PORTLAND, Maine — Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck had three new words to add to the workplace vocabulary Tuesday morning at city pharmacy company Apothecary By Design.
Run. Hide. Fight.
“Workplace safety has gone from ‘Make sure you lift with your legs and not with your back,’ years ago, to this,” Sauschuck said.
Portland police are urging city business owners and employees to plan for “active shooter” scenarios, like the September 2012 incident in which a gunman shot five former co-workers and then himself at a Minnesota sign-making company.
Three months later, the nation was rocked by the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., where a man killed 20 children and six staff members before committing suicide.
“Unfortunately in today’s world, you have to be concerned about active shooter scenarios,” said Mark McAuliffe, managing partner at Apothecary By Design. “The most important thing is it’s pretty basic: ‘Run, hide, fight.’ You don’t have to have a complicated plan to follow when you’re in a panic.”
The message delivered to company employees Tuesday by Sauschuck — through a six-minute informational video, a PowerPoint presentation and then question-and-answer session — was that, if a shooter is in the building, their first action should be to try to escape the facility.
If there is no clear path to get outside, the next option for employees would be to lock and barricade themselves in a closet or other protected space, if possible. And if there’s no place to hide and they fear for their lives, fight.
“You don’t have to be some kind of ninja,” Sauschuck said, adding, “‘Fight’ could also mean throwing a stapler. You just don’t want to be an easy target. You want to be a problem. You want to do anything you can to make the shooter believe you’re not worth the time and move on down the hall.”
The informational video, produced in part by the mayor’s office of public safety in Houston, Texas, described the “fighting” step as “acting with aggression, improvising weapons and committing to taking the shooter down, no matter what.”
Sauschuck said he hopes other Maine businesses take the time to invite him in for presentations or at least distribute the video, which can be found on YouTube, to employees. Portland police used a $30,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant earlier this year to train all 162 department officers how to respond to active shooter scenarios, and then launched a slate of lockdown drills for all the city’s schools and departments.
Taking the preparedness campaign to the business community seemed like the next logical step, Sauschuck said, so city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg announced the training opportunity through the Portland Community Chamber.
Apothecary By Design was the first business to take the police up on their offer.
“We do fire drills for our schools. We want to do lockdown drills — active shooter drills,” Sauschuck said. “You can remember ‘stop, drop and roll.’ You’ve remembered that since you were a child, right? In the moment when the event occurs, you’re going to be in sensory overload. You don’t want to be thinking about whether you’re supposed to technically ‘evacuate’ or ‘run’ or what. We want to keep this simple.”
Sauschuck recalled two Maine scenarios when the “run, hide, fight” strategy might have been needed. One occurred in 2008, when an armed Randall Hofland took student hostages at a school in Stockton Springs before giving himself up to police negotiators. Sauschuck also cited a 2010 incident in which a patrolling school resource officer discovered two armed men apparently loading ammunition and hiding a knife near a Portland High School exit.
“Can it happen here? Sure, it can happen here,” Sauschuck said. “If it can happen in Stockton Springs, if it can happen in Newtown, Conn., it can happen anywhere.”