OLDSMAR – On the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, a deputy from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department held an active shooter presentation at the Nielsen Media Research headquarters in Oldsmar.

The free 90-minute session, which was hosted by the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and open to the public, featured a PowerPoint presentation as well as a Q&A with Deputy Charles Skipper, a Crime Prevention Deputy who handles north county programs, including identity theft prevention, Internet safety and Neighborhood Watch, for the department. But Skipper, who has been with the PCSO since 1994, said he’s noticed an uptick in the active shooter presentations over the last year or so.

“I found I’ve been doing these more often, especially this year,” he said prior to the start of the event on Thursday, Dec. 14. “I’ve been doing 3-4 a month in the north county, and we have two other deputies handling the central and south county areas.”

Skipper said the main difference between when they started doing the active-shooter sessions and today is the variety of companies and organizations that are hosting them.

“I go to schools, churches, government offices, businesses,” he said. “Unfortunately, as these things become more and more commonplace, they no longer follow any set rules or patterns. There’s a whole variety of reasons why these happen, including terrorism, political motivations, domestic situations and workplace violence. Unfortunately, there is no profile for an active shooter, other than they’re typically white males.”

Skipper told the 20 or so people gathered in the conference room that the purpose of the presentation was to help “know what to do, how would you respond, if faced with this situation.” He immediately grabbed the attention of the audience when he played a training video produced by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The video depicts an active-shooter situation at a fictitious college, complete with reenactments that highlight the horrors associated with active-shooter incidents and illustrate how quickly they can unfold.

“Time is critical,” Skipper explained. “These things happen extremely fast – usually in about two to five minutes – and they’re extremely violent. So, your reaction time is critical.”

The video and subsequent slide show illustrated three key directives individuals should follow should they find themselves in an active-shooter situation: run, hide and fight, in that order.

“Getting out seems like obvious advice, but these things happen so fast, and you’re so unexperienced, it takes the brain a few seconds to process what’s happening,” he said. “So, we train people to get over that ‘deer in the headlights’ threshold.”

He added, “Use any available means to escape,” noting windows, fire escapes and emergency exits are all in play. “And if you can’t leave, get to a secure area. An interior room, a mop closet, somewhere that provides adequate protection from bullets. And make sure you don’t alert the shooter to your presence. Silence your cell phones. That’s something people don’t usually think of.”

Skipper said when forced into a situation where defending yourself is the only option, a person should, once again, use any means necessary.

“Find an improvised weapon – a broom, a tool, a fire extinguisher,” he said. “If you’re licensed to carry a concealed weapon and you think you’re a good enough shot, use it. There’s no rules with this. Every option is on the table to defend yourself, including killing him. But my advice would be to run or hide first. Don’t try to be a hero. It’s not your job to protect the food court at the mall.”

As the presentation wound down, Skipper said he hoped everyone in attendance would use the information he provided should they ever find themselves in an active shooter incident.

“Hopefully, with training like this, you can recognize things that are happening a few seconds faster, and those few seconds could save lives.”

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis closed the session by cautioning people to be prepared for what has become a sign of our times.

“It’s unfortunate we have to think this way, but these things can happen anywhere. It has happened here in Oldsmar,” he said, citing a man who came to a Code Enforcement meeting and faked having a gun. “You just never know.”

After the presentation, one attendee spoke about the importance of the event.

“I think it was very good, he presented a lot of good information,” said Mark Moretti, a retired fireman from Palm Harbor who is trying to start his own active-shooter training business. “But this place should be standing room only. I can’t believe it’s not packed. This is information everyone today needs to know. But people in general always say ‘it can’t happen to me,’ until it does. Or ‘it won’t happen here,’ until it does. It’s complacency. That’s how we go through life.”

Moretti encouraged people to spread the word about the PCSO’s presentation and to take advantage of the free information.

“Tell your boss, tell your coworker, tell your friends and let them know about this,” he said.

For more information on the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Active-Shooter presentation, contact Deputy Charles Skipper at cskipper@pcso.net, call 727-582-5661, or visit pcsoweb.comspeakerandassistrequests.