Avoid, deny, and defend is the method of survival local police officers urge citizens take during active shooter events.
Mass shootings are unfortunately becoming commonplace around the world, and the Sutherland Springs, Texas church massacre has made apparent the fact that small towns are by no means an exception to gun violence.
Hoping to be prepared in the face of potential danger, over 100 church members, pastors, and citizens learned the statistically most successful means of surviving a shooting from Deputy Rachel Haddix and Sheriff Chief Deputy Jonathan Blackmon.
Ready with a PowerPoint, videos, and handouts, Haddix highlighted misconceptions about two common survival tricks that do not work: playing dead and hiding and hoping.
“Playing dead, we saw this in Virginia Tech,” Haddix said. “A lot of students who played dead even after getting shot once — they got shot again and again. The shooter is going to come back and ensure you’re dead because you’re still there. Hiding and hoping — I mean there’s probably nothing in this room that’s bulletproof.”
Avoidance is a citizen’s first line of defense in the face of danger.
Paying attention to surroundings, having an exit plan, and moving away from the source of the threat as quickly as possible means pedestrians can potentially escape unharmed without having to move to the steps of deny or defend.
“Those are not effective strategies. Moving to avoid, deny, and defend — the first one is avoid. Get out. Leave if you can. Know where your exits are. I know there’s three exits to this room right now,” Haddix said at Cedartown’s Eastview Baptist Church. “Call 911 when you’re safe of course. But think about your secondary exits. Unfortunately, there are no windows in this room... always think about your secondary exits — even if you have to go through the roof tiles. Break through drywall, do what you can do to get away.”
Denying is a person’s second line of defense during an active shooting.
Maintaining distance from the threat, creating barriers, and turning off lights and phones are all effective survival strategies if one has trouble exiting the location.
“If you can’t avoid the person- like in the video they were in the meeting room with one exit- you’re going to move on to deny,” Haddix said. “You’re gonna lock the door, turn off the lights, get out of sight. You saw that they moved up to the wall that was next to the door.”
“Turn the lights off and lock it. That shooter tries that door and it looks like there’s nobody in there and it’s locked- they’re gonna move on because, again, they wanna kill people. They’re not gonna bust open the door and see what’s in there. Try to barricade the door, like they said, if it doesn’t lock put anything heavy in front of it. If it opens outwards: ropes, belts, straps. You saw they were putting their belts over the contraption up top.”
Defend is a citizen’s final option in the face of danger. While risky and best saved as a last resort, individuals who feel their life is threatened have the legal right to defend themselves with force if need be. A defender needs to be aggressive and committed to their actions in order to succeed.
“That brings us to the last step,” Haddix said. “If you can’t deny them access to your location, you’re gonna have to defend yourself. Alright, the shooters trying to kill you- you have that right. Most situations, the shooter’s outnumbered. If there’s one shooter that walks in here- there’s 150 of us in here.”
“We got better odds, right? And also, if you know where the shooter is, he doesn’t know where you’re at, so you’ve got the upper hand there. And you guys know your churches. Changing the lighting. If you turn the lights off and they do get in the room, their eyes’ll have to adjust to that darkness. Yours are already adjusted,” Haddix continued. “That’s when you need to attack. I’m gonna get as close to that door as possible- and usually that guns gonna come through first- grab the gun. Try to point the gun away from other people. You don’t want to take out people trying to help you. And fight for your life. This is not a fair fight. Use weapons, improvise weapons. I know there are 6 fire extinguishers in this building. You know where your fire extinguishers are in your church or business? Make sure you know. You got hot coffee back there, scissors, whatever you get your hands on use it. Take our their eyes. They can’t see you, they can’t fight you. But once you begin the attack, fight like your life depends on it because it does.”
Police arrival changes the scene of an active shooter drastically.
The average officer arrival time is approximately three minutes, but arrival time can sometimes reach upwards of 10 minutes in larger counties with fewer employees such as Polk.
