"How many of you deal with the irate public?" FBI Special Agent Tom Hassell asked.
Nearly every hand in the Shelby County Board of Commissioners chambers went up as the room burst into laughter. That room was filled with county government employees from all departments, and Hassell was co-leading a class on how to survive a mass shooting. The Shelby County Office of Preparedness offered the class to county government employees last week, just days after 14 government employees were shot and killed in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
In January, they'll begin offering the free class, which offers tips and tricks for surviving an active shooter situation, to the general public. Individuals can sign up at StaySafeShelby.us for a class on either January 9th or 15th, both at 10 a.m. at the Office of Preparedness. Or groups can register to schedule a separate class.
The county employees in last week's class may have been laughing about dealing with an angry public, but Hassell and Captain Perry McEwen with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office gave serious advice on what to do when a member of the irate public (or an irate coworker) resorts to gun violence. The pair have been teaching these survival classes together since shortly after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
"The chances of you being involved in an active shooter event are very small. You might get hit by a bus first, but the problem is growing," Hassel said.
Having a "warrior mentality" — an idea that "I will survive, and everyone with me will survive" — is key, Hassel said. He also told the crowd to scout exits and hiding places everywhere they go. But the main takeaway from the class was the maxim of "run, hide, fight."
"We're talking worst-case scenario here, like when someone is coming in intent on killing. The best thing to do is run, get away," said Dale Lane, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness. "If you can't, hide behind cover if possible. And then, as a last resort, already have in mind that you're not going to stay here and be shot. If your only choice is to fight, then fight."
Hassell and McEwen emphasized the importance of running as the best option, and they advised to leave behind anyone on the scene who is scared to run. If running isn't an option, hiding in a room that can be locked or barricaded might be the second-best option. When hiding, cell phones should be silenced, and even the vibration mode should be switched off, they said.
They also advised that, when possible, people should attempt to slow the shooter's movement, either by locking elevators or even soaping hallways to make the shooter slip and fall. McEwen said that's a tactic often used in prison riots.
"If you work in a cube farm, you can push your cubicle over to create an obstacle for the shooter," Hassell said.
As a last resort, they said fighting the shooter might be the only option. That could mean hitting him or her with a fire extinguisher, chair, or even a broom handle, they said.
Lane said the classes, both the one for county employees and the upcoming public classes, were scheduled before the most recent San Bernardino shooting.
"We started planning this about six to eight weeks ago. The frequency of these attacks have obviously increased over the last year or so, so we felt this was timely," Lane said. "We were getting some questions from our [county] employees about how they should respond [in an active shooter scenario]."
Lane said he didn't want the classes to create fear but instead to instill a sense of personal safety and security.
"The whole point is not to scare anybody, but its to have knowledge to prepare," Lane said. "Knowledge is power, and we want people to have the knowledge and awareness to be planning for these types of things."