BELLEAIR BEACH — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office wants residents to know that bad things can happen anywhere and when we least expect it.
Sheriff’s Deputy Sean O’Brien spread the word at the Barrier Islands Governmental Council meeting Oct. 30. He explained how frequent active-shooter situations occur and how people should be prepared for them.
He said between the years 2000 and 2016 there have been 220 active-shooter incidents. An active-shooting incident is one in which 4 or more people are killed. More recently in the years 2016 and 2017, there were 50 such incidents in which 221 people were killed and over 700 wounded. Four of those events were in Florida.
The statistics surrounding those incidents are intriguing. O’Brien said well over half the incidents last for less than 5 minutes and most of them only 2 minutes, and most are over before law enforcement arrives.
“We aren’t even there yet,” he said.
Given that fact, O’Brien stressed that people should have a plan at all times how to cope if a shooter comes into your place of business or your church or your school.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
Eighty percent of active shooter incidents in the U.S. occurred in the workplace. With that in mind, O’Brien said it is important to know how to get out of your building, how many ways there are to get out and where there might be safe places to take refuge.
“What is your plan?” he said.
Many of the shooters are fellow employees, disgruntled employees who have a beef with the business or with the bosses. Often, he said, those people have shown signs of impending trouble.
“People just don’t snap,” he said. “They show indications of trouble. There might be increased alcohol use, depression, mood swings or unstable responses.”
He said of recent incidents, 42 percent of shooters displayed something to co-workers or acquaintances.
“Some of those could have been stopped,” he said.
O’Brien said if you are caught in an active shooting situation, you have to seize one priority — that is, to save your own life. First, he said, try to get out of the situation and if that can’t happen, then get to a secure location.
“If you can’t run, hide,” he said. “Get out of view, find some protection and get to a safe room.”
He said if there are people wounded all around you, leave them and head for that secure location.
“The key is safety,” he said. “Don’t move the wounded and above all leave your stuff. Without anything you can run faster and hide better.”
O’Brien said only as a last resort should you get “hands on” the shooter, but if you have to, then “commit to your action.”
In other words, you have to be all-in at that point.
O’Brien cautioned that there could be just as much danger when the police arrive. There are do’s and don’ts for how to behave when they show up on the scene.
“When law enforcement arrives, they have one thing in mind — get the shooter,” he said. “They are going for the shooter, they are not going to help the wounded, they are not going to help others.”
“The first police on the scene won’t be the SWAT team, it will be local patrol officers. They will be yelling and screaming, they will be coming in hot.”
To avoid getting caught up in the police emotion at the time, O’Brien had some critical advice if you are ever in an active shooting situation.
“Make sure your hands are empty,” he said. “Spread your fingers and keep your hands visible. Get rid of your phones, to us a phone could be a weapon.”
He also said to make sure you follow orders and go where the police tell you to go. Don’t try to pass them anything because that, too, could be considered an aggressive act.
O’Brien said the most important thing about dealing with an active shooting event is to have familiarized yourself with your surroundings and know how to escape. He said it is too late once it happens.