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TownMall of Westminster to host active attacker training program that discourages ‘hide and hope’

For the fourth year, the TownMall of Westminster will host a training program presented by a Westminster City Police officer designed to teach people what to do if faced with an assailant.

The event started as an active shooter training program and but, due to changes in the way incidents have been happening, Officer Christopher Obst will hold an expanded presentation at the RC Theater to show people how to respond in an “active attacker” situation.

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“Because now we’re seeing more and more of the FBI statistics and just reading the news, for crying out loud, that it’s not just an active shooter event, like Las Vegas, like Orlando, like Columbine, now we’re seeing active attacker events. There was just one [last weekend] in Hunt Valley where a guy was stabbing people,” said Obst. “The program director had to change it from active shooter event to an active attacker.

"A large portion of these attacks happen in places of commerce. Hopefully, it never happens here but we want to train as many people on what to do when an event like this happens.”

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The event is set for Sunday, Oct. 6, from 9 to 11 a.m. It is free, but those who wish to attend must RSVP at 410-876-8870, extension 10.

Obst said he really wants to break people out of the traditional practice of hiding from an active attacker.

“Hide and hope was the old theory, that doesn’t prove to be effective," he said. "We’re not providing stable targets for our attacker at that point. So what we want to do is give everybody the opportunity to avoid the attacker, deny the attacker entry and defend yourself.”

The presentation starts with participants signing waivers, due to the graphic content of the 20-minute video in the presentation, and Obst giving a PowerPoint presentation about what to do for a little over an hour. Obst said some are hesitant to sign a waiver, but it is to ensure that people understand the graphic content in the video that could either trigger someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder or potentially cause someone to experience some form of PTSD.

Obst has taught this method since 2015, originally at the police station’s training room, but has taught it at the TownMall since 2016.

“I like my course. I think my course is clear, it’s broken down to a simpler form,” said Obst. “I don’t want people confused, where if they come upon an active attacker event to turn around and say, ‘What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to run or was I supposed to fight and then hide?’ I don’t want questions, I want you to go into autopilot and make things happen.”

In the program’s first year at the mall, there were about 30 to 35 people in attendance, the following year attendance increased to about 50 to 60 people. According to Brittanty Biscoe, assistant director of security at the TownMall, they were expecting 35 attendees as of earlier this week.

The mall’s security staff plays a part in the active attacker presentation as well.

“We go over what each individual store should do because each store is a little bit different, so we try to cover all areas,” said Biscoe.

Obst just hopes people learn from the presentation and adhere to a new method.

“When I reach in there and I touch somebody that I’ve just given them a wealth of knowledge, the light bulb goes on,” said Obst. “We do it because of that light bulb that goes on, that change that we’ve made in somebody’s life. When I teach this course, I see a bunch of light bulbs walking out of the theater when I’m done.”

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