The threat to American citizens has changed significantly in the past few years and it is past the time that we adapt.
When mass shootings occur, discussions on the radio focus on what happened and what could have been done, and should be done, to prevent future tragedies. First, we need to understand that there are no simple solutions here. If there were simple solutions, we would have found them by now. The answer is multi-layered, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we each can do, on our own individual level, to be better prepared for disaster.
As I boarded a flight this morning for a day trip to Chicago, I watched the flight attendant briefing. I actually read through and mentally rehearsed the emergency exit procedures. While I’m sitting in an exit row today, I do this exercise regardless of where I’m sitting. As usual though, very few other passengers did either. Too bad. A short mental rehearsal can be the difference between life and death during a disaster. So why don’t we do it? And what’s the equivalent in a public venue such as a concert in Las Vegas, particularly with an active shooter firing from 32 floors up?
I understand that preparedness can be unsettling, which is maybe why so few people actually do it. On a trip to New York this past summer, with my wife and daughter along, I was giving them a short brief on what do if we had to evacuate the aircraft. This included the location of my emergency flashlight, a couple of turkey basting bags (yes, I’m serious, they can provide some level of protection to your head from superheated air and smoke inhalation for up to about five minutes, and you can still breathe during that time), and the number of rows to the nearest exits. My wife finally told me to shut up as the thought of the plane crashing was making her uncomfortable. So yes, I get it. But for me, being prepared actually reduces my stress because of the sense of confidence I have in that if there is a situation I’m as reasonably prepared as I can be to get myself and maybe a few others out of it. Plus, when you do it enough, your brain isn’t as stressed by the thought of it and your reactions are more automatic, overriding the instinct to panic or freeze up – remember the fire alarm drills in school? They work the same way.
While preventing the active shooter is perceptively beyond the control of most individuals, we can build some resilience into our lives so that when a disaster does strike, we give ourselves the best chance to survive.
It starts off with a mindset. You don’t need to be paranoid, just be a little prepared. When you are going into a public place, look around and identify the exits and your closest path to get there. Take another moment and run a likely scenario or two through your head – okay, if this happens, here’s my plan. If that doesn’t work, then I’m going to plan B, and maybe even a plan C.
When you spot an exit, understand how the door actually works. Not all exit doors will open when you hit the crash bar. Some facilities, airports in particular, may have a slight delay programmed in before the door opens to give security personnel enough time to see who it is on the CCTV camera – this delay prevents a lot of people from running out onto the airfield and vanishing, which will stop flight operations for hours. Any fire alarmed door operation is jurisdiction and fire code specific, but in an emergency even the slightest delay of a door opening may cause an individual to panic and run to another exit or back into the line of fire.
Also, look around for potential places of cover and concealment, and understand the difference between the two. Cover can both conceal you and provides some level of protection from gunfire and explosions. Concealment simply conceals you but affords no protection from ballistic projectiles, like bullets and shrapnel. Several airports are installing ballistic protection shields around the airport that the police know about and that will provide them protection as they return fire.
If the shooting starts, your traditional run-hide-fight strategy should kick in. Your first priority is to get off the X – the X is where the attack is currently centered. In the Las Vegas situation, where the shooter was immediately inaccessible by anyone but a trained sniper, running or hiding are likely the only options. Fighting isn’t really and option here, even if someone is carrying a concealed weapon, a pistol shot 32 floors up has a pretty low percentage chance of hitting anyone much less the target. Also, in this case, “getting down” may not be the right thing to do as moving is usually better than standing still (or lying on the ground) as it’s harder to hit a moving target. If moving off the X is too hazardous, look for cover and/or concealment. If you can’t do anything other than lay down, don’t move! Your best hope here is that the shooter thinks you’re already hit.
After the shooting has been stopped, it’s time to prevent the dying. This can be done by getting basic first aid and CPR training and by carrying an Individual First Aid kit. An IFK is small, easily carried in a pocket and contains a bandage and tourniquet that can stuff a wound and stop the bleeding. Again, this may seem a bit paranoid, but AGAIN we are living in different times than we were just a few years ago and if you want to live through them then you need to do things differently. While I don’t carry the IFK everywhere I go (although I have fire fighter friends who do), I do have one in my laptop bag or backpack, and if I’m going to a large venue, I will toss one in my pocket just in case.
And speaking of different times, this is also a good place to address the issue of the increasing militarization of the nation’s police forces. Today’s police officer, and their equipment, is looking more and more like a paramilitary force – and I’m okay with that. While ‘officer friendly’ is okay for day-to-day police activities, when the terrorist style assault occurs by an attacker using military level weapons and in some cases, armored protection in the form of a bulletproof vest, you need an equally weaponized and trained law enforcement response to defeat that threat.
In the coming weeks, we can expect gun control debates, public area security debates and the unfortunately the usual rounds of shoulda, woulda, coulda’s. Then our attention will divert as it always does. . . until the next one. While you or I may not be able to personally prevent the next attack, with a little preparedness, you (or I) may be able to survive it.
The FBI is presently tracking about 1000 domestic terrorism groups and the same amount on the international terrorist side, and none of those numbers includes all the self-radicalized, and just plain psychopathic and unstable personalities out there, all with the potential to carry out the next attack. The times they are indeed a changing and we can either change with them or continue to be victims of our unwillingness to change with them.
For more information on how to survive a disaster, check out Amanda Ripley’s excellent book, “The Unthinkable: who survives disaster and why.”
A few notes for Airport Operators
Considering that the 2017 Las Vegas shooting attack occurred so close to the McCarron International Airport, airport security and airport emergency management personnel should consider a few things.
- What is the airport’s plan if hundreds of individuals start pouring over the perimeter fences and through the access gates as they flee an active shooter or explosion? How quickly can you shut down flight operations and what would that look like (a tabletop is suggested to discuss this and game it out). How can you provide Public Protection during this time?
- What is the airport’s plan when airport resources such as police, fire and EMS personnel either leave site or are unavailable for airport shift coverage due to such an immense disaster? Remember that the first response community is a large family and responders all know each other. Plus, no responder wants to miss out on the chance to be part of solving the problem, regardless of regulatory requirements for airport staffing. The same could also be said for airport unarmed security personnel as security officers may be in higher demand in the coming days and weeks.
- What is the plan for the airport public relations and other support related staff that may be called upon to assist with the disaster (just like they did in in Orlando after 49 were killed in the night club shooting).
- What is the airport’s plan to take care of their own personnel who may be experiencing post traumatic stress either from responding, or potentially being on-site during the attack?
- What is the airport’s plan to receive the incoming family members and friends of the victims and assist in getting their injured and deceased loved ones back home on outbound flights, delicately and respectfully?
- What is the airport’s plan to create a staging, holding and/or evacuation area if there is a demand for it in order to support the recovery, and an area to receive inbound relief flights of additional personnel (law enforcement, medical, etc)?
- What is the airport’s current security status and should there be a consideration in implementing a few higher levels of security for a few days until it can be confirmed that this was a single-shooter incident, and to mitigate copycat incidents in the coming days and weeks?
While individuals may suffer from their lack of personal preparedness, airport operators can suffer in many other ways by not preparing to respond to and support such a large-scale community disaster.
By Jeff Priceby