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‘not if…but when’: Sheriff’s Office offers active shooter preparedness advice

By Staff | Jun 19, 2018

What may be the most pressing topic in the country right now was discussed Saturday as the Lee County Sheriff’s Office presented “A Response to Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Events.”

Registration for the event held at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at FSW hit 1,600 as residents signed up to learn about what you should do if you find yourself in an active shooter situation such as that which occurred in Parkland. Seventeen students died and 17 were injured after a former student, Nikolas Cruz, opened fire on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Undersheriff Carmine Marceno gave opening remarks, stating that the public needs to be prepared “not if…but when something happens.”

He said the seminar was designed to train the public to start to think outside the box.

“We can’t be everywhere, we need the eyes and ears of the citizens,” he said.

“If it looks suspicious, make the call.”

Lee County is the 33rd largest school system in the country with more than 90,000 students.

This means there are more than 90,000 backpacks that everyone hopes contain just books.

Marceno touched on the bolstering of officers in classrooms in Southwest Florida, saying, “There is no greater gift than to protect a child.”

Staff Officer Scott Griffith has been in law enforcement for more than three decades including command positions in units such as SWAT, criminal investigations, training and internal affairs.

He is currently working as an educator to business leaders, government officials and sworn personnel on how to respond to an active shooter scenario.

Full of energy, Griffith broke down how, in some mass casualty events, the public could have been more aware that something bad was about to happen.

“We need to start thinking,” he stated. “Try to practice more ‘what-if’ situations.”

He continued by advising people to look for characteristics of reportable behavior of a potential active shooter – such as physical violence, direct or indirect threats of violence and suicide indication.

Griffith broke down the best ways to keep safe if you find yourself fighting for your life.

“Who will be the first responders? You,” he told the audience.

Alerting the proper authorities, working as a team with those around you and knowing your evacuation route are some of the ways one can increase their chance of survival.

The most important question of the day was: if you find yourself in an active shooter situation do you run, hide or fight?

If you run, you need to contemplate if that’s the safest option. Do you know your escape plan? Do you know your building? Where would you go?

If you decide it is the best option for you, you need to leave all belongings behind, put your hands in the air to indicate to any law enforcement that you are not a threat and avoid escalators and elevators.

If you choose to hide, you need to lock and barricade the doors with heavy furniture. Close and lock all the windows. Close the blinds, cover the windows and turn off the lights. It is important to remember to quiet all electronic devices and to remain silent.

It may be smart to identify any objects around you that could be used as a weapon if you have to fight.

“This is your last available option, and you have to be committed to the action,” Griffith advised.

If others around you are willing to join you, this may increase your chances, but know your plan of action and don’t hesitate.

“Griff” then demonstrated how to use your keys, a pen, or a simple legal pad of paper for self defense. He was even seen showing people in the lobby how to use these tactics hands-on.

When law enforcement arrives, it is key for victims to let them do their jobs and not mistake an innocent person for an assailant.

Griffith said to try and remain calm and keep your hands elevated and fingers spread. Avoid quick movements, yelling or screaming and holding onto officers for safety.

Do not stop to ask for directions, simply head in the direction the officers are coming from to evacuate.

“The goal of this seminar is to take what you have learned and tell others, until the 750,000 residents of Lee County practices these tactics, ‘Let’s make Lee County the safest county in Florida,'” Griffith ended.

“I thought it was terrific, he did a really great job, kept your attention. He gave some great pointers on the run,hide and fight,” said Barbara Yekel of Fort Myers who was in attendance Saturday.

“I think a lot of kids should have this presented to them, they’re the ones who are so young and so naive. It would really be great for them to see something like this, at least to stick it in their brain,” she added.

EMS Lt. Steven Winters has served as an EMT, paramedic, flight paramedic and field training officer and now serves as district supervisor for the Lee County Department of Public Safety.

Winters discussed how to “Stop the Bleed” for bystanders attending to injured persons while waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

“A person can bleed to death in as little as three to five minutes and 30 to 40 percent of people die due to external bleeding following an injury,” said Winters.

Step one is to apply firm, steady pressure with both hands to the bleeding site.

