Training for Tragedy: Mass shootings prompt defensive training for civilians

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On Oct. 1, more than 500 people were injured and 58 died in a mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas. A month later, 26 people died in a mass shooting inside a Texas church.

Both incidents are part of a recurring trend: Acts of mass violence are on the rise in the United States.

We plan for fires, and natural disasters. Now, some say, the time has come to plan for mass shootings.

A security company agreed to give Newschannel 3 an inside look at its training protocol, efforts to prepare police officers, school administrators, nursing homes and others for the moment they might face an active shooter.

After we set a date to watch the training, those two historic events happened: In Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history; and during a Sunday worship, the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

Newschannel 3 traveled to Fairview park, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, to be alongside police officers, school administrators, nursing home employees and others undergoing the training.

The goal is to ensure that they are ready to protect themselves and others in the event an active shooter arrives on their doorstep.

The trainees role-play scenarios using air soft guns, but even with the knowledge that they won’t hurt one another in the training the participants find that doing the right thing is difficult.

"When he was coming by us, I saw the gunman's hand and yet I didn't say anything,” said participant Patricia Moran, a school principal.

Moran saw a gun in a classroom drill, and she froze.

"How does that make you feel? Scared, because I run a school building,” Moran said. “So I want to be able to react, and protect the people who work for me, and the kids."

Joe Hendry is trying to get this group ready.

For 27 years, Hendry was a police officer at Kent State University. Now the Marine Corps veteran travels the country teaching ALICE. The acronym stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. The response formula is taught nationwide by the ALICE Training Institute.

"The normal reaction is to move,” Hendry said. “We have trained get down, when get down is not the best response."

One of the first scenarios in the training involved a group in a classroom being told to hide, because there's a gunman in the school hallway. Yet, there is nowhere to hide. A shooter could devastate this room.

Hendry said this is the type of decision making that ends with many people killed. Reviewing the Las Vegas shooting, he watched video of victims diving to the ground. Hendry said they should be trying to escape.

"This is, move out of the danger zone. If this room caught on fire, and it was only over there, we would not hesitate to get up and walk out that door. This event is no different,” Hendry said.

The training sessions revealed that it’s much more difficult to hit a moving target, even for a police officer with 20 years of experience.

“You have got multiple targets, people coming at you,” Brunswick Hills, Ohio, Police Sgt. Eric Bors said. “And different stimulus around, it definitely affects your shooting.”

In another scenario a gunman enters a classroom firing. Three people confront the shooter; they are trained to grab on, so he cannot move. One of the men grabbing the shooter is Cooper Harbert, who works at a nursing home. He took several shots from the airsoft gun, and doubts he would have survived if the situation was real.

"As soon as I saw him right there, I knew everyone was too far away to do anything,” Harbert said. “So I knew I was already going to die anyway, so I just jumped right in there.”

Also grabbing the shooter was Norbert Spivey, who works for a school district. He was not hit by any of the air soft shots. Spivey would have survived. Harbert would not have. However, because of their actions, many others in the classroom would have survived.

As Moran demonstrated, even during training there are no guarantees for how people are going to react.

"I didn't say he’s got a gun, so that the guys who were sitting over there, and were clearly in a better position to grab him, would have," Moran said.

The experience, she said, shows that she and her staff need the training.

Hendry recommends that anyone entering a public place should always take note of the exits and consider escape routes – because planning ahead can make all the difference.

ALICE training is now implemented in some local school districts, including in Portage, Michigan. When it comes to kids, they are being taught to escape the danger. Even if that escape means children being outside the school building on their own, at least they would be away from a shooter.

Follow Kirk Mason on Twitter and on Facebook.

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