Calif. University Students Learn How to Handle Active Shooters
San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2018 — Cpl. Wade MacAdam demonstrates the best way to immobilize a weapon held by Sgt. Sabrina Reich during an active shooter training session at UC Berkeley.
First they tried it the old way. The crazed shooter burst into the room, and everyone tried to hide. Just about everyone got shot.
Then the 10 people running the simulation at UC Berkeley on what to do during a shooting rampage tried things the new way—cobbling up a plan for fighting back. They hurled pretend laptops, books and chairs at the shooter the second he burst into their office.
The pretend killer managed to get off a couple of shots, but then he was swarmed and subdued. And that’s exactly what the police team training this group of university educators and office workers the other day on how to deal with active shooters thought would happen.
“The old-school approach of closing the door, locking it and turning out the lights just doesn’t always work anymore,” UC Berkeley police Sgt. Sabrina Reich told the staff of the campus’ Center for Educational Partnerships. “They’re expecting you to just lie down and take it.
“We’re telling you not to do that. We’re saying, ‘You have to have options to fight back.’”
The staffers hung on every word, most sitting literally on the edges of their seats. They knew what anyone paying attention to the news for the past few years has known: Mass shootings are on the rise, and being in a crowd of any kind can be dangerous.
“Times have changed,” said Marsha Jaeger, the assistant vice chancellor who runs the partnerships center and took the training with her staff. “I didn’t imagine 40 years ago that it would get to this stage, where there are so many shootings all the time, but obviously that’s the reality of things.
“It’s the American culture now. It’s disheartening. But we have to be prepared. So we need this kind of training.”
UC Berkeley assistant vice chancellor Marsha Jaeger (left) and Juan Manriquez (right) defend themselves against the shooter, played by partnerships educator Boun Khamnouane.
There is now nearly one incident a day in America in which four people or more are shot, according to studies by the Gun Violence Archive website. Not all get big headlines like the shootings that killed five people in Tehama County in November. But make no mistake, police say: This is a new age of fear.
“We’re not trying to scare you,” Reich told the class. “We don’t want you to be paranoid. But we want you to be prepared.”
The federal Department of Homeland Security has led the way in the more aggressive response, recommending two years ago that workplaces abandon training courses based purely on locking doors and hiding and instead adopt the new FBI program called “Run, Hide, Fight.”
That program recommends first trying to escape. If that doesn’t work, barricade yourself into a hiding place—and while you’re there, be prepared to fight back with everything you can.
Campuses throughout the nation and the hundreds of private active shooter training companies, such as the Alice Training Institute—from which UC draws for its course—are now emphasizing that approach.
“We do this to give them options,” said UC Berkeley police Cpl. Wade MacAdam, who conducted the partnerships center training with Reich. “It used to be we’d say, ‘What should we do if it happens?’ Now we say, ‘What should we do when it happens?’ ”
Cpl. Wade MacAdam shows students slides of weapons for identification during an active shooter training session at UC Berkeley.
MacAdam, UC Berkeley’s main crime prevention officer, has been giving active shooter training courses since 2000, and every time a massacre hits the headlines, the requests for his courses spike. But with the escalation of high-profile attacks in recent years, he’s given a new name to what he does.
“There are so many attacks with multiple victims now that we no longer call this ‘active shooter training,’” MacAdam said. “We had stabbings at UC Merced, people driving over others with vehicles, mass shootings of many kinds—now we use the term ‘targeted violence.’”
In 2015, the UC police team conducted 18 training sessions on the campus and its satellites. In 2016, that number shot up to 47, and at last count there had been 35 in 2017.
Requests for the courses soared most recently after the October massacre in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead at a country music festival, Reich said. She noted that “the chances of one of these things actually happening to you are very small.” But the awareness is useful for stoking interest in getting prepared.
“Look, these things happen fast,” Reich told the class, pointing out that most active shooter incidents start and finish within five to seven minutes. It can take police more than five minutes to arrive, and during that time, the people being shot at are on their own. In effect, they’re the first responders.
The workers at the partnerships center training the other day took their roles seriously.
Reich’s advice for what to do first is look for a way out. This involves some preparation—whenever you go into a room, a theater or another enclosed space, note where the door is and visualize how you would flee. “Make it a habit,” Reich said.
If escape is not possible, the next tactic is to lock and barricade the door with whatever is handy, the instructor said. But the important new distinction to that old tactic is the counterattack preparation.
“If you have lockdown, you’ve got to be ready to fight—you have to,” MacAdam said. “So think about what you can use as a weapon ... an aluminum water bottle? A pen to poke in someone’s eyes?”
Reich added: “Ten chairs flying at their head and face when they’re coming in the door—that can be overwhelming. Now we can have the advantage.”
To demonstrate, the team ran the two drills of first being passive, and then fighting back using foam balls to simulate water bottles and other weapons. What stood out for the class was that the shooter, played by partnerships educator Boun Khamnouane, had tunnel vision when he burst in.
Each time he pointed his plastic toy gun at someone, his attention was focused on that person. That gave everyone else in the room a chance to flee or attack.
“The tunnel vision thing was real, but also when they started throwing stuff at me, my whole plan for shooting people went away,” Khamnouane said after the drill. “I started just looking at the objects coming at me. Gave people the opportunity to fight back.”
Office manager Joshua Smith was one of the first to fling the foam balls in the drill. It was eye-opening.
“I had a stronger sense of control than I thought I would,” he said. “I’d like to think I could throw a chair now if I get in in that situation.
“But,” Smith added, “I would certainly hope I wouldn’t be put in that situation to begin with. I hope none of us are.”