Active shooter response and prevention in sights of Indian River seminar

Det. Tim Kerstetter shows the safest place to be in a classroom during an active shooter scenario. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — You’re attending an awards program in your child’s seventh-grade science class on a sunny spring morning.

Suddenly, there is loud popping within the school.

Firecrackers? It’s mid-April, not the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve.

Screams and shrieks in hallway horror are heard. The popping continues.

What do you?

Mass shootings grabbing headlines in the world today garnered the spotlight this week in a public seminar aimed at prevention and — in the event of an active shooter situation — enhancing chances of survival.

Approximately 200 people attended the March 28 Violent Intruder Preparedness Response (VIPR) seminar at Sussex Central High School. It’s the first in a series of seminars planned in partnership between Delaware State Police and the Delaware Department of Education.

The second seminar is to be held Tuesday, April 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Indian River High School in Dagsboro. Additional sessions are being planned at other schools throughout Delaware.

“In the aftermath of the massacre in Parkland, once again we are reminded of the frequency of mass violence, active shooter events that occur quite often at peaceful, lawful venues where we don’t expect any crime, let alone violent crime,” said Det. Timothy Kerstetter, Terrorism Liaison Officer for the Delaware State Police.

The 2 1/2-hour seminar covered bombing scenarios and motivational factors but focused predominantly on active shooter events with a goal of teaching people to increase their situational awareness to mass violence, create emergency plans, and reduce risk, liability and casualties during violence.

“Our strategy is using our power of observation and recognizing behaviors that are inconsistent with the norm,” said Det. Kerstetter. “We encourage you to be vigilant in looking for behaviors; mental health, somebody uniquely angry and hostile; an individual who had never hunted or been to the firing range before but is now obsessed with assault rifles and bulk amounts of ammunition. If it concerns you it concerns us, too. We want to provide intervention prior to any violence.”

Bob Mooney, Delaware Crime Stoppers executive director, said, “It’s better to be safe than sorry. The biggest fear people have is retribution and retaliation by giving information to the police. With today’s society and the fears of today we provide an opportunity through Crime Stoppers.”

A retired Delaware state trooper and United States Air Force Lt. Colonel, Mr. Mooney, during the training session, promoted the anonymous service as a benefit to civilians and police.

VIPR training encourages citizens to be cognizant of surroundings, in particular location of exits and doors at places they frequent; workplace, schools, places of worship, restaurants, nightclubs, etc.

“Know what doors lock and unlock,” Det. Kerstetter said.

In the event of a violent intruder/active shooter, people are encouraged to prioritize three options: Run, Hide, Fight.

“Our first strategy is very simply, get out of sight and sound from that shooter, from that violent intruder, from that American citizen who may have a behavioral health disease, a mental illness, that hostile employee that was separated from the organization six weeks ago or maybe that homegrown violent extremist,” said Det. Kerstetter.

Upon exiting a building VIPR training recommends running with a purpose, not randomly, seeking temporary concealment shelter while searching for more permanent safe cover. Running in spurts in a zig-zag pattern is recommended. “A moving target is harder to hit,” said Det. Kerstetter.

A plastic trash container, trash dumpsters, utility poles, trees and the area near a vehicle’s thick engine compartment may momentarily keep you out of the shooter’s sight for several precious seconds that could be the difference between life, death or serious injury.

In a school, a stage curtain could provide several moments of temporary concealment. The goal is to stay out of the shooter’s sight.

“If we can see the shooter the shooter can see us. We cannot outrun bullets. It doesn’t stop the gunfire. Concealment is temporary, but we just increased survivability rates,” said Det. Kerstetter.

Training suggests: If you can’t run, hide quickly and quietly in a secure place, preferably behind large objects. If in a classroom or office, turn out the lights, draw window shades drawn, silence cell phones (perhaps even rendering them useless to avoid detection and the gunman’s attention), lock the door and if possible barricade beyond lock-down.

“We want to go beyond locking door; a locked door is not a guarantee. It is a step, but we want to barricade,” said Det. Kerstetter.

Makeshift barricade improvisation could include securing a solid table, desk or equipment wider than the door with nylon straps, zip-ties, neckties, purse straps, backpacks, duct tape, extension cords. “Anything that you can tie into knots,” said Det. Kerstetter.

Wooden broom handles, shovels as well as materials that can be improvised to jam a door and prevent it from immediately opening can also provide precious seconds.

“Practice in advance,” said Det. Kerstetter.

Inside a room during an active shooting, occupants should make sure they cannot be seen by the shooter through door glass/window by lining up tightly against wall on the side of the room where the door is. However, in a non-shooting hostage situation, window shades should be left open to allow law enforcement “eyes” into the hostage area, Det. Kerstetter said.

As a last resort, officials said, citizens should resort to fighting back.

Det. Kerstetter emphasized repeatedly that Delaware State Police and the Department of Education do not encourage any citizen to seek physical confrontation with a violent intruder.

“We encourage everyone to run and hide and call 911 when it is safe to do so,” he said. “We don’t encourage any citizen to engage an armed intruder. It is a suicide mission to run down a corridor chasing after an active shooter.”

However, he acknowledged there is a certain segment of society that will voluntarily engage, risking their own “physical safety to try to neutralize that threat … using less than lethal force or lethal force.”

VIPR’s recommended plan of attack: attack the weapon. Typically, the weapon will precede the shooter entering through a door. First reaction, Det. Kerstetter said, is to not punch the intruder in the jaw, whack him with a baseball bat or kick him in the groin.

“He can still pull the trigger. Therefore, the option to consider is attack the weapon. Attack the hand. Most people are right-handed. Attack weapon; an ambush so we can control the weapon.” Det. Kerstetter said.

In securing the shooter’s weapon, ordinary items can become improvised weapons: fire extinguishers, chairs, scissors, razor blades, letter openers, pens and pencils, bug spray, pepper spray, mace, cleaning supplies, screw drivers, hammers, golf clubs and kitchen knives.

“Whatever you have. Attack the eyes, the carotid artery,” said Det. Kerstetter. “It will slow the shooter down; our actions are quicker than his reactions.”

Data shows that active shooter events – there have been 249 from 2000 through 2017 – are not occurring in high-crime rate metropolises such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore or Philadelphia.

About 22 percent of the incidents have occurred at schools – ranging from kindergarten through college.

“This is not a big-city epidemic. This could happen here. Hopefully it never will but we need to prepare. There is a one percent chance it may occur. Lives can be lost, and communities can be changed in small towns such as rural suburban Sussex County,” Det. Kerstetter said. “Our first primary goal is to stop the violence, contain or neutralize the violence. We meet violence with greater violence. We meet fire with fire. We do not stage outside waiting for SWAT teams as we saw in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in the Columbine High School massacre. We do not stage outside tragically like we saw with the Parkland, Florida high school massacre on Feb. 14. Delaware law enforcement, all agencies to include state police, we are trained to respond and neutralize that threat immediately. We want to stop the shooting, the killing. Our second phase: now render aid.”

For information, call 302-739-5996, email the Delaware Information Analysis Center (DIAC) at diac@state.de.us or visit www.dediac.org.

Delaware’s Terrorism Tip hotline is: 1-800-FORCE12 (1-800-367-2312).

Delaware Crime Stoppers tip line is: 1-800-TIP-3333.

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