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Lt. William Thompson of the Cherokee Sheriff's Office speaks at a recent public training session on how to respond in the event of an active shooter situation.

At a time when mass shootings are a concern nationwide, law enforcement agencies in Cherokee County work to give members of the public information that could help keep them safe in a dangerous situation.

In August, the auditorium of the Yanmar Evo Center on Ga. Highway 92 was full of local residents as officers from the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office shared key information on how to respond during an active shooter event.

Led by Cpl. Jeremy Herrin and Lt. William Thompson, attendees learned about things they can do to be ready in the event of an active shooter situation, as well as how to react in the first few minutes of such a situation.

Herrin said there was a lot law enforcement officials learned following the 1999 attack at Columbine High School, including how reliant agencies had become on specialized tactical teams since the late 1960s and early 1970s. With this in mind, Herrin and Thompson said the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office began stronger active shooter incident training within the agency in the months following Columbine, while the CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) training offered to members of the public started within the past few years.

Should an active shooter situation arise, Herrin and Thompson said the top priority for law enforcement is to deal with the threat and stop the killing. The next priority is to stop the dying by tending to those wounded in the attack, followed by working to evacuate the area. At the same time, there are a number of things that civilians caught in such a situation can do to increase one’s chances of survival.

“You have to make a plan before and act with a purpose,” Herrin said. “Denial doesn’t get the job done.”

When defending against an active shooter and escaping the area is not an option, hardening a location such as a classroom can be effective. This not only includes locking the door, turning the lights out and getting out of sight from the door, but can also involve putting up a barricade in front of a door that opens inward or using things like electrical cords and belts to hold a door that opens outward.

If it should boil down to having to fight back against the shooter, Herrin and Thompson said the fighting can get ugly, but that virtually anything can be used as a weapon of opportunity, including coffee pots, fire extinguishers, cleaning supplies and even insecticide.

“It doesn’t have to be a firearm you use,” Thompson said. “You are not helpless, no matter what. What you do matters.”

Another thing Herrin and Thompson stressed was to always be aware of one’s surroundings and knowing where secondary exits at any location can be found. Not only can this information prove valuable in the event of an active shooter, but also any other incident in which a quick escape is necessary. One example the two gave was a 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, where 31 victims died attempting to escape out of the front door to the club, while another 27 were found in areas near the front door, presumably trying to get to the main entrance. Meanwhile, there were a handful of secondary exits throughout the building many of those inside could have used.

Herrin and Thompson also told attendees how self-talk and breathing exercises can help reduce panic and increase focus.

The instructors also pointed out some "red flags," that might indicate a person might be moving toward a violent act.

“If you know someone that starts that downward spiral, say something,” Herrin said.

Thompson added, “If something looks odd to you, say something. Don’t deny what you see or hear.”

For citizens who choose to exercise their right to carry a firearm with them, Sheriff Frank Reynolds, Herrin and Thompson all strongly encouraged them to seek advanced training and become proficient with whatever weapon they choose to carry. In addition, if a carrying citizen does end up in a situation involving an active shooter, Herrin and Thompson said it was extremely important to not be armed (such as putting the weapon back in its holster) when law enforcement arrives.

Herrin said he was pleased with the turnout at the recent training session.

"We hope that people see the importance of being aware of their surroundings, no matter where they are, as well as the importance of having a plan,” Herrin said.

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