About a dozen people gathered Friday morning at the Merriam Visitors Bureau to think about the unthinkable — a gunman bent on mass murder entering their place of business.
It was one of two training sessions offered Friday by the Merriam Police Department on how to prepare for and deal with a so-called “active shooter” scenario.
Cpls. Jeremiah Waters and James Browning, both members of Merriam’s SWAT team, led the presentation. After their own PowerPoint presentation on the history of the phenomenon, they showed a six-minute video titled “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” produced in 2012 by the city of Houston using a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The title lays out the recommended steps, in order, in such a situation.
Preparation is key, Waters said.
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“How often are fire drills conducted in school? And yet, because of the way they are conducted, the last death in a school fire was 50 years ago,” he said. “How often are shooter drills conducted? When was the last death due to an active shooter? Pretty recent.”
He said there were 154 active-shooter events in the United States between 2002 and 2012.
Browning urged the participants to call 911 if they see something suspicious, for example, a person wearing a trench coat on a sunny summer day.
“I’d rather investigate something that turns out to be nothing than the other way around,” he said.
The officers talked about how law enforcement would react if forced to respond to a shooting spree. They will be barking commands, ignoring the wounded and hunting for the shooter, they said. Medical personnel will be coming along behind them to treat the injured.
“Try to remain calm and follow commands,” Waters said. “Keep your hands up and spread them out. Avoid grabbing officers or making quick movements toward them. If you do, you may end up on the ground with cuffs on.
The officers urged the participants to consider how they would flee if an armed intruder entered their place of business. Know the possible exit routes, they said. Think of possible places to hide and weapons to improvise. You may not want to carry a gun, they said, but how about keeping a hammer handy? A can of wasp spray makes an excellent human repellent, too, they noted.
Afterward, several of the participants said they appreciated the training and would take its lessons to heart.
Jessica Arenholz is general manager of the Drury Inn across the street from the visitor center.
“Although we have full security systems at the hotel, you can’t be too prepared to ensure the guests and team members are safe,” she said.
Arenholz said she would review the training with her co-workers.
“I’m going to buy a can of wasp spray and take it back to my team and watch the YouTube video with them,” she said.
Jennifer Pantoja, director of sales at the Hampton Inn, said her takeaway from the session was about having the most up-to-date list of employees and guests handy so that everyone could be accounted for in an emergency situation.
Browning said the Merriam Police Department had done similar training sessions for large employers over the past decade and wanted to offer the same thing to small business people.
Browning and Waters said they had received training from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Tactical Officers Association, among others.
Browning noted that a number of Johnson County law enforcement agencies have a joint training session set for the week March 14, during spring break. At that time, the police departments of Merriam, Mission, Fairway, Westwood, Prairie Village, Roeland Park and Leawood will train for active-shooter scenarios alongside security staff from the Shawnee Mission School District and at least two local fire departments.
On the Web
To watch the “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event” video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0