Law enforcement re-evaluate tactics used in the event of an active shooter

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Sgt. Tony Rios of the North County SWAT spoke of the importance of rapid communication lines at the Fullerton Police Department’s Active Intruder Awareness training program Thursday.
(Nolan Motis / Daily Titan)

Active shooting incidents have spurred law enforcement to adjust training protocols to help keep people better prepared while increasing their chances of saving themselves and others.

The Fullerton Police Department held its “Active Intruder Awareness” training program Thursday night at the Fullerton Community Center. The program departed from the old ways of training that instructed people to lock doors, huddle and wait for help, encouraging victims to instead “run, hide and fight.”

Topics of discussion included a history of active intruder events, methods for mitigating risk in schools and the workplace; and response strategies in the event of intrusion, according to the City of Fullerton’s website.

“This entire presentation is about things that you can do to help save yourselves,” said Sgt. Chris Wren of the Fullerton Police Department. “When you’re prepared for something, you already know the decisions you’re going to make.”

He highlighted how law enforcement adapted after school shootings such as the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.

“We all now carry rifles in our cars,” Wren said. “We’ve changed our tactics; we will actively pursue.”

Police have set a goal of a two-to-five-minute response time in the event of an active shooter to minimize the number of casualties, Wren said.

“The bad guys know they have two to five minutes,” Wren said. “We’re going to get there and we’re going to do what we have to do.”

The best thing a person can do to increase his or her chances of survival is to be prepared, Wren said. For example, the casualties of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting could have been reduced had the teachers been properly trained to appropriately confront an active shooter situation.

Lt. Mike Chocek of the Fullerton Police Department and Sgt. Tony Rios of the North County SWAT Family Crimes Unit stressed the importance of communication at the beginning of an incident.

“You need to let everybody know what’s happening — the information has to get out,” Chocek said. “You don’t want one side of the school knowing what’s happening and the other side of the school watching a movie.”

Rios added that if people are able to communicate with others at a school or business, they could potentially save lives.

“If you have the opportunity to be told that there’s an active shooter incident, you have the opportunity to save yourself, maybe, or some kids or coworkers,” Rios said. “It’s important to announce as soon as possible.”

Rios clarified the meaning of active incidents, emphasizing that people have to get out of the mindset that these could also mean events without guns involved. A person could do damage with a gun, a knife or even a car.

The nature of an active incident is that there is no telling where or when it is going to occur. It can happen anywhere and at anytime. Part of being prepared is to be aware of the possibility, Rios said.

“Unfortunately, it happens everywhere and we can’t have that mindset,” Rios said. “We can’t be complacent and think, ‘Hey, it’s not going to happen where I work.’”

Rios ended the program with a sobering account of how passengers on one of the hijacked planes during 9/11 was unable to run or hide. The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 found out through phone calls that their plane was part of the planned terrorist attack.

“What do you do? You curl up in a ball or you fight,” Rios said. “And what did those people do? They fought and they saved lives.”

Flight 93 ended up crashing in a field in Pennsylvania, and while everyone on board died, the passengers and crew thwarted the hijackers’ goal of destroying an important U.S. government building like the White House.

After the training program, police fielded comments ranging from a question on second amendment rights, a high school teacher’s account of a lockdown situation, and an eyewitness account of her lack of training during an active shooter incident on the Cal State Fullerton campus many years ago.

If someone were legally carrying a firearm in their vehicle, asked one audience member, would that person be allowed to use the firearm in case of an active incident?

“If somebody is threatening somebody else’s life, you have the right to stop that crime from happening,” Wren said.

The training program has been active for over two years. It started within high schools, junior highs and elementary schools and, due to its popularity, expanded to parent-teacher associations.

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