Don’t be afraid, but be prepared for violence to strike
The message was fairly simple.
Don’t be afraid. But do be prepared.
Be prepared for an unthinkable day when someone walks into a local business or church or school and unleashes a torrent of violence for the sole purpose of causing the most carnage possible.
Even more specifically, know what to do to help yourself and mitigate further harm before law enforcement and EMS can reach you.
That is what 48 people representing 25 businesses, groups and schools from nearly every town in Stillwater County learned last week at a two-day workshop on workplace and school violence.
Two of the main lessons were that this type of violence is occurring far more often than the public realizes and that having a plan to deal with it could have a significant effect on the final outcome.
National Tactical Officers Association instructor Don Alwes began by telling the group that the point of the training was to “build a few better bridges in Stillwater County” by getting citizens and emergency services on the same page when it comes to the subject of how handle violence before and after help arrives.
He also explained that the term “active shooter” means anyone who is armed with any kind of destructive weapon who has access to victims.
Alwes clicked through dozens of slides that showed incidents of that kind of violence at nearly every type of facility imaginable — churches, offices, gyms, grocery stores, government buildings, hospitals, homes, malls, schools, restaurants, hotels, Home Owner Association meetings and more.
Surprisingly, documented incidents began more than 100 years.
“This is not new folks,” said Alwes.
Attendees were split into smaller groups and told to come up with specific information for their business setting. Who would want to harm them? How could they attack? Where could they get weapons? What could be done to stop the attack? What are some warning signs to look for?
Warnings signs are particularly important to watch as the FBI estimates 85 percent of attacks are broadcast in some manner ahead of time, said Elwes.
Equally as important is realizing the attacker could be an employee, a family member of an employee, a disgruntled customer or a complete stranger. Mental health issues also can play a role.
“We found the training to be timely and beneficial,” said Stillwater Billings Clinic R.N. and trauma coordinator Pam Prideaux-Leak. “Working for a hospital and emergency department this is unfortunately something we need to keep in mind at all times. We learned active shootings and workplace violence are more widespread than anyone knows and hope to take this preparedness training back to our staff.”
Columbus Evangelical Pastor Jay Forseth was one of at least two clergy in attendance who echoed Prideaux-Leak’s thoughts.
“It’s easy to think this could never happen in little Columbus, Montana. Wrong,” said Forseth. “It could happen anywhere. So we are going to do our best to prepare.”
The event was hosted by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office and the county Disaster and Emergency Services office and held at the Columbus Evangelical Church, which donated the use of a room. The Montana Disaster and Emergency Services paid for the event. Alwes developed the training, which he has taught nationwide for about five years. Last week was the first time he had brought it to Montana.