‘Information That Can Save Lives’: County-Wide Active Shooter Drills Focus on Preparation

BROCKWAY, Pa. (EYT) – The Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services is looking to take its informational meetings about active shooter/killer events all over the county.

Above: The Jefferson County Courthouse, where the Department of Emergency Services and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office recently held an active shooter drill.

The first meeting was at Brockway Area Elementary School, and Tracy Zents, director of emergency services for Jefferson County, said that it went well. He presented information with Chief Deputy Sheriff Sam Bartley, and both hope that other communities and organizations would follow Brockway’s lead and hold similar presentations in the future.

“We had some interest from Brockway, so we came here first,” Zents said. “We’re hoping to get this message spread around the community. We’ve done some training for businesses and schools, but this is the first community-wide event. We’re hoping that, if this is successful, we can continue to help people prepare.”

Zents explained that they are training people for active shooter/killer events, adding the “killer” because there have been some incidents not using firearms. He gave an example of a 2014 incident at a school where a student stabbed 24 people. No one died in that incident. He also briefly traced the history of active shooter/killer events, starting in 1966 all the way up to the events on July 4.

Deputy Sam Bartley and Director Tracy Zents present at Brockway.

“In 2020, the FBI identified 40 shootings,” Zents said to the audience in the elementary gymnasium. He then put the number 330 on the screen behind him. “That’s the number of events as of yesterday.”

Zents stresses that active shooter/killer events are something that people need to prepare for, much like fire drills at schools.

“It’s unfortunate we have to do this, but we train for fire drills and so on, and this is the next thing in our world today we have to prepare for,” he said. “The chances are slim that something like this will happen in our area, but we can’t rule it out.”

Zents focused his presentation on the concept of run/hide/fight. The concept is that if an event starts, people need to first see if they can escape. If escape is possible, get to the exits quickly. If they can bring others with them, they should, but if people are frozen or hesitant, leave them.

“The primary focus is to get out,” Zents said. “Leave your belongings.”

If running is not an option, the next step is to hide. Zents said to block doors, avoid windows, and turn off lights.

“If a shooter sees movement or a shadow, they will try to get in,” he said. “Try to block the door. Try to hide.”

Zents stressed that people need to silence their cell phones during the crisis. Even vibrate is audible and can lead a killer toward a hiding person.

Finally, if there are no other options, Zents said that people need to be ready to fight.

“Find an improvised weapon and incapacitate the shooter,” he said. “Commit to the action.”

Zents went over some warning signs for potential perpetrators. These included known behaviors like fixation on previous mass shootings, expressions of paranoia, and feelings of extreme superiority or extreme helplessness. Other signs include an overreaction to changes in the workplace, violation of policies or rules, and blaming others for their problems or faults. Zents said that if a person seems aggressive or violent, it is okay to call 911.

Tracy Zents discusses Run/Hide/Fight.

“Police would rather respond to a call that turns out to be nothing than to let it go and have to respond to an incident,” he said.

Zents also told the audience that Jefferson County is one of 60 counties in the commonwealth that 911 has texting capabilities. If it is too dangerous to call 911, texting a message to 911 will still reach a dispatcher and help coordinate emergency services. Whether calling or texting, Zents said it is important to know where you are so you can direct help there. He said that people should also explain the situation, describe the shooter or shooters, and inform 911 of the number of potential victims.

“If you don’t know the answer to something the dispatcher asks you, it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know,’” he said. “Don’t make something up.”

Chief Deputy Bartley took over and explained Pennsylvania’s open carry and concealed carry laws. In Jefferson County, he said that the sheriff’s office has an easy and efficient process for getting concealed carry permits. He also touched on the new way law enforcement is being trained for these events, stressing that it is important for victims to allow law enforcement to do its job.

“We’re being told to go toward the threat,” he said. “We will move toward the perpetrator to secure the area. Other emergency services are on the way.”

The job of law enforcement is to secure the area and stop the shooter, so people fleeing the scene should not flag down an officer, point or scream, or make sudden movements with their hands. Everyone should have their hands up and empty so law enforcement knows that the fleeing people are not a threat. Bartley and Zents also added that law enforcement might move past injured people because they need to neutralize the threat.

Chief Deputy Sam Bartley talks about gun laws in Pennsylvania.

Zents hopes that more people ask for trainings like this.

“Our goal is to get as many people as possible to understand what an active shooter/killer event is so they can protect themselves, understand their surroundings, and know what to look for,” he said. “If they are caught in an active shooter event, we want them to have some information that can save their lives. We want people to take an active role in their own safety.”

Zents stressed that he does not want anyone to live in fear, but he does want people to be aware of their surroundings, look for exits and places to hide, and to pay attention to what is going on around them.

“Live life to the fullest,” he told the audience.

The Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services has handouts and other information about active shooter/killer events. More information can be found by calling them at 849-5052 or visiting their website.

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