True First Responders Play Essential Safety Role

Mass shootings generate significant focus on first responders who rush to the scene. The enduring images in media portray heroic work of the police officers, medical personnel and firefighters assisting victims and survivors as they discover sometimes shocking levels of carnage.

The first responders have been trained to respond immediately to the situations. External audiences try to determine the identity and motive of the perpetrator while expressing concern for the victims, but it is the first responders who are tasked with life-saving roles and securing the building. The stories, and disturbing images, seem to occur with alarming regularity these days. Often overlooked in these deadly crises are the “True First Responders”. They are the people on the scene when the incident starts and have the biggest impact on the success and failure in limiting the consequences of the incident.

True First Responders cannot rely on luck as a response. There needs to be an identified action plan prior to the incident to blunt the trauma of active shooters. They are an important part of the puzzle in risk assessment and mitigation but are frequently overlooked.

Acknowledging Risk

For True First Responders, the first step is to acknowledge risk. We all accept risk – we have a car, medical and homeowners’ insurance – and even wear seat belts and drive cars with mind-boggling safety features. It is not the frequency of the event we are preparing for, but the impact it will have on our individual lives should it occur.

People – and organizations – who do not acknowledge risk will be slow to respond to a situation because they have preconceived notions of safety. “It won’t happen to me,” is a familiar thought.

Tell that, however, to the families associated with the December 2013 shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn. The day prior to the attack, you’d have been lucky to find one person in the community who would acknowledge such a heinous crime could occur in their suburban bedroom community. Ask them today, however, and even survivors will admit that incident changed their view for eternity.

Once we accept risk, the more challenging question arises. How should I prepare for a potential incident in my home, school, workplace, church or anywhere else?

Three Outs

Most everyone knows a baseball team needs three outs to move to the next inning. Think of three outs for preparing to stay safe from an attack. Lock out, get out and take out – they are all important components of a pre-existing emergency plan.

“Lock Out” is an emergency step, an important consideration to in denying access to a criminal. An emergency call to 911 will not keep you safe. Action needs to happen beforehand. Preventing access buys time for the professional first responders to get on the scene and take further action on your behalf.

In the Nashville shooting in March 2023, video showed the villain moving around the school with her weapon. Security cameras also showed school personnel using a barricade device to prevent entry into classrooms. While authorities are tight-lipped, it is likely lives were saved because the barricade prevented the villain from entering some rooms while she went on her rampage. The school had a pre-existing plan – keep the intruder out of the classrooms.

“Get Out” means people need to understand possible exit locations and always remain aware of these points. The decision could be as simple as deciding where to sit in relation to an exit. It could also mean staying outside the line of sight of the attacker. It could be around a corner, where you can reassess a possible lockdown location or continue to get away from the attacker.

Once you have identified potential exits when responding to an emergency, do not overlook secondary options such as first or second floor windows. Do not be afraid to break a window to escape if necessary in an emergency.

“Take Out” is a last resort, but it may have to be your first choice. If it’s a choice between you being injured or killed, what choice do you have? If you’re going to get beat, get beat doing something. Do not make the attacker’s job easier. Anything you can do to fight back raises your chances. Directing another person near you will encourage them to take similar action. This means that you are not fighting alone. A cell phone, shoe, book, staple gun or even fire extinguisher can deter an attacker. These may slow the attacker and buy more time to get out of the situation.

Barricade Devices

One choice as a potential “Lock Out” solution is an inexpensive product, The Barracuda. Manufactured by The BILCO Company, The Barracuda is an extra layer of protection that has been purchased by many school districts in the United States.

In 2018, a school district in Taylor County, Ky., purchased The Barracuda – which retails for about $140 – for all 254 rooms in the district. In 2019, Illinois became the fourth state in the Midwest to allow devices such as The Barracuda to be included in classrooms.

“It’s important to note that The Barracuda will not prevent an attack from occurring,’’ said Troy Lowe, CEO of Silverback Safety and designer of The Barracuda. “Its function is to provide an extra layer of protection to those who are unable to remove themselves from the area under attack and find themselves in a situation where they must barricade in place.” The Barracuda can be used on outward and inward swinging doors. The lightweight unit is made with heavy-duty steel construction and is supplied with a wall-mounting rack. It can be installed on doors in under 10 seconds. When considering the “lock out” strategy, a 10-second time investment is as quick as you will ever find.

“The Barracuda is designed to work with gross motor skills as fine motor skills go out the window in times of crisis,’’ Lowe said. “It provides an additional layer of affordable protection and peace of mind that helps the user respond with a little more confidence should that attack occur.”

Practice the Plan

Everyone can pre-plan a response using this simple three-principal approach, and the more you mentally practice it the easier it becomes.

It does require, however, some thinking on the front side. So many times, the only preparation needed is to be aware and think. The more control you have over the area, the more preparation you can put into place to assist you with the “three-out” response.

If it is your home, you can harden the entrance/exits to deny or delay the threats entry. This provides the opportunity to implement other more effective response options. If you are at work, you can look at your workspace, mentally rehearse the “three-out” options and based on those options have a better understanding of your capabilities.

You are the “True First Responder” and calling 911 and law enforcement are only part of the solution. And it is a simple solution. Acknowledge risk, take action beforehand and be proactive to keep yourself safe from criminals who are intent on inflicting harm. No plan is foolproof, but inaction is not a viable safety strategy.


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