FIRING BACK: Workers at Sage Rehabilitation, as part of active shooter training, are told to throw anything within reach at a would-be shooter in an effort to disorient the assailant. (Photo by Collin Richie)
Just as Scott McClelland rounded the corner of the break room with his weapon—a Nerf gun—drawn, the employees at Sage Rehabilitation Hospital launched a counterattack, as they had been trained.
“Active shooter in the cafeteria!” one yelled.
Staff members hurled red foam balls at their boss to disorient him, and then they swarmed McClelland for the take down. And just like that, the staged threat was over. McClelland threw his hands up to surrender, and the staff erupted in laughter. After all, it’s not every day that employees get to ambush their boss.
As light-hearted as the scene may have been, the purpose behind the exercise was far more serious. The staff at Sage Rehabilitation were preparing to respond—and survive—a potential active shooter situation. They ran through a number of scenarios, learning how to barricade doors, evacuate and fight back.
“It was nerve-racking,” says Richida Bowie, a social worker who took part in the exercise. “Even though we knew what to expect, it’s still scary to think this could happen.”
Sage Rehabilitation is one of a growing number of workplaces taking part in active shooter trainings. LCTA Workers’ Comp in Baton Rouge began offering the trainings in 2017 to policyholders like Sage Rehabilitation throughout the state.
With the alarming rate of mass shootings in recent years, these trainings are becoming more common than ever, especially at schools and health care facilities. McClelland, an administrator at Sage Rehabilitation, says he asked LCTA to conduct the training because, as a health care clinic dealing with drugs and family
dynamics, it could be a target.
Interest is also growing among businesses, albeit at a slower rate. No employer wants acknowledge that a mass shooting could happen in their workplace. It’s an unnerving thought, and one that many believe is more likely to happen someplace else. But they would be wrong.
“Workplace violence is the leading cause for most of these instances,” says Estee Hawkins, an LCTA loss control representative who leads the active shooter trainings. “Schools and hospitals get the attention, but it’s general businesses that makes up the majority of events because it stems from workplace violence or domestic instances.”
An FBI report on active shooters from 2000 to 2013 revealed that more of these events happened in a business than anywhere else, even compared to educational environments, which hold the No. 2 spot.
LCTA isn’t the only company offering these trainings in the Baton Rouge area. Open Eyes, a safety training and consulting firm owned by former Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff and his son, Kelly, also provides group employee training for active shooter situations.
The LeDuffs have been in the safety business since 2009, offering services not just in Baton Rouge but across the country, and the client list grows with each new workplace shooting, says Kelly LeDuff.
“When we first started years ago, some people saw us as doomsday preppers,” he says. “Now things have changed so much. We’re in demand.”
Run. Scream. Fight.
Some might wonder: In an active shooter event, wouldn’t our natural fight-or-flight instincts kick in? Not necessarily. Years ago, Hawkins says, people were initially taught to shelter in place and wait for help, rather than trust their gut.
What officials learned in time is that most shootings are over before police arrive, which meant waiting is not a way to survive, so training techniques have since evolved from passive to active. Instructors are now teaching people to run, barricade doors, evacuate buildings and, when necessary, counterattack.
“You are the first responder,” Hawkins tells those in training. “No one else will save you.”
The majority of shootings in the FBI report ended in five minutes or less, and more than two-thirds were over before police arrived. Meanwhile, 13% of incidents were stopped “after unarmed citizens safely and successfully restrained the shooter.”
Hawkins bases her training seminar on what she learned from a two-day course at the ALICE Training Institute in 2016, with a Navy SEAL as her instructor. ALICE—an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate—is a leading authority on active shooter response training.
“It was nerve-racking. Even though we knew what to expect, it’s still scary to think this could happen.”
—RICHIDA BOWIE, social worker, Sage Rehabilitation Hospital
The LCTA training begins with a presentation about active shooter incidents and why sheltering in place doesn’t work. Hawkins plays the Patti Nielson 911 call from the Columbine school shooting in 1999. Nielson, a teacher, is heard telling students in the library to stay down under the tables, which she was trained to do, but they could have left. Instead, the shooters came in and killed several students.
“Traditional lockdown isn’t effective,” Hawkins says. “A passive response has higher fatality rates.”
Instead, if you have a clear exit, and know it’s not in the shooter’s path, you should take it. If there’s no way out, the next best thing is to not just lock the doors, but barricade them. Employees should know their workplace surroundings, Hawkins says, and what they can use to jam or block doorways, like a bookcase.
In the worst-case scenario, when the shooter gets in, don’t give up. There are still options. The majority of the time there is a single shooter who is not skilled and not expecting a fight—because most people think if someone has a gun, there’s nothing they can do. And that’s not true.
“You can run, move, scream—do something. Throw something,” Hawkins advises. “Charging a person makes you a difficult target to hit, and if you scream, you throw them off.”
The active shooter trainings involve a series of role-playing exercises, where employees barricade doors in their office, escape through exits or take down the shooter. With practice, people learn what their options are and fall back to that training in the event of an actual shooting, Hawkins says, sort of like muscle memory.
In short, the training teaches people to trust their instincts, even though they’ve been conditioned to be submissive. If someone is acting suspicious, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to be rude, despite the rules of social etiquette. And when that person becomes a threat, know your options for fighting back.
“People will do as they are trained, so let’s train them that they have the authority to take back their life,” Hawkins says. “You have far more power in these situations than you realize.”