Police develop protocols for dealing with mass shooters; offer advice for potential victims

LACONIA — A person who enters a crowded environment with the intent to harm as many as possible behaves in an inherently different way than someone committing any other crime, Laconia Police explained at a presentation held last night at the department's community room. As such, police will respond in a different manner to reduce the killer's opportunity to act. Those who find themselves in harm's way should also follow a particular strategy to limit their chances of becoming a victim, police said.
"I think we were all affected by some of the tragedies we've seen, especially Newtown," said Police Chief Chris Adams. In the wake of the killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn. on December 14 of last year, the city's Police Department has developed a PowerPoint presentation and to educate members of the public of how they should react, and what they should expect, if such an event were to occur locally. The presentation will be given to City Council next week, and the department plans to meet with schools, churches and other local organizations where large groups of people congregate.
"The chances of something like this happening in our community are fairly slim... but that's what every community said," Adams said.
"The mindset of an active shooter is a lot different from that of someone committing any other crime," said Captain Matt Canfield. "Active shooters," as he termed them, are different from hostage takers, bank robbers or other criminals in that the shooters have no intention to survive the incident. "They just want to take as many people with them as possible."
Unlike with a hostage taker, police cannot use logic to negotiate with the assailant, and there's typically little time to react, Canfield reported. Active shooting events typically end within five to 10 minutes of the first shot.
The first mass shooting event in the United States occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas. However, it wasn't until 1999, in the wake of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado that police began to develop a unique strategy to counter the particular threat of an active shooter. "This was the catalyst that changed police tactics," said Canfield.
Prior protocols called for local police to stage outside of the site of the shooting until the regional S.W.A.T. or special operations group could assemble. However, this could extend response time by as much as half an hour, during which time the shooter would have moved from target to target. Instead, police follow a strategy they call "Immediate Action, Rapid Deployment."
Acting in teams as small as two, the first officers on scene will immediately respond to the threat. Using armored vests, shields and patrol rifles kept in the trunks of cruisers, the officers will attempt to enter the building and will follow the sound of gunshots until they reach and confront the shooter. In the process, they may have to pass by any wounded victims, either civilians or police, until the threat has been ended.
"We're going to form up in a group and move forward, try to stop the shooter," said Lieutenant Richard Simmons.
Until police are able to do so, there are some basic steps that individuals can take to improve their chances of survival. Those steps can begin before a shooting develops, said Canfield. Members of the public should be aware of routes they can follow to escape a building, and have a strategy in mind in case they have to react at a moment's notice. They should also be observant of those around them, look for troubling signs exhibited by their peers and report suspicious persons. Parents should also find out what their school's strategy is for a shooting incident and ensure that their children know what to do.
However, once the shooting begins, said Canfield, "Do something — there are certain steps you can take."
Those steps, in order of preference, are described in the simple strategy of "Run — Hide — Fight" described by police. If there's a chance to escape, take it, he said, whether others agree or not. Once safely removed from the building, call 9-1-1.
If flight is impossible, potential victims can improve their chances of survival by finding a good hiding place, one where they can lock or barricade a door, where they can turn off the lights and be silent. "An active shooter is looking for targets," said Canfield. "He knows he's got limited time, he's not going to take the time to break the door down."
However, if none of those actions are possible, Canfield urged civilians to fight a shooter with committed, physical aggression, using improvised weapons and working as a team. "If a larger number of people attack a shooter, he's not going to be able to focus on them all at once." 
As people flee the scene, Simmons urged, they should try to remain as calm as possible and consider the problem facing responding police. "We don't know who the shooter is," he said, explaining that those leaving the building should avoid making quick movements toward officers or screaming. Instead, they should hold their hands up and spread their fingers apart to indicate they're not a threat, and follow instructions to wait in a designated area, where they should expect to be searched for weapons and interviewed about what they've seen.
Adams said the PowerPoint presentation will be made available for review on the department's website, and www.laconiapd.org, and that he's willing to meet with representatives of any city organizations or businesses that are interested in learning more.