers the ESCAPE Model is presented for the first time in this edition of School Safety 101. [/cta]

 Following are some common definitions that may be used in a district’s school safety drills or Crisis Response Plan:

Shelter-in-Place: A Shelter-in-Place procedure may be implemented when a situation occurs that may be a hazard to health or is life threatening.  It can be used when it is safer to keep the students inside the building rather than expose them to possible harm by allowing them to leave the building. Tornado warnings, wildfires or terrorist incidents may all trigger a shelter-in-place, securing the students while keeping the buildings open for entry only.

A shelter-in-place may be called by school officials or other agencies such as emergency responders or local weather agencies.  A shelter-in-place might also be called by a principal or teacher or staff member with knowledge of an immediate danger. Once a shelter-in-place is called, the school should remain in that condition until the “All Clear” is given.

Lockdown:  A Lockdown procedure may be implemented when a situation occurs that may be an imminent hazard to health or is life threatening. It is intended to limit access and hazards by controlling and managing staff and students in order to increase safety and reduce possible victimization.

The building will have restricted access until the “All Clear” is given or individuals are directed by emergency personnel or staff. A lockdown may be called by school officials, law enforcement agencies or other emergency responders. A lockdown may be called for a variety of reasons including weapons, intruders, police activity in or around the school, contamination or hazardous materials, or terrorist events.

During a lockdown staff should ensure that:

  • All doors, windows, and classrooms will be locked
  • Students and teachers will remain in their classrooms
  • No one will be allowed to enter or leave the building
  • Parents will not be allowed to pick up children from school

During a lockdown, local authorities will provide assistance if needed.

For more information contact the Community Safety Institute.

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Review Journey (http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/photo-learning-safety-drills)

Teacher Response to Active Shooters

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Excerpted from School Safety 101 this section provides important information on teacher response to active shooters. If you are ever confronted with an active shooter situation, your actions will influence others. It is important for you to stay calm, and to assure students that you and the police are working to protect them.

  • Lock the door if that is possible. Many school walls are cinderblock or brick, which may provide some protection.
  • Whether you are in a classroom, cafeteria, office, or restroom, secure the immediate area if possible.
  • Close the blinds or pull the shades.
  • Block windows if possible, and cover windows in doors.

You can consider posting ‘help’ signs in classroom windows facing the outside, but be aware that the shooter might be able to see them. If necessary, turn off radios and computer monitors and silence cell phones. As much as possible, you want to ensure silence within the room so as not to draw the attention of the shooter.

In an active shooter situation, you want to keep yourself and your students safe from the intruder. Even after the door is locked, consider blocking or barricading the door with whatever furniture is available, whether desks or file cabinets.

If the shooter is able to enter your room but then leaves, immediately lock or barricade the door behind him.

If the situation appears safe and there is a need, allow others to seek refuge in your room.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

It is possible that the shooter might bang on your door and yell for help to entice you to open the door. If there is any doubt in your mind, and you feel that opening the door might jeopardize the safety of those in the room, do not open it. Keep the area secured.

Additional Actions

  •  Keep room occupants calm and quiet.
  • After securing the room, position occupants out of sight and behind items that might offer additional protection - walls, desks, file cabinets, etc.
  • If it is necessary, and if it is safe to do so, place signs in exterior windows to identify the location of injured persons.

Escape Via Windows

You may feel that you should attempt an escape by means of the window. In that case, first evaluate the risk: how far is the fall? What surface is below you – bushes, concrete, vehicles? Would a fall possibly injure or even kill you?

If you feel that a window escape is safe, then open the window, or break it if necessary (windows in many newer school buildings do not allow for opening). Hang from the window or the ledge if necessary to reduce the distance of the fall. You might be able to use items such as belts or clothing to lower yourself.

Un-securing the Classroom

Before you unlock and open the door, realize that the shooter will not stop until his objectives have been met, unless engaged by law enforcement. You risk exposure to danger by opening the door.