Step two is to apply dressing and continue pressure with the bandages or clothing.

If necessary, step three is to apply a tourniquet.

When the bleeding doesn’t stop, place a tourniquet two to three inches closer to the torso from the bleeding and may be applied over clothing.

Make sure it is tight enough and secure it in place, do not remove it- a medical professional will do so.

Winters said the biggest failure they see is not tightening the strap all the way, despite how much it might hurt the victim.

If the bleeding continues despite a tourniquet, place a second one on, closer to the torso than the first.

“No one should die of external hemorrhaging,” he added.

Identifying certain types of bleeds was touched on as well, for example, how to know if a bleed is life-threatening.

If the blood is pooling, spurting, not stopping and the person is sliding into an altered mental state, you most likely need to apply a tourniquet and get immediate medical attention.

Winters says to follow the ABC’s.

A- Alert – call 911 or tell someone else to.

B- Bleeding – identify if it’s a life-threatening bleed.

C- Compression – apply pressure with a dressing or tourniquet.

He said one misnomer about tourniquets is that you will lose a limb if applied. This is simply not the case anymore, that old mindset is out the window.

When dealing with torso injuries, wound packing is the best way to stop the bleed.

Stuff the dressing into the wound, not just on top of it.

In some cases, a hemostatic dressing – one that causes blood to clot – is the appropriate method.

You should not, though, use a wound pack dressing on chest and abdominal injuries, as it may cause other organs harm.

“Stop the Bleed” kits are starting to pop up in schools, grocery stores and other facilities so that people will have the proper tools on hand to help someone before emergency responders arrive.

“The only thing more tragic than a death, is a death that could’ve been prevented,” Winters concluded.

The seminar wrapped up with a question-and-answer session with a panel comprised of Griffith and Winters, along with Dr. Jose Diaz, Lee Health Trauma surgeon, Youth Services Captain Mike Miller and Lieutenant Gus Vallejo.

The group fielded various questions including what you should do if you don’t know where the gunshots are coming from, if Lee Health is prepared for mass casualty events and what our schools are doing to protect students.

Miller currently oversees the Youth Services Division, which includes 58 certified deputies responsible for ensuring the safe environment of 15 high schools, 19 middle schools, 45 elementary schools and three special centers.

Miller discussed that all of his School Resource Officers have active shooter training and that they are familiarizing themselves with schools and their layouts.

“The safety and security in our schools is paramount,” he said. “We have to morph and adjust with schools and society changing – providing a safe learning environment for all kids, in all schools, is our mission.”

Mental health is atop the list of why these young adults are committing such terrible acts, Miller said this is something the Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Schools are working in tandem on.

“We work very closely with our school counselors, our schools psychologists, unfortunately we’ve been involved with over 160 Baker Acts this year in the Lee County Public School’s system – but we work in direct contact with our social workers and formed that team concept with them. What we also do is work with SalusCare. We’re under the premise of ‘the right to report’, so, basically, if kids say something that’s concerning, reference maybe self harm, we get that information and we can react and do an interview and formulate plan of action.”

Miller said his officers are certified in critical incident training, specific to juveniles and adolescents in schools.

Breakdowns or meltdowns that can happen to students are carefully handled. Miller said they don’t overreact, and say, place a student under arrest – they take into account what mental illness an individual may be suffering from and act appropriately.

“One of our biggest hurdles is bridging the gap between law enforcement and students in schools,” added Miller.

Developing relationships with students and making them feel comfortable, so they feel they can go and talk to an officer without the threat of repercussion, is a focus for SROs.

“We’ve had School Resource Officers that have been in my unit for over 17 years, develop these relationships that are carrying on until the kids are 30-40 years old, with their own families,” praised Miller.

These relationships are based off of “day-to-day things in school, whether it’s mental health, bullying, criminal activity, whatever it might be, that’s what the SRO’s job is – and we are trained to address each one of these situations.”

Those in attendance were able to practice life-saving techniques on dummies after the presentation.

It seemed the panel were all in agreement on one thing when it comes to these deadly situations.

“A strong will to survive can make a huge difference.”