FMCC holds active shooter forum

FMCC Director of Public Safety Mark Pierce gave a presentation to students Tuesday on how they should respond to an active shooter on campus. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton-Montgomery Community College gave a presentation at the student union Tuesday on how to respond in the event of an active shooter on campus.

Director of Public Safety Mark Pierce said that the training was being presented to students in the wake of the rising number of shooting events that have taken place across the country in public spaces, including on school campuses.

Tuesday’s active shooter response training was the first of three sessions open for FMCC students to attend this month. Pierce said that the sessions were scheduled before the Feb. 14 shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Pierce acknowledged the difficulty students may have discussing the possibility of an active shooter on campus, but said that the message of the training could save their lives someday and it is important to always be aware.

“I always tell everybody safety doesn’t happen by itself,” Pierce said. “You’re adults, take an active role in your own survival.”

He added that if anyone felt scared or anxious they should feel comfortable talking to himself, a member of the public safety department, school psychologists or any staff member.

FMCC teaches the “Run, Hide, Fight” response model that has the endorsement of multiple federal agencies. Pierce went over the basic message of the program for about 15 students who attended the session. He told students to always think about how they would exit whatever location they’re in, what to do if that exit is blocked and to be prepared to move in the event of an emergency.

If you hear a sound that shouldn’t be there, try to identify what it is. If the sound causes you concern and seems like a threat, the first thing you should do is get up on your feet.

“Get on your own two feet. It’s the hardest thing to do because it goes against everything you’ve been taught and trained to do for many years in school,” Pierce said.

Pierce told students that the best option if an active shooter is on campus is to run. If the threat is not in their immediate area they should get out and as far away from the shooter as possible. If the shooter is in sight, the students should run and not bunch together.

“As a law enforcement officer I can tell you the hardest target to hit is one that’s moving and one that’s running from you, because you’re creating distance” Pierce said. “A static target hidden under a desk becomes the proverbial fish in a barrel.”

Students were then shown the six-minute “Run, Hide, Fight” video developed and produced by the Department of Homeland Security and the Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety. The video shows office workers on a “typical day,” when suddenly an armed man walks in and begins firing.

The video then breaks down how you should respond, showing the office workers in each stage, beginning with the best option, if possible, running. People are encouraged to get out of the building or area as quickly as they can. Encourage others to leave as well, but do not let them slow you down.

Once out of the line of fire, prevent others from entering the area and call 911 once you are safe.

If you can’t get out, the video instructs people to hide. Act quickly and quietly, silencing cell phones, turning out the lights, locking the door and using objects to block entrances if possible. You should also conceal yourself behind a large object that may protect you.

As a last resort, if your life is at risk, you fight. The video instructs people to improvise weapons from any and all nearby objects and commit to taking the shooter down no matter what.

After the video, Pierce discussed active shooting events in more detail, telling students that victims are typically chosen at random and often shooters do not have an escape plan. Most incidents take place in 10 minutes or less.

If a shooting takes place, he told students to try to remain calm while expecting noise, carnage, chaos and alarms in the building. Be alert, keep in mind while trying to get out that exits may have been tampered with or locked. Don’t be afraid to break a window in an emergency situation, FMCC administrators’ greatest concern is student safety.

Pierce reminded students that hiding is not a realistic option, rather, it makes them easier targets. Run in spurts using the cover of walls and large objects as you retreat. Fight as a last resort.

Pierce told students that responding officers prioritize mitigating the threat above all else. Statistically a gunman fires every seven seconds and officers can not stop to help the wounded or assist in evacuations. Pierce said he wasn’t comfortable running by people so FMCC invested in active shooter response kits for the public safety department to carry.

The kits contain individual packs that can be thrown to wounded individuals while officers move past. The packs include tourniquets, gauze and bandages for wounded individuals to use to dress their own injuries.

“We’re going to respond to it, but it’s up to you what you do,” Pierce said. “There are no wrong decisions, none. Absolutely none. It’s your decision to take your role in your life.”

As you exit the building, have your hands up and empty, so responding officers know that you are not a threat. Get to safety and stay there until you hear an alert over the campus public announcement system from the public safety officers stating the campus is secure. Pierce said that the system has security features preventing outside access and the exterior speakers are capable of delivering a message within a one mile radius of the campus.

Once the message is delivered, do not leave. Report to the nearest law enforcement officer for further instruction and report what you saw. Pierce said this is to ensure that police are aware of any and all involved suspects on the scene.

If you witness an armed individual on campus, Pierce instructed students to call 911 immediately. The call will go to Montgomery County, who will contact campus officers for dispatch. Campus police have a response time of about 1 minute.

Pierce told students that the best possible option is to identify potential threats before they become actual threats, encouraging the students to say something if they see anything that doesn’t seem right.

He assured students that public safety officers will do their due diligence and investigate every threat. If officers determine there is no issue, Pierce deemed it the best case scenario.

“We do our best to make this a safe campus,” Pierce said.

Students are shown the “Run, Hide, Fight” video at orientation, but Pierce said the information session was the first offered to students. He pointed out that the student population at FMCC is constantly changing with some students staying for a single semester. His department previously focused solely on informing the permanent staff members who students would look to for guidance in an emergency.

Due to the frequency of active shooting incidents, he said it is important to make the student body more aware of the actions they can take in an emergency. He noted that the training works everywhere, not just on school campuses.

Pierce went on to tell students about a former FMCC staff member who was in a public space with her family when gunfire broke out.

She told Pierce she had known just what to do in that moment, grabbing her children and telling her husband to run. They were able to get away safely and she later thanked Pierce for the training.

Training for faculty and staff includes watching the video and having a discussion, before participating in campus wide drills run by the department of public safety. The immersive drills take place during the spring after the semester has ended. Only faculty and staff are present on campus while the drills are in progress.

During drills, Pierce takes the role of an active shooter using blank ammunition in real guns. Staff members are expected to react to scenarios in real time as “wounded” actors fall with fake blood coming from their injuries.

The training for staff is performed biannually, with outside law enforcement officers invited to participate. Pierce said this gives outside officers hands on experience and a familiarity with the campus.

Drills were scheduled to take place for the fourth time this year, but were canceled due to the planned construction of capital projects on campus. Pierce said he would not run the drills with outside vendors present.

Staff members will view the video again this year and the drills will likely be held again in 2019.

Pierce will offer the active shooter training for FMCC students again on March 15 and 27 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the student union’s large lounge.

“Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but the fact that this information is out there, share that with your family. It’s great information,” Pierce said. “Stress the importance of it.”

By Kerry Minor

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