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Our View: Active attacker training well worth attending

It’s a grim sign of the times that some 693,000 results are immediately displayed when one visits Google and searches for “What to do if confronted by an active attacker.” All manner of news stories, blogs and videos, many from college websites, come up providing advice designed to save lives in the event of a grave threat from some sort of armed assailant.

Clicking on a few of them to get some ideas for what to do in such a situation makes sense. It’s far better, however, to attend an active attacker training, like the one being held Sunday at 9 a.m. at TownMall of Westminster. While it might be too late for most to get to this one, there will no doubt be others, in various corners of Carroll County, and it’s more than worthwhile to attend one.

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Officer Christopher Obst, of the Westminster Police Dept., is leading the Sunday training at R/C Theater inside the mall. It’s been expanded from an “active shooter” training to an “active attacker” training for good reason: Those bent on doing harm may not necessarily try to do so with a gun.

“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, referring to the incident in which a man with a hunting knife stabbed four victims. “The program director had to change it from active shooter event to an active attacker.

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"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.”

Hopefully indeed. But getting trained in the event of an attack is smart. And many might be surprised to learn their first instinct is probably dead wrong.

“Hide and hope was the old theory. That doesn’t prove to be effective," he told us. "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. ... I want you to go into autopilot and make things happen.”

The idea is to give yourself, and others, a fighting chance. A similar theme ran through a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training in Sykesville we covered almost exactly two years ago. At that one it was noted that the average law enforcement response time for an active shooter event is 3 minutes.

“What civilians do has a direct impact on their survivability in those first 3 minutes,” said 1st Sgt. Jon Hill, agency training coordinator for the Maryland State Police.

More than 50 residents including Sykesville Mayor Ian Shaw, members of the town council and members of the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department gathered at the fire department that evening for the training led by Hill. It took place just a few days after a lone gunman killed 58 and wounded 422 in Las Vegas in the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history.

Hill made it clear that in active shooter situations, social expectations don’t apply. Don’t fight fairly and don’t stop until the threat is gone. He said even a group of people throwing their shoes at an attacker can cause a momentary distraction long enough to avoid, deny or defend further.

“Remember you are not helpless,” he said. “What you do matters.”

We’re sure Hill provided valuable training as will Obst at TownMall. Let’s hope no one ever has to put it to use.

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