FBI urges public to be prepared for active shooters
FBI El Paso Division officials are stressing to area leaders of schools, places of worship and private companies as shootings continue to increase nationwide
By Aaron Martinez
El Paso Times
EL PASO — Run. Hide. Fight.
This is one of the key messages FBI El Paso Division officials are stressing to area leaders of schools, places of worship and private companies as mass shootings continue to increase across the country.
"It is not about being paranoid, it's about being prepared," FBI El Paso Assistant Special Agent in Charge Keith Byers said.
"We meet with local leaders–we just met with Catholic Diocese school officials—and we give them a presentation about the importance of having a plan," Byers said. "We aren't telling them what to do, we are just stressing the importance of having a plan."
When it comes to mass shootings, this year is the deadliest in U.S. history, with more than 208 deaths, USA Today reported.
Among the incidents are the shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5 that killed 26 people; the Oct. 1 massacre at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives; and the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12 that left 49 people dead.
The training, which is part of the FBI's Civil Rights program, includes advice on increasing security at schools, businesses and places of worship, how to spot any suspicious people or activities, and what to do in an active shooter situation.
"We meet with the leaders of organizations and it is up to them create a plan that fits their school, place of worship, or business, and to pass the message on to their constituents and members," Byers said.
The FBI has already presented the active shooter training to dozens of school leaders, community groups and religious organizations, including Temple Mount Sinai, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, St. Francis Montessori Christian School and the Destiny Family Christian Center.
St. Francis Montessori Christian School Director Marisol Acosta said the active shooter training was an "eye-opening experience" and was a great help to them to train their staff on any potential active shooter incident.
"We have now provided the training for all our teachers and have implemented an active shooter, lock down plan of action," Acosta said. "It is important to build awareness of suspicious activity and empower teachers to take action in a dangerous situation. I encourage all schools to provide this training for their teachers."
"The program builds awareness of our increasing responsibility to protect the lives of our students at school," she added.
A key part of the FBI's presentation is a video created through a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that recreates an active shooter situation and how to use the "Run, hide, fight" method.
"The video really put everything into perspective," said Destiny Family Christian Center Pastor Perry Kerney Jr., who attended a presentation with several of his staff members. "It is a powerful video and reinforces the need to have a plan and to know what to do in a situation like that. It shows you what to do and what not to do."
Officials said they hope "run, hide, fight" will in essence become to mass shootings what "stop, drop and roll" is for fire safety.
Run: If an active shooter situation occurs, the first option should be to run from the scene if you are able to do so safely.
Hide: If safely escaping the scene is not an option due to the proximity of the gunman, you are urged to hide in a safe place by locking and barricading the doors and hiding behind big objects that could act as shields.
Fight: The last option is to fight to disarm and take down the gunman. The example given in the training video shows people hiding in a room with the gunman attempts to enter. People pick up anything that could possibly be used as a weapon, including a fire extinguisher, and attack the suspect as he enters the room.
"'Run, hide, fight' is really like 'stop, drop and roll,'" FBI El Paso Division Supervisory Special Agent Christopher Flowers said. "This message is part of research that has been done in the past that shows these are your strongest options if you are ever in an active shooter situation."
"Run as far away as you can from the event," he said. "Hide by finding a safe place, lock the doors and turn off the lights, turn off your cell phones, and barricade the door."
He continued, "Lastly, fight. Prepare to defend yourself. A lot of time with active shooters people don't understand that it is a fear tactic. If a gunman walks into a room of 50 people and they rise up against that person, then yes, there may still be people injured, but they may end up harming the suspect and reducing the number of people wounded or killed."
Officials said that a fire extinguisher is a great example of a weapon due to its weight to strike and injure the gunman, but also because it could be used to spray the chemicals inside of it to blind and temporarily stop the gunman.
"It comes down to a personal choice," Byers said. "In an active shooter situation, you have to make that decision by yourself on whether you are going to run, hide or fight. But there may come a time when you have to fight and you are going to have to get whatever resources are available and attack the gunman."
Other advice given during the active shooter training includes where to best place surveillance cameras, how to create exit plans, when to add security personnel and how to be alert to suspicious persons, activities and packages.
"We do the presentation to make sure everyone is educated on what to do if they are—we hope they will never be—in an active shooter situation," Flowers said. "We aren't saying they need to do everything we are telling them, we are just showing them the options available to them."
Flowers said each organization has a set budget to use on security. As part of the training, FBI officials give groups recommendations on how to best use their budgets to meet their needs.
"We give them security considerations, we educate them on what has happened in active shooter situations before and we tell them what are good steps to take," Flowers said. "One key piece of advice is, if nothing else, (use) surveillance cameras. That is important, and it helps catch suspects and keep track of any suspicious activities."
Kerney said his church has already taken the FBI's advice.
"It gave us a lot to think about and we took what we learned and discussed at a staff meeting later on," Kerney said. "We already have security at our church, so one of the biggest pieces of advice we got was on security cameras. They (FBI officials) told us the best places to put security cameras and the best direction to point. We have now done that."
He added, "We took a lot of their advice and we are utilizing it to keep our church and our members safe."
All community groups are encouraged to contact the FBI El Paso Division at 832-5000 to get information on the training and to set up a meeting.
"We are here for the community," Byers said. "It is free and it could save lives."
Copyright 2017 El Paso Times