With many of today's headlines telling the heartbreaking stories of gun violence and mass murders in the U.S., questions about when and where tragedy will strike next are becoming common everyday conversations.
But those conversations -- at home, in schools and throughout the workplace -- are important to ensure that people remain aware and vigilant in protecting themselves and those they love.
The Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn., school shooting along with other acts of mass murders in recent years force people to consider a "subject that many don't want to talk about or think about," Maj. Roger Triplett of the Garrison's Directorate of Emergency Services said.
"But not to think about it is denial. It's a denial that something like that couldn't happen here. That is an enemy in itself."
The best defense against such situations involves planning and preparation.
"What-if scenarios should be part of any emergency action plan. We have those plans for fires and tornadoes and other potential disasters. We also need them for situations where people's lives are threatened by someone who wants to do physical harm," Capt. Jack Rush of DES said.
"Organizations should put a plan together to address those what-if questions."
The Redstone Arsenal work force already has one step of that plan in place. With DES providing controlled access to the Arsenal, and emergency personnel trained in active shooter response who regularly police facilities and patrol populated areas, the Arsenal is one of the safest places for people to work. Yet, no amount of diligence can provide 100 percent protection from tragic acts of violence.
"We work in a controlled environment here at Redstone," Rush said. "But these kinds of incidents can happen anywhere. An active shooter situation could happen on Redstone Arsenal.
"The chance that someone is going to be involved in an active shooter event is very, very small. But still, when it happens, it's devastating."
DES along with the Garrison's Force Protection/Antiterrorism Program provides training to organizations requesting instruction in active shooter awareness. The classes augment online training required by the Army.
"When we go out to organizations to teach active shooter awareness, we incorporate into that training a video produced by the Houston Police Department with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The name of the video is 'Run, Hide, Fight,'" Rush said.
"The emphasis of the training is that people in these situations have three options -- evacuate, hide or take action. If you can escape the situation, get as far away as possible. Leave as quickly as possible. Don't worry about getting your purse or your valuables. Do not hesitate. Just leave. If you have to hide, put as many barriers as possible between yourself and the shooter."
"Taking action is the last resort. If you have to fight, fight for your life. Never let anyone just take your life," Triplett added. "Once a decision has been made to fight, fight with aggressiveness and never give up. By doing what you do, you not only have a chance of surviving but you also may save someone else."
If requested as part of the training, DES will run a joint active shooter exercise at an organization's facility.
"These exercises not only benefit their organization but our department as well. They allow us to map out a whole plan of action for the organization that is involved," Triplett said.
As in an emergency situation, people involved in an active shooting incident or who know of an immediate threat should call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so. If possible they should provide information about the location of the incident, the number of suspects, physical descriptions of the suspects, and the number and type of weapons being used.
But many recent active shooter incidents may have been prevented if the right people had acted upon clues and threats that led up to the incident. Though such actions delve into the psychology of a mass murderer, the basic message is simple -- people need to take action when a threat is made.
"Obviously, you should take all threats seriously," Triplett said. "Don't automatically assume that if someone makes a threat they are just joking. All threatening language should be reported to a supervisor. Supervisors may know more about their employees so they can give us a better picture of what is going on.
"It's very hard to say how people should react to threats because every situation is different. The important thing is to get your supervisor involved if you feel threatened."
When in public places -- a shopping mall, sporting arena, church or school, for examples -- people should be "observant for things out of the ordinary. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware that places where there are large crowds seem to be targeted more often. And, if something does happen, don't run to it. Run away from it," Triplett said.
When in public, Triplett and Rush urged that people should put down their cell phones and other distractions, and pay attention to what is going on around them, the people nearby and ways to escape if they are needed.
Many public organizations, such as churches and universities, now have security teams onsite to help prevent what is now often referred to as "rapid mass murders." Such was the case on Dec. 9, 2007, when an active shooter attempted to kill members of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was met quickly by the church's security team "and what could have been the worst mass shooting in history was quickly prevented," Rush said.
Rush and Triplett have focused their careers on protecting the public, and both have experience and training to deal with mass murder situations. Even so, the tragedy in Newtown and the July 20 shooting in an Aurora, Colo., theater along with other recent smaller incidents of public violence have given them pause for concern.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with these communities, and the families and the first responders who have had to live with this," Rush said.
While guns have been the most recent weapon of choice in these tragic situations, Rush and Triplett said rapid mass murderers are also known to have attacked with a variety of other weapons.
"Evil doesn't come from a gun or a knife. It comes from the heart. It takes evil in a person's heart to do something like this," Rush said.
Article by Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone