"What you do matters."
Bluffton Police Chief Chris Chapmond emphasized that point numerous times during the 90-minute Citizen Response to Active Shooter Events class held Dec. 12 at the department's headquarters. About 25 people attended the second free class held for the general public. A third class is scheduled for January.
The techniques Chapmond teaches in this class are applicable to home, work, church and businesses, he said, and are designed to teach participants how to react in an event with an active shooter.
"There are three stages of disaster response," he said. "Denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. The longer you live in the first two stages, the greater the risk to you."
The FBI's definition of an active shooter event involves one or more persons engaged in killing or attempting to kill multiple people in an area occupied by multiple unrelated individuals.
"This is one of the definitions we use to classify active shooter events," said Chapmond. "Another definition is this: any single occurrence where four or more people have been shot - not necessarily killed, simply shot. There have been 366 such events in the United States in 2018, as of six weeks ago."
The point is, Chapmond said, "you don't have to be dead for it to be a bad day. It's still a critical incident."
The national average time for law enforcement response is three minutes. One key to increasing the odds of survival is to have a plan for everything you do, whether it is going out to eat or facing an emergency at home.
"I would rather you overreact than do nothing," Chapmond said. He said there are three stages in surviving such an incident. "Think A-D-D: Avoid. Deny. Defend.
"Avoid the suspect. If there's an incident in aisle 12, don't go to aisle 12. Leave ASAP. Know where your exits are. Call 911. Consider secondary exits - those that are not doors."
In the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, a professor who had survived the Holocaust held the door shut long enough for a number of his students to escape through a window.
Deny the shooter entrance: lock the doors, lights out, out of sight. The single most step in denial is locking the door.
"A shooter wants to inflict as much harm as they can in as quick a manner as they can. They do not want to take the time to fight through that locked door," Chapmond said.
Barricade the door, the heavier the barricade the better. Multiple layers of barricade are even better. Use door stops. If the door opens outward, hold the door handle with ropes at an angle away from the door.
If the shooter gains access, defend yourself. Try to gain the advantage by your position. Grab the gun. Fight.
Even if you don't have a gun, Chapmond said, "a weapon is anything that can cause harm." He added that throwing anything at the assailant can be distracting enough to put off his aim.
"Don't play dead," Chapmond said. "One of the victims who survived the Virginia Tech shooting said she got shot twice and decided to play dead as he passed by her. When he retraced his steps, he shot her several more times."
If your home is targeted, the perpetrators might ransack the place, Chapmond said. Create every obstacle you can. Don't make it easy on them. They know they have limited time.
"You are not helpless," he repeated. "The more you do increases your survival rate. What you do matters. If you can avoid and deny, that is always preferable, but there may come a time when you come face-to-face. Defend. Fight like your life depends on it, because it does."
When the police arrive, Chapmond said, their priority of work is to first stop the killing. Officers will fly past the victims to find the suspects. Next, they will stop the dying by treating the wounded until emergency medical teams arrive. Then they will evacuate the area.
Chapmond cautioned class members who are licensed to carry concealed personal weapons to think before intervening in an active shooter incident.
"You need to consider the consequences of intervening and there are some things you need to do," he said. For instance, when he is with his family, he said, he is very hesitant to risk anything happening to them by his actions, but if he is on his own, Chapmond said he more willing to act.
"When the police arrive, follow their commands, show your palms and do not move," he said. He strongly recommended that anyone with a weapon either put it on the ground if it was used in the incident or advise officers when approached that they have a weapon on them.
Anyone interested in participating in a future class may contact Bluffton Police Community Relations Manager Joy Nelson at email@example.com or 843-706-4542.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.