Moon Police: Readiness Key to Reacting, Protecting Yourself From Active Shooter
On the heels of several deadly mass shootings, a member of the local Critical Incident Response Team offers insight into reacting to an active shooter.
Just after 9 a.m. Thursday, a 16-year-old boy carried a 12-gauge shotgun into Taft Union High School in Kern County, California.
The boy walked into a classroom halfway through first period and fired, striking and critically wounding a classmate, according to reports.
Police took the teenage shooter, whose name has not been released, into custody moments after the incident began.
"First and foremost, people need to realize that an active shooter is something that cannot be prevented," said Moon Police Officer Frank Starko. "These are people who are present in all of our municipalities."
Starko is an element leader for the Critical Incident Response Team of the South Hills Area Council of Governments. The group, comprised of law enforcement officers from area police departments, responds to high-risk incidents, including the 2012 shooting at the Western Psychiatric Institute in Oakland that claimed two lives.
"The best way to counteract the active shooter is to have a plan of your own," he said.
Starko, who takes part in specialized monthly training for the CIRT unit, has met with officials from the Moon Area School District and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School, working with school leaders to develop a plan of action for students, faculty and staff should a gunman enter a school.
Police will meet with Moon Area faculty members during a staff in-service day in the coming months, when the department will offer a presentation on safety protocol and active shooters.
"We do not want people to develop a sense of paranoia, and we do not suggest that this interferes with any of our residents' daily routines," Starko said. "We do suggest that our residents and our workers have some planning in place."
Much like routine fire escape plans, Starko suggests employers outline a course of action to mitigate an active shooter scenario. He said the scenes typically play out in just minutes, often concluding before law enforcement arrive.
"You can't prevent something like this from happening—they're spontaneous events," he said. "But you can plan."
"First and foremost, maintain your composure," Starko advises. "If you're able to, get as far away as possible. If you can, get out of eyeshot of the shooter."
Starko points to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's guidelines on reacting to an active shooter: Have an escape route planned. Help others escape, but do not attempt to move the wounded. Keep hands visible and listen to police orders when encountering law enforcement at the scene.
If evacuation is not possible, Starko advises hiding in a secure location, or placing barriers, such as furniture, between yourself and the shooter.
"Harden the targets," he said. "If there is a door you can lock, lock it. Look for objects that you can use to barricade yourself. Most schools have adopted a lock-down policy, where we try to move the children to a position where they can't be seen by the gunman."
If all else fails fight back, Starko said.
"You could adopt a offensive posture," Starko said. "If it's a life or death situation, no win, and there's not anything else you can do, that might be your course of action. The active shooter preys on those who don't do anything."
Starko said citizens carrying firearms may not be able to stop an active shooter.
"From a law enforcement standpoint, we would not proactively promote arming citizens, because of the fact that most citizens don't have the experience or training necessary to be effective in that situation," Starko said.
"The last thing we would want is for a sense of paranoia that escalates to the point where you have citizens arming themselves for this type of situation," he said.
In the aftermath:
Starko said patrol officers, not CIRT or SWAT units, will likely be the first to arrive to the scene of a shooting.
The Department of Homeland Security advises that officers typically arrive in teams of four. Those at the scene should remain calm and avoid quick movements.
"Having a plan should be a priority," Starko said. "If a resident has questions they should go to their human resources department and ask them if they have a plan."
Does your company or organization have a plan in place for dealing with an active shooter?