BANGOR, Maine — If gunfire suddenly broke out at your workplace would you know what to do?
Some federal employees and local businesses in Maine are learning how to survive a workplace shooting because of the prevalence of such incidents in the U.S.
Workers in the state’s U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development offices recently underwent a training program called Run. Hide. Fight., which is designed to teach people how to live through what authorities call active shooter events, according to Virginia Manuel, state director of USDA Rural Development.
“You have so little time to react,” she said, sitting in her Bangor office recently, holding a 78-page active shooter training manual. “The more you know about Run. Hide. Fight. the better your chances of survival.”
Bangor Police Department officials conduct similar trainings at area businesses about a dozen times a year, Sgt. Jim Buckley, a training officer and member of the department’s bomb squad, said recently in an email. The first training was conducted in Bangor in 2012 around the time a gunman shot and killed 12 people inside a crowded Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.
“This training consists of a presentation on workplace violence which includes how to react to an active threat situation,” Buckley said. “‘Run, Hide, Fight’ has been the underlying theme of the training we provide since we started. I have heard it referred to differently; ie: ‘Get out, Hide out, Take out,’ or ‘Avoid, Barricade, Fight!’ It really just boils down to the three options of response. You can try to get away, shelter in place, or take some sort of offensive action.”
The Occupant Emergency Plan that USDA Rural Development created and uses also offers instruction on how to deal with suspicious packages, email and cyber security hacking, and other emergency situations, such as domestic violence incidents.
Employees of the local USDA office, located on Illinois Avenue, received the training over two days in November from Federal Protective Service Inspector Talis Jordans, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with local law enforcement. Jordans is a firearms instructor, a national weapons detection training program inspector, and a field training evaluation program instructor.
“These violent incidents unfold in seconds, and it is critical that our staff has the training Talis provided, to know how to act quickly to protect themselves and their coworkers,” Manuel said.
A nearly 6-minute YouTube video, produced by the Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security that is posted on the FBI’s website outlines the active shooter training they were provided, Manuel said.
The video dramatizes an active shooter incident in the workplace and may be disturbing to viewers for its graphic scenes.
The video and training program warn people to always try to escape a shooter by evacuating the premises, even when others insist on staying, and if that is not an option they should then hide and shut off the lights, silence cell phones and lock doors, if possible. As a last resort, people should use items within reach — chairs, even computers — as weapons to fight for survival.
“It’s unlikely to happen, but you always want to be prepared,” Manuel said. “It was security training that not only included the workplace, but other personal places where employees go — the mall, residences, employee children’s schools.”
The training also teaches people to prepare for emergencies by always being aware of their environment and having an exit plan.
“I think it was a real eye opener for our employees,” Manuel said. “It made them aware, without being alarmist, about what to do.”
According to FBI statistics, there were 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 in the U.S., and “69 percent were over in 5 minutes or less and 36 percent were over in 2 minutes or less,” Manuel said, reading from a 47-page FBI study. None of the shooting incidents occurred in Maine.
The data show that on average nearly one active shooting incident happened every month over the study’s timespan, with an average 16.4 occurring annually in the last seven years of the study. Around 70 percent of the incidents occurred in either a commerce/business or educational environment. All but six of the 160 incidents involved male shooters.
Seventy-three of the 160 shootings, or 45.6 percent, occurred at businesses or shopping malls, while schools ranked second, with 24.4 percent.
“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,” the FBI study states.
Being prepared is the most important thing in an active shooter situation, Buckley said.
“Be aware of your surroundings and consider all options that are available,” the Bangor police training officer said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, rates of workplace violence in the government sector are more than three times higher than the rate for private sector employees, Manuel said, another reason USDA employees received the training.
Jordans also visited each USDA Rural Development office in Maine to assess and review the individual workplace for safety.
“We are very vulnerable because we have no barriers to people walking in,” Manuel said. “It’s more accessible.”
As a result of Jordans’ review, “Some of the precautions we have taken in Maine include the installation of keypad systems that require an individual to enter a passcode before entering agency space and security cameras,” Manuel said.
Law enforcement personnel are scheduled to return to the USDA facility in Bangor in the next few months to run a surprise drill.
“That really does make it real,” Manuel said.