In May, it was a middle school in Noblesville. Thursday, it was a newsroom in Maryland. Tomorrow, it could be another church or business. Every tragedy reinforces the sad reality: shooting attacks can happen anywhere. Victims are usually targeted randomly and the attacks are over quickly. But knowing what to do to avoid being shot or to help those wounded can save lives.
At a training session at Bethel United Methodist Church Friday, emergency and health workers had a message for all. It's time to start thinking seriously – and perhaps differently – about what we would do if an active shooter appeared.
Before the 9/11 attacks, said Donald Watson, an EMS district manager for Indiana Homeland Security, someone on a hijacked plane would probably sit quietly and presume the hijackers were seeking ransom or political asylum. “Now, everyone's thinking, they're going to use this plane for a bomb and crash into a building. A lot of people now would rethink whether or not they would just sit in their seats and just see what happens,” Watson said.
“The same thing with the active shooter. Don't sit in the church pew and just hope that he would go in another direction.”
“One of the things we're really preaching right now, is to have a plan,” Watson said. “Every business, every school, every church, every organization that meets together needs to have a plan on what to do if something happens.”
Whatever the setting, Homeland Security recommends, such plans should offer potential victims three options: run, hide or fight.
“The best thing to do is to just get away,” Watson said. “But if you can't get away, you've got to hide.” And if you can't hide, you should be prepared to use whatever is at hand as a weapon. Noting potential escape routes and items you might use as potential weapons to resist an attack should be part of what you do when you enter a new setting for a gathering. “Preparing yourself, being alert, knowing your surroundings are all important steps,” Watson said.
Organized by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Health Department, the presentation also included demonstrations of “Stop the Bleed” techniques by trauma teams from Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health. Autopsies after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting showed 30 percent of the victims could have survived if tourniquets for them had been available and applied properly, Watson said.
Such discussions of new plans, new awareness and new thinking about attacks are vital.
But as we heighten our awareness about the kind of once-unimaginable emergencies that could arise in any of our lives, we must not forget that, not so long ago, mass shootings were viewed as rare and aberrant, rather than common and inevitable.
Being prepared to run, and hide, and stanch bleeding will save some lives. But we also need to be asking why all of this has become necessary.
We need to be having hard conversations about mental illness, the availability of guns, the role of social media and whatever else seems to be encouraging and normalizing such horrific, bizarre behavior. And then we need to come together to eliminate those causes, as though we were saying, in one voice: This must stop.
Facing up to today's dangers doesn't mean we have to accept this new climate of fear forever.