Run, hide or fight.
Those are the three options an individual confronted by an active shooter must consider.
David Lewis, Greeneville Police Department training officer, gave a presentation to about 15 members of the local business community Thursday titled “Active Shooter in the Workplace: What To Do Before Police Arrive” as part of the ongoing “Lunch and Learn” program sponsored by the Greene County Partnership.
Lewis, a 26-year Greeneville police veteran, said the 1999 Columbine High School shootings caused law enforcement agencies to reconsider critical incident response strategies.
“Columbine was probably the first big event. Now, our response is stop the attack, we don’t want any more killing, but it will take (police) a few minutes to get there,” Lewis said.
An active shooter “is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, and recent active shooter incidents have underscored the need for a coordinated response by law enforcement and others to save lives,” according to the FBI.
An attacker in an active shooting incident has no set profile and likely has an “avenger mindset” triggered by some perceived wrong by society or others, Lewis said. The attacker may take to social media with a manifesto.
The person may have a history of violence, stalking, a troubled family situation or unstable behavior already causing concern to others, Lewis said.
“There’s not a pattern it occurs in. It’s all across the country,” he said.
Relevant to the group who listened to Thursday’s presentation, Lewis displayed a bar graph that showed 50 percent of active shooter incidents occur in the workplace.
About 30% happen outdoors and about 15% in schools, and the rest in other locations.
“Fifty percent occur at businesses, the factory or office,” Lewis said.
Studies show 58% of attackers have no connection to the place they stage an incident, while 42% do have some type of relationship, whether it be spousal, as an employee or former employee, or knowledge of someone there.
Guns are the most common method used, but others involve knives, explosives, vehicles or other methods. Lewis cited examples of mass killings in the U.S. in recent years, accomplished by different means.
Disaster response statistics show that it takes an average of about three minutes for law enforcement to arrive at an active shooter scene. It’s always a good idea to know where exits or potential escape routes are, Lewis said.
“A lot of people can be hurt or killed before we can get there. If you are under attack, three minutes can seem like a lifetime,” he said. “Try to make sure wherever you are at you are looking at things.”
Lewis referred to three stages of disaster response — denial, deliberation and “decisive movement.”
In the denial stage, many people react to an active shooter situation as “unthinkable to a rational person” and look for “social proof.”
In the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Lewis said, many office workers began calling each other, turning off their computers “and packing up when they should have been running out of there.”
“You actually don’t rise to the occasion,” he said. “It’s totally normal.”
In the deliberation stage, stress can impact the ability to make a decision.
“The brain is not functioning well,” Lewis said.
Individuals can freeze.
“Your brain can’t figure out what to do,” he said.
He cited a 2003 fire at a Rhode Island nightclub where multiple fatalities occurred because fleeing people piled up at one exit when others went unused.
“Look for where emergency exits are,” Lewis said. “Make that a habit.”
Staying calm to make rational decisions can save lives, he said.
“Run if you can get out,” Lewis said.
Deciding to play dead or finding a spot under a desk or similar space with no escape option, which Lewis called “hide and hope,” are “not good options,” he said.
Denying access by locking doors or erecting barricades, turning lights out and staying out of sight may deter an active shooter. “Positioning” is important, he added.
“In this situation, something is better than nothing,” Lewis said.
Confronted by an active shooter with no other alternatives, “defend or attack,” Lewis said.
“If you have nothing else to do, take the fight to them,” he said. “(Think) there are more of us than them. They’re not prepared to fight. They want easy victims.”
Try to grab the gun or fight hard, Lewis said.
“There is nothing fair about fighting. Do anything that is possible. Be as violent as you can possibly be,” Lewis said. “Do whatever it takes. You’re going to fight like your life depends on it because it does.”
When police arrive, Lewis said, they are responding to a dangerous situation and still assessing who the active shooter is.
Respond to commands, show the palms of your hands and do not move, Lewis advised.
“Follow whatever they tell you to do,” he said.
After an active shooting incident, survivors can expect mental trauma.
“Develop a critical incident stress management plan,” he said.
Tennessee law allows permitless carry of a handgun, Lewis said in answer to a question from one of the program atendees.
“I think we are better off in society for the bad guys out there not to know who has a gun,” he said. “Firearms are an equalizer.”
A pastor at the program asked for advice.
“Sit down with members of your congregation and have a plan,” Lewis said. “Be prepared to change plans on the fly.”
Mass shootings are becoming disturbingly repetitive in the U.S. The FBI designated 61 shootings in 2021 as active shooter incidents.
“Obviously it is a hot topic right now and we’ve been doing training on it for some time. Columbine changed everything for us,” Tim Ward, Greeneville police chief, said this week.
“We’re trying to educate businesses on actions they can take,” Ward said.
A spectrum of local professionals were represented Thursday at Lewis’ presentation, including health care providers and representatives of private businesses in Greene County.
Barb Sell, director of member services at the Greene County Partnership, was among those who attended the “Lunch and Learn” program presentation.
“I think it was very informative,” Sell said. “I think the main thing I got out of that was (to prepare) a disaster plan and a stress plan.”