Jefferson Central Christian Church held an active shooter training program Monday night, providing attendees with information on how best to respond in the event of active fire.
The training included a one-hour video made by the Texas School Safety Center. The presentation, titled “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events,” covered much of what people should expect and how to respond to a potential shooting. After the presentation, Jefferson Police Chief Mark Clouse took the pulpit to share his thoughts on the training.
“I think if we take anything away from this evening, it’s the conversation, the discussion what can we do?” Clouse said. “What do we know about a situation? What has worked in the past and elsewhere? What didn’t?
Clouse pointed out that people are preparing for fire tornadoes and other disasters, saying that, as sad as they are, mass shootings are another reality that people need to start preparing for.
“I strongly believe when fight or flight is on the mind, I think it’s a situation where you fight,” Clouse said. “There are weapons everywhere at your disposal. And unfortunately, this may be the situation you are facing.
The video presentation was presented by Pete Blair, Executive Director of Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT). Blair broke down the typical disaster response into three parts: denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment.
Blair points out that there is usually a pause between the initial onset of the disaster and when people begin to respond.
Behind this, Blair explains, is people’s cognitive normality bias, which means that people will always prefer to classify an event or stimuli as something they know before realizing what is actually happening. For example, when people hear gunshots, they may assume the noise was fireworks before being forced to recognize that something is wrong.
Once people get over denial about a situation, the next step is to deliberate about how to respond. According to Blair, the typical human mind is rational and reasonable, but when stressful situations arise, people revert to more lizard-like thinking aimed at keeping themselves alive.
While the lizard spirit is useful for quick responses, it can also do people a disservice, preventing them from making the right decisions.
“When you’re stressed, the lizard brain plays an increasingly important role and takes resources away from the human brain,” Blair said. “So the human brain is good because it’s rational, it’s adaptive, it’s very flexible, but it’s also very slow. The major advantage of the lizard brain is that it is fast, its disadvantage is that it is fixed and only has certain things to offer you.
Blair points out that the lizard’s brain would have developed when people had far less complex dangers to fear, for which fighter-flight or freeze-type responses are well suited.
In the modern world, certain situations call for more complex responses, for which the lizard brain may be unsuited.
Blair offered some strategies for staying calm and collected in a stressful situation like a shooting. The first was to simply calm down, according to Blair, telling yourself to calm down can help slow the transition to the lizard brain.
Another way to keep calm mentioned by Blair was controlled breathing. Breathing in deeply, pausing, then exhaling and repeating has been shown to reduce your heart rate by 20 to 30 beats per minute, Blair says, allowing people to think more rationally for longer.
Blair also pointed to changing emotional responses as a way to stay in control. Although fear is sometimes a helpful response, it can become debilitating, in which case people should try to switch to a more helpful emotion.
Finally, Blair highlighted fitness as a factor in helping people handle stress better and for longer.
Scripting and practicing responses is another useful tool for dealing with stressful events like a gunfight. According to Blair, having a preconceived idea of how to react can give people an idea of how to react, which is likely to be better thought out than anything the lizard brain could come up with at the time.
At the decisive moment, Blair recommends choices that will give people the chance to avoid the shooter if possible. If avoiding contact with a shooter isn’t an option, then Blair says denying the shooter access should be the next choice. For Blair, that could mean locking or barricading doors, or weighing escape options.
If all other options fail, Blair says it’s important to be ready to defend yourself.
“The bad guy is going to walk through the door, but ironically you want to be closer to where he walks in to have a chance to change that from a shot to a wrestling match,” Blair said. “They’ll usually come in the door with the gun pointed, which gives you a bit of reaction time and an advantage to grab that gun and try to stop them from shooting people.”
Blair ended his presentation by explaining that many of the people behind the mass shootings commit their crimes out of a desire for notoriety. In order to prevent these shooters from achieving what they seek, it is important to focus on the atrocities they commit rather than the shooters themselves.
After the presentation, Reverend J. Alexander of the Central Christian Church made some remarks on the training.
“In my youth in the ministry, I wouldn’t have thought that was something one would ever need,” Alexander said. “If someone had told me that I would go to a workshop on church trespassing, awareness and safety, that I would go to a workshop on recognizing the signs and symptoms of an overdose of drugs and going to an FBI-run workshop about human trafficking, I would have said, “No, I’m never going to need to do any of those things.”
Although it is tragic that people feel the need to take these trainings and prepare for such atrocities, Alexander stressed that it is important and that trainings like this could save lives.
“We absolutely have things going on that we just need to be aware of, that we need to be prepared for,” Alexander said. “So often I think churches step back and want to think the best of people, but we have to be prepared.”
While the Texas School Safety Center presentation included a lot of important information, Alexander said he was always open to hosting a more in-depth workshop to help prepare people for the worst.
“I think we had a very good turnout tonight,” said Alexander. “And so I’m hoping to take the next step to have a more formal type of training. It’s quite intense.