Citizens should be ready to comply with arriving officers- especially considering the chaos and panic police will be arriving in.
“When these events happen, you’re going to get law enforcement from all over the state showing up,” Haddix said. “Somebody may look like a drug dealer putting a gun in your face telling you to get on the ground- more than likely it could be an undercover cop. Look and see, they’ll probably have a vest on that tells who they are. Look at the waistband or the neck, they’ll have something identifying them as an officer.”
Once police have arrived, pedestrians should understand the officer’s role on the scene. Haddix explained that, first and foremost, law enforcement is there to secure the scene instead of deal with injuries.
“Our priorities when we get there — it’s not to help you with your gunshot wound in your thigh,” Haddix said. “Our priority is to stop the threat. Once the threat is done, then we will come back and we’ll provide medical attention.”
“Then lastly, we’ll evacuate the area. The scenes are chaotic. We don’t know who is who. If you’re the shooter, if the shooter is already dead, so we’re gonna give you commands like: ‘Show me your hands. Get on the ground.’ You may be handcuffed — I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings we’ll sort it out later since this is for our safety and for yours.”
Weapon holders should be extra-cautious upon police arrival on an active shooter scene. The speakers highlighted procedures and tips designed to prevent misunderstandings and accidents between officers and gun-bearing citizens.
“You carry that weapon to defend yourself, right? That’s the last step in ADD- defend,” Haddix said. “So, do not seek out the shooter. Say, if law enforcement does come in, or another armed citizen, they might think you’re the shooter and shoot you, right? Now if someone’s getting killed right in front of you and the shooter’s right there, by all means, have at it. Take him out, but that is the last step.”
“You want to use that to defend yourself and your family, but try to avoid and deny first. And it’s very important when the police arrive that you do not have a gun in your hand. Re-holster it or set it aside, make it safe. Because if you point a gun at me, I’m pointing one right back at you. We’re gonna ask you to show your palms — if there’s another threat notify us immediately. Maybe there’s two shooters, maybe you think you saw a bomb or something. Let us know because EMS will not come in until that scene is safe.”
The human mental state plays a massive part in mass shootings- both for the victims and the aggressors. Haddix urges those involved to have a plan for dealing with the emotional whiplash of being in or knowing someone who was in an active shooter event. For victims, individuals are encouraged to avoid naming and giving recognition to attention-hungry shooters.
“When it’s all said and done, even if you’re not physically hurt, there’s going to be a lot of emotional trauma. You have to deal with this. We go through it- ya’ll need to go through it. You need to have a plan to deal with this trauma for everyone that’s involved,” Haddix said. “Even if they weren’t there. Maybe their kid was there and they’re having a hard time with it. So, its not just physical pain its emotional pain that you have to deal with. Lastly, I didn’t name a single active shooter. They go out- they wanna be famous. They wanna make the news. That’s why they do these things. They want to be known forever. So we don’t name them to give them that infamy. We wanna honor the victims and not the shooters.”
Following the officers, Redmond Medical Center’s Marty Robin took the stage to educate the crowd on applying emergency medical attention to bleeding wounds. Evidence gathered from mass shootings indicates that many victims die from bleeding out- not fatal gunshot wounds. Following “The ABC’s of Bleeding” can be used to prevent numerous avoidable deaths.
The first step is alert. Calling 911 immediately in order to get a professional on the field should be every citizen’s first action. With help on the way, seek out the bleeding injury by looking for damp or obviously colored spots. The third step is compression. Using both hands to apply as much pressure as possible to the wound can halt bleeding.
“Usually that’s all it takes,” Robin said. “Make sure you’re safe because if you get hurt you’re another victim. The chest and torso area usually suffers from internal bleeding, and compression won’t help that. Injuries like that should be notified and be rushed to the hospital.”
Applying pressure to numerous bleeding victims at once is impossible, so the use of wound packing and tourniquets is advised when necessary. Using a clean cloth, gauze, and tourniquets can allow citizens to stop multiple bleeding injuries among multiple individuals.