Local residents filled a classroom at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for a civilian active shooting training course on Thursday as demand for the class has increased in the wake of the most recent mass shooting in Parkland.
During the nearly hourlong class, 24 residents listened closely as Lt. Robert Andrews taught them survival strategies for if they are ever in an active shooter situation.
“Active shooter incidents usually last 10 to 15 minutes, very quickly they are over with,” Andrews said. “Law enforcement responds within minutes. Our average response is usually from four to five.”
Survival is all that matters. To survive, Andrews taught them three key skills: get out, secure your location and defend yourself.
“Seek an escape route and quickly move away from the crisis. Leave your belongings behind,” Andrews explained. “Anything in this room, if something were to happen, you have got to be prepared to leave behind. Cell phones, purses, wallets, any of that can be replaced, but you cannot.”
If getting out is not possible during a shooting, Andrews explained the importance of knowing how to secure their location.
Barricading or locking a door, moving away from windows and turning off lights are important. Andrews stressed the importance of silencing their cell phones, and not making any noise because it could alert the shooter where you are. Instead of calling for help, Andrews made sure they knew that they could now text 911.
Ultimately, if escaping or securing a location are not an option, people need to be prepared to defend themselves by improvising weapons if necessary.
“Look around this room, right now. How many different types of things could you use as an improvised weapon?” Andrews asked the crowd.
Chairs, a fire extinguisher, a water cooler and cameras were among the possibilities mentioned.
“It’s about surviving. It’s about your own personal safety,” Andrews said.
The class also focused on what to expect when law enforcement arrives, including watching a video with body camera footage from the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016.
“We’re going to be loud and we’re going to be clear, but you’ve got to remain as calm as you can,” Andrews said. “Your hands, keep your hands visible.”
That’s important because law enforcement will not know who the shooter is when they first arrive, he explained. Media coverage from the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County showed students running with their hands in the air when they were evacuated, Andrews reminded them.
Demand for active shooter training has increased so much that three classes scheduled for March, including Thursday’s class, are already at capacity. A fourth class has been added for April 5. The Crime Prevention Unit also provides the class for large groups in the community, or businesses.
Retired U.S. Army Major Charles Hulen took notes as he paid close attention to the class.
“I enjoyed all of it. It was a very good class,” Hulen said afterward.
Hulen decided to attend the class to refresh his training, he said. As a miltary and law enforcement veteran, he has decades of training. Hulen served 21 years in the Army and worked for nine years for the Florida Highway Patrol and about a year as sheriff’s office auxiliary deputy.
Others like Barbara Boice had questions. Boice asked which would be better to carry, a gun or mace, if they had both?
The crowd laughed as Andrews answered, “Well, I wouldn’t want to bring mace to a gun fight.”
Anyone interested in attending an upcoming class or to inquire about hosting a class elsewhere can call 941-747-3011 ext. 2500.