One hundred leaders from businesses, schools, agencies and religious institutions gathered Thursday morning to learn from FBI agents how to deal with the growing threat of active-shooter attacks.
The group watched “The Coming Storm,” a fictional portrayal of a gunman’s attack on a college campus. Events in the 30-minute film were based on information gleaned from a report examining all 160 active-shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013.
“We all hope active-shooter situations won’t happen in our communities, but the FBI feels that it’s important to prepare our community if such an event does occur in Western New York,” said Adam S. Cohen, special agent in charge of the Buffalo office. “Today’s symposium provided us the opportunity to meet with our community leaders and share with them what the law enforcement response would be in the event of an active-shooter incident here.”
“I hope you are thinking, ‘What do I do before law enforcement even gets here?’ ” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Holly Hubert. “Do I have a plan if an active shooter happens in my organization?”
Supervisory Special Agent James A. Jancewicz, who presented the program with Special Agent Darin Schultz, urged those who attended to return to their businesses and draw up written response plans, which should be practiced and updated.
“Everybody has to know what they are doing and how to react,” Schultz said.
Without plans or practice, a person faced with a threat will feel panic, disbelief, denial and helplessness, while a trained person will be more likely able to act to save themselves and others.
FBI agents emphasized what the film dramatized: Most active shooter incidents are brief, with 44 of the 160 ending in five minutes or less, and 23 ending in two minutes or less.
“Even when law enforcement was present or able to respond within minutes, civilians often had to make life and death decisions, and, therefore, should be engaged in training and discussions on decisions they may face,” according to the report, which can be downloaded from the web site fbi.gov.
Thursday’s workshop was adapted from a daylong session held Jan. 15 for nearly 400 local law enforcement officers.
Between 2000 and 2013, active shooters killed 486 and injured 557 across 40 states. From 2000 to 2006, an average of 6.4 attacks happened annually. From 2007 to 2013, an average of 16.4 attacks took place each year.
And while most schools have written and rehearsed protocols on how to deal with an active shooter, few businesses do, the agents said, even though businesses are the more likely target.
During the study years, 45.6 percent of the attacks happened in businesses or places of commerce, and 24.4 percent in schools, with 10 percent in government facilities and the rest in homes, places of worship and health care settings. However, “Schools are leading the pack in terms of preparation,” said Jancewicz.
Ninety of the 160 shooting attacks ended with the shooter committing suicide, stopping the attack or fleeing.
In 21 more incidents, unarmed civilians restrained the attacker or persuaded him to stop. In five incidents, armed people – one civilian and four armed security guards – exchanged gunfire with the attacker, killing three of the shooters, wounding one and leading to another’s suicide.
The outreach to the civilian community was limited by necessity, Jancewicz said. “The FBI will continue to train law enforcement officers; we don’t have the capacity to train the public,” he said.
However, he said he hoped that those who attended Thursday’s training would raise awareness in their work places and organizations with the help of reports available on the FBI website, including emergency plans customized for places of worship and for colleges. Thousands of copies of “The Coming Storm” have been distributed to law enforcement officers, and the FBI plans to post the film on its website.
Dana Estrada, director of Border Community Service of Niagara University and project coordinator for Buffalo’s citizen preparedness training and outreach education program, appreciated the session. “This helps me in my position when I’m in contact with community members who have questions about these issues,” she said. “I’m not law enforcement, but this helps me communicate when the law enforcement message is.”