Local organizations are preparing for potential active shooter situations, now viewed as a reality in Alaska.
Law enforcement officers, local businesses owners, and representatives from the Central Peninsula Hospital and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District attended the first local training for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Run, Hide, Fight workplace violence preparedness program July 9, held at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
“On numerous occasions we have gone to our oil and gas partners and told them about individuals that represented a threat that were in-state. It was kept pretty confidential but we took it to those who the threat would be projected against,” said Alaska Department of Homeland Security Protective Security Advisor Thomas Burgess. “So yes, it is happening. It just doesn’t make the press.”
Burgess is retiring in September after a ten-year career as a security adviser in Alaska. He said when a threat is known to be targeting an organization, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alaska State Troopers or his office will be involved.
On numerous occasions Burgess said he has been involved in notifying and working with some of the state’s “oilfield partners,” which have been targeted.
“I guarantee you, if we do get a threat, we will come to you,” Burgess said. “If it is about your facility we will come to you about it.”
Run, Hide, Fight trainer and DHS Security Specialist Vernon Allen said the purpose of Thursday’s workshop was to help prepare management and administration to plan for every aspect of a potential active shooter situation.
“Everyone is invited because it can happen anywhere — the mall, hospitals, schools,” Allen said. “We don’t tailor it at all.”
The FBI released a study in 2014 on 160 active shooter incidents that occurred throughout the U.S. and resulted in 1,043 killed and wounded people between 2000 and 2013. The study found nearly half of the incidents took place in a “commercial setting,” and nearly one quarter took place in an “educational environment.” Other locations include offices, military bases, residences and health facilities.
In the first seven years of the study, 6.4 incidents occurred annually, while in the last seven years that numbered more than doubled with 16.4 annual incidents. Male shooters carried out all but six of the incidents.
Homeland Security Consultant David Hunt compared planning for an active shooter situation as figuring out “how to eat this elephant.” Developing strategies for identifying where threats would likely come from, emotional support for victims and communicating internally and with external entities such as the media and the public are only a few of many elements that will come up during an incident, he said.
“The entire community is traumatized after an (active shooter) event,” Hunt said.
Speaking frankly, he said a business might not survive a violent situation in the workplace, but the most likely way to stay afloat is to develop plans that cover short-term and long-term consequences. The biggest issue, he said, will be recovery.
“If you don’t support your employees you will not likely survive an active shooter event, because of the issues associated with it,” Hunt said. “The recovery phase is perhaps the biggest part of this entire thing; it’s going to last the longest and it’s going to have the most impact on whether or not your organization is going to survive.”
Hunt pointed to the mass shooting that occurred in September 2013 at one of the most secured campuses in the nation — the Washington Navy Yard. In an interview with The Washington Post, Navy Yard employee, Logistics Management Specialist Patricia Ward said after being in the building with shooter Aaron Alexis, who fatally shot 12 people, the facility was “not secure enough for (her).”
“It’s not just physical security,” Hunt said. “If this woman doesn’t receive support she might not come back.”
School district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff and Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones attended the event Thursday. The two participated in roundtable discussions with other local entities, which Erkeneff said reinforced that the school district was already headed in the right direction with its emergency procedures.
The school district utilizes A.L.I.C.E. training, an acronym for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate,” a similar contingency plan that allows for targets and victims to react to a shooter instead of sitting tight.
In a previous Clarion interview Jones said the district did look at the Run, Hide, Fight procedure as well as revising its lockdown strategy, but Run Hide Fight didn’t have as many response options as A.L.I.C.E.
The possibility of a violent event shouldn’t be written off based on the population and location of the central Kenai Peninsula, Erkeneff said.
She pointed to the 2008 shooting at Central Peninsula Hospital that left one dead and another wounded, and the handful of alleged threats directed at the school district within the last two months of the 2014-2015 school year.
“If it saves lives it’s worth it, right?” Erkeneff said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.