No matter your good intentions, any attempts to rescue people outside should only be made if that can be done without further endangering the persons inside a secured area.

Large Areas

If you are in a gym or cafeteria/cafetorium, and the shooter is not present and there is no safe room, lead the students outside as quickly and quietly as possible. Find cover as far from the building as possible and do not go back inside.

If you come in contact with the police, keep your hands in plain view or above your head and follow their instructions.

Unsecured Open Areas

If you find yourself in an open unsecured area, immediately seek protection. If possible, put something between you and the shooter (for example, a brick wall, concrete barricade).

Consider whether escape is your best option. Do you know where the shooter is? Could you escape before he saw you? If in doubt, quickly find a safe place to hide, where you have concealment. That could mean behind bushes or benches.

Once you are outside, do not go back into the building unless directed to do so by law enforcement.

Calling for Help

We all know to call 911 in an emergency. However, be aware that in an active shooter situation the 911 system may be overwhelmed and you may get a busy signal or no answer. Once you do reach a dispatcher, provide:

  • Your specific location
  • Building name
  • Office/classroom number
  • Number of people at your specific location

Information on Injured Persons

If you know of injuries, report the number of people injured and the types of injuries they sustained. The 911 dispatcher may provide instructions on what you can do to help care for the injured while awaiting rescue.

If you do feel that you can help, remember basic first aid techniques. For bleeding, apply pressure and elevate the injured area. Be creative in identifying items to use to stop bleeding - clothing, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, even newspapers.

Surviving a Mass Shooting

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In law enforcement we must constantly be prepared to respond to nearly any situation. Utilizing a wide variety of training methodologies including classroom, practical exercises, and scenario-based instruction, we work to maintain situational awareness at all times. This lesson of preparedness is one I have tried to impart on my family to use in our personal lives.  We talk about various situations that we may find ourselves in - like a fire at home or strangers we may encounter when travelling - and how we would respond.  Someone once said safety is about preparation, not paranoia, and I firmly believe in that philosophy. We should be mentally prepared at all times to quickly react and respond if the situation warrants.

As I was researching my latest book, Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, I was surprised to learn how unprepared the general population is to address traumatic events.  Time and time again I read firsthand accounts of how individuals who were involved in mass shooting incidents had a delayed response, costing precious time in situations where every second counts. On numerous occasions, victims mistook gunfire or even explosions as firecrackers, pranks, or some type of play, holiday celebration, or promotional stunt, causing their initial response to be delayed by valuable seconds or even more.

During the Long Island Railroad shooting in 1993, passengers said they thought it was fireworks before realizing they were being subjected to gunfire.  The sound of fireworks related to a school election was how one survivor of the Thurston High School shooting later explained the noises she heard, while one witness in the Navistar shooting in Melrose Park, Illinois also said he thought it was a prank involving fireworks.  In the Omaha Mall Shooting in 2007, one witness said she thought she heard a nail gun firing, while in the Northern Illinois University shooting one student described the scene as "It was just surreal. Even when the first shot was fired I couldn't believe it was happening. It didn't seem to register with anyone."

One explanation for these very similar types of reactions in very different circumstances may be as simple as the fact that most people have never heard actual gunfire before or been involved in any type of violent incident.

In a mass shooting situation, every second counts - even the slightest delay in response can have dire consequences.  Individuals must be able to quickly recognize the situation and respond.  If you are a teacher in a school, an employee in a post office, or a worker in an office building and hear sounds similar to gunshots, you should recognize that firecrackers or other pyrotechnics are not normal for your workplace and immediately take action.  Know where your nearest exits are located, which objects will provide you with cover (protection from bullets), and which ones will conceal you from the offender. Have a plan and be able to implement it at a moment’s notice.  By being mentally prepared for a violent incident, you are more likely to save yourself and better protect your loved ones from a tragic event.

About the author: John Matthews is a highly decorated, thirty-year law enforcement veteran and public safety consultant who has developed scores of federal law enforcement initiatives.  He is a recipient of a Texas Press Association award for column writing the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.