Oklahoma authorities have plans in place for 'active shooter' situations
Authorities statewide routinely prepare for scenarios like the one in San Bernardino on Wednesday, with an estimated 7,000 law enforcement officers in Oklahoma trained for “active shooter” scenarios.
Municipal, county, state and federal agencies train on their own in rapid response and tactical operations. They also coordinate with other agencies to craft a swift and effective response. In April 2014, the FBI hosted an overnight active shooter training exercise at Quail Springs Mall that included local police, firefighters and paramedics.
“Nobody is going to tackle that animal on their own. It takes everyone,” FBI Special Agent Terry Weber said.
“When the Murrah Building bombing happened, people here got their stuff together. They have specific plans, they practice those plans, they update those plans. Everyone here is ready,” Weber said.
“Shortly after the Columbine shooting, we began to implement protocols and training for every officer on the police department on what to do in the event of an active shooter,” Oklahoma City police Capt. Paco Balderrama said.
“Every officer receives this training, and they know what to do. Officers will locate the threat and do what they need to do to protect the public,” he said.
In addition to tactical teams that train monthly and specialized units like the bomb squad and hostage negotiators, the department also trains officers with shooting simulators and role-
playing to make preparation as close to the real thing as possible.
“Especially in active shooter situations, time is critically important. The ability and capability of being able to deploy officers to the scene and have them protect the public is crucial,” Balderrama said.
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The Oklahoma County sheriff's office also has at its disposal several tactical vehicles, including a BearCat armored vehicle and a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle on loan from the military, spokesman Mark Opgrande said.
The county has trained all its deputies in rapid response techniques, as well as a protocol for getting tactical officers to the scene, though the latter could take up to 90 minutes, he said.
“You can't wait until they've killed 50 people,” Opgrande said. “If they're shooting people already, they're going to go in.”
On a state level, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers also train their own tactical teams, and troopers are prepared to engage and help in whatever way they can.
“All of us have been through an active shooter school. In a situation like that, we're going to go where the problem is. We're going to assist any way possible, whether it's set up traffic control or enter a building and help neutralize a threat,” Lt. John Vincent said.
The FBI also would take control and neutralize threats in federal facilities or on federal land, Weber said.
“We have armored vehicles for high-risk situations, much like what happened yesterday, here locally and every division has one,” Weber said.
“If it's a confirmed terrorist attack, then the FBI becomes the lead agency,” Weber said.
Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security Director Kim Carter said that his agency does not put boots on the ground, but rather trains law officers in active shooter scenarios and coordinates resources.
“We've trained probably 5,000 of them through our active shooter course, especially in the rural areas,” Carter said.
Since in smaller towns or rural areas there may be only one officer or deputy on duty or near the scene, it's imperative that as many officers as possible are prepared to engage such a threat.
He estimates that about 5,000 of the about 11,000 law officers in the state have attended one of their classes, not including thousands of others who have trained in their own departments.
But law officers are not the only agencies training to respond to mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
“Obviously an incident like this is heavy on the law enforcement side, however it often necessitates a medical response or even a fire response,” Oklahoma City fire Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson said.
“Our training has changed dramatically since 1995. We have rescue dogs now. Our hazardous materials teams have ramped up their efforts. We can respond to biological, radiological, nuclear incidents,” he said.
“I think it's important that our citizens know that the capabilities are there, the resources are in place, and our agencies work very closely together and we train together to make sure they are safe,” Fulkerson said.
Experts offer tips
Finding yourself in the midst of a mass shooting is statistically a very unlikely scenario, but Oklahoma City police want you to remember these three words: run, hide, fight.
This advice is not to replace previously adopted plans by businesses and agencies, police warn.
“Fear is your friend in a situation such as this. Once you know it's an active shooter, once you know somebody is in the building who wants to hurt people, we encourage you to run. Get away from the danger,” Balderrama said.
Get out of the building or area as quickly as possible, helping others escape along the way, and then immediately call 911.
Police need a description of attackers, what weapons they're carrying, how many people are in the building and how many people are hurt, he said.
If escape is impossible, then hide. Avoid hallways and open areas, instead barricading yourself in a room with a locked door. Silence all cellphones and remain as quiet as possible, Balderrama advises.
The last remaining option is to fight. Arm yourself with anything that can be used as a weapon and attack the shooter as a group. Disarm him and take whatever measures are necessary to survive, he said.
“Two or three individuals can overcome a lone gunman, can take their weapon away. You can survive. Statistically speaking, even a gunshot wound is very survivable. But if you don't do anything, then obviously your chances of survival go down,” he said.
When officers arrive, they usually do not know who the shooter is. As police approach, drop any weapons you may be holding and raise your hands. Expect to be searched and possibly handcuffed until the suspect has been identified, Balderrama said.