Following another school shooting – this time at Santa Fe High School, near Houston – the Highland Park Department of Public Safety decided to directly address residents.
Senior officers held an active shooter training class at SMU’s Cox School of Business in May, and more than 50 residents turned out for lessons on how to react in a situation that is dreaded across America.
Led by Sgt. Jake Mowrey and Lt. Wayne Kilmer, the presentation involved a slide show outlining the steps police officers take when training for what is now called “mass murder” situations – a term that includes school shootings, of which there have been nearly 200 since 2000, according to the officers.
Mowrey and Kilmer also answered questions regarding how to help a wounded person before emergency responders arrive.
“Police officers in Highland Park are now EMS trained,” Mowrey said. “We carry tourniquets with us at all times. It’s unfortunate that events like active shootings have forced us to adapt that way, but what residents are getting now are an even more-prepared officer.”
Other parts of police training have drastically changed since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 – one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Police are now instructed to enter any building with an active shooter inside immediately upon arrival; in 1999, all officers were instructed to wait until SWAT members arrived before entering.
“In most cases, the active shooter isn’t looking for a fight – he just wants to create as much chaos as possible before police arrive,” Mowrey said. “So we need to get inside as soon as possible and make sure we take him down. Often times we’ll arrive before SWAT, and we can’t waste precious minutes.”
What should residents do in an active shooter situation? Mowrey and Kilmer suggested hiding, barricading any nearby doors and windows, calling 911, assisting anyone that is injured, and stopping the shooter if an opportunity presents itself.
While the possibility of apprehending a shooter may seem “scary,” as Mowrey put it, having a mental checklist of the situation beforehand could greatly serve a bystander in that situation.
“I like to tell people to have an imagination,” Mowrey said. “Go over the situation in your head today, before this has a chance to happen. What would you do if a shooter came into your building? Where are the exits? How would you respond? If the shooter turns his back, do you have an opportunity to stop him? If you know how you would respond, you’re more likely to be the calm in the midst of the chaos.”
The idea of a school shooting – or any mass shooting in a public place – is certainly uncomfortable, Mowrey said. But, it’s not something that residents should worry about every day.
“Be aware, and know that it’s a possibility in today’s society, but don’t let it rule your life,” he said. “We just want to help you be as prepared as possible.”
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