“Being prepared for an active shooter is like being prepared for an earthquake: they’re both rare and unpredictable, but can happen anywhere.”
That statement is from Newport Beach Police Officer Marie Gamble, 33, who made a presentation on “Preparing for the Unthinkable: What to Do if an Active Shooter Crosses Your Path” at the January 13 Speak Up Newport meeting at the Civic Center Community Room.
That subject and accompanying concern have garnered widespread local interest, so Gamble has been making frequent “how-to-survive” presentations to school employees, shopping center operators, city employees, churches and temples.
She emphasized that “the percentage of this happening in any city is very low,” but the department needs to inform citizens how to react in such an emergency.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as “…an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, typically through the use of firearms.”
NBPD regularly receives threat bulletins from an amalgamation of federal, state and local police and intelligence agencies, but “to this date, we ‘ve received no threats that require response,” said Gamble.
However, Gamble said the department’s SWAT team, patrol officers, canine units and Crisis Negotiations Team train intensively for such an eventuality. As a result, patrol officers who receive a “critical action” call can be on scene anywhere in the city most often within two to four minutes, Gamble assured. In scenes of panic and confusion, though, 120 seconds will seem like an eternity.
Preparation for an active shooter incident starts now, Gamble underscored to the audience. Three, single-syllable words define one’s action: Run. Hide. Fight.
The Department of Homeland Security has advice for an active shooter situation, available as a wallet-sized foldout from the NBPD:
Run: Have an escape route and plan in mind. Leave your belongings behind. “Run as fast and as far away as you can, until you can’t hear gunshots anymore,” said Gamble. “Run in a zigzag pattern, which makes you a difficult target.”
Hide (if you can’t get away safely): Hide in an area outside of the shooter’s view. Block entry to your hiding place, lock doors, silence cell phones. Also, from the hiding place, seek to escape.
Fight: As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the shooter. Act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.
When law enforcement arrives, follow all instructions. Take nothing with you, raise hands and keep hands visible at all times. Avoid quick movements toward officers. Avoid screaming or yelling, and don’t ask officers for help or directions when evacuating. Be ready to provide information to officers on scene, or when calling 911.
“Our goal is not to scare people, but to put this into perspective,” said Deputy Chief David McGill. “The chances are very small” of a mass shooting in Newport Beach, “but it is essential that you have a plan.”
Gamble encouraged anyone “with a sense of suspicion about a person’s behavior” to call 911. “We’re trained to evaluate behaviors,” she said, by observing such signs as “nervousness, body language, expressions – a totality of nuances.”
If it comes to an overt attack, “You can absolutely survive a shooting situation,” Gamble said. “Most active shooters expect you to be a victim, so surprise and distract that person. By doing something, you maximize your chances for survival.”
NBPD has a handout titled “Surviving an Active Shooter” that includes Senior Safety when at home and when out. It’s excellent day-to-day, self-defense advice that’s a must for everyone’s information arsenal. It’s available at the police station or at Oasis Senior Center.
In this era of uncertainty, we domesticated and rather comfortable humans can learn an important lesson from watching wildlife documentaries on TV: innocent “prey” animals that are aware of their surroundings and responsive to threats are those most likely to be grazing the day after a predator strikes.
Officer Marie Gamble can be contacted at [email protected]