Athens police train civilians to survive an active shooter situation

There have been two active shooter situations in Athens-Clarke County in recent years. One incident in 2009 at the Town and Gown Theatre resulted in three dead. The other incident was in 2011 and resulted in one officer being killed and another officer being injured.

As a result of these incidents, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department educates the public on how to protect themselves in an active-shooter situation. On Feb. 8 at the Athens Regional Library, the ACCPD held a class for civilians on how to survive an active-shooter attack.

The class was led by Lieutenant Christopher Nichols of the ACCPD. Nichols has been a police officer since 1999 and an officer in Athens since 2001. Nichols responded as an investigator to both of the active shooting incidents in Athens.

Around 120 people, ranging from 20-somethings to senior citizens, attended the class.

The plan is simple: Avoid. Deny. Defend.

Memorize this.

Those tactics are not limited to active shooter situations. “We don’t care if someone has a gun or a knife or a baseball bat or a crowbar, the strategies are going to be pretty much the same,” Nichols said.

Paying attention to your surroundings and looking out for any red flags that would indicate that danger is coming, such as someone acting out of the ordinary or someone making threatening comments is key. See something, say something.

You should have an escape route and plan in mind, and it is good to know of more than one way in and out of a building. Action should be taken from the moment you realize that something is  wrong.

A video that Nichols shows in the class is of an incident in 2010 in Panama City, Florida, where before the shooter begins firing he stands up and spraypaints a large red “V” on the wall. “People are standing around watching him, and there is an indication that something is not right,” Nichols said.

If avoiding the situation is not possible, try to deny the attacker access to you — simply hiding is not enough. Lock the door or barricade the entrance to where you are. Turn off the lights and remain out of sight. Once you are effectively protected, shift your focus toward escape, such as exiting through a window or climbing into the ceiling.

If locking or barricading the door through traditional means is not possible, Nichols recommends getting creative, such as using a belt or purse strap to tie the door closed.

If the first two strategies don’t work, then you must defend yourself.

“If you do nothing, the only thing you can do is bleed,” Nichols said. “If you fight you need to fight like your life depends on it, because it does.”

Chairs, telephones and even trash cans be weapons of opportunity. However, fighting the attacker should always be a last resort.

With the advent of the “Campus Carry” law and the availability of concealed carry permits, it’s possible that you will be armed. The ACCPD recommends you never go hunting for an attacker.

When police respond to an active shooter situation they are not sure who the active shooter is or how many active shooters there are, Nichols said. A person out hunting an attacker is indistinguishable from an attacker.

Also, in stressful situations people can be susceptible to phenomena like tunnel vision, a tendency to focus only on what is in front of you, and auditory exclusion, a form of temporary hearing loss. According to Nichols, the police themselves are susceptible to these symptoms, but have the training to overcome them.

If you ever find yourself in an active shooter situation following the plan put forth by the ACCPD may save your life. However the strategies that they teach are also applicable to other emergency situations. Always be aware, and always have a plan.

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