About 30 Pacificans spent an afternoon last week thinking about something they would rather not consider: living through a mass shooting.
Pacifica Police Detective Sgt. Duane Wachtelborn led the training, which outlined deceptively simple advice in what can be a complicated situation. He echoed advice from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that suggest the best course of action when gunshots ring out is to run away from the violence. Failing that, experts urge those potentially caught in the crossfire to hide, and if all else fails, be prepared to fight the assailant.
Wachtelborn said the goal isn’t to be a hero but to stay alive.
“There are no magic solutions,” he said. “The whole gist of my class is run, hide, fight. Getting out of the area is your best hope.”
The prospect of facing an active shooter — also known as mass casualty incidents — has become a fact of life in modern America. The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which has tracked mass shootings since 2013, has recorded 72 mass shootings between Jan. 1 and Feb. 16 of 2023. A “mass shooting” is defined as an incident that leaves at least four people injured or dead. By Thursday, it had counted 35 such events just since the Jan. 23 shootings in Half Moon Bay killed seven and wounded another person.
Wachtelborn noted an uptick in such shootings since restrictions due to the pandemic lifted.
“COVID is what we think happened,” he said, adding that researchers think the health crisis led to anger issues that were bottled up until released in 2021 and beyond.
Wachtelborn showed videos from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that showed simulated active shooting events and suggested various ways to run from danger, hide if that isn’t possible, and to fight if all other efforts are exhausted.
Wachtelborn said fighting an assailant doesn’t necessarily mean trading gunfire or even engaging him in a fistfight. He said the key is to interrupt the assailant’s decision process and to make him think about something other than killing people. Any delay creates time for law enforcement to act.
Wachtelborn noted that police procedures for handling mass casualty incidents have changed since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. At that time, the first officers to arrive were taught to create a perimeter and wait for SWAT teams, hostage negotiators and high-ranking officials to arrive. Police have since learned that any delay can result in more death.
Today, Wachtelborn said, the first officers on the scene are trained to take charge and move quickly to “close distance with the threat.” He said those initial first responders are trained to walk past injured people, if necessary, until the shooter, or shooters, has been rendered harmless.
Residents Cheryl and John Sinclair took it all in and they said they appreciated the information.
“It’s good to be as prepared as possible,” Cheryl Sinclair said.
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