'Make a decision to survive,' Aberdeen Police instructor tells active shooter training class

Sgt. Thaddeus Tomlinson with the Aberdeen Police department facilitated an active shooter training for some Aberdeen employees Friday at Aberdeen City Hall.

Aberdeen Police Sgt. Thaddeus Tomlinson had just asked if participants in Friday morning’s active shooter training exercise had returned their equipment when a man sitting in the middle of the room stood up and fired an Airsoft pistol at a woman sitting in front of him.

The people around him immediately worked together to overwhelm and subdue the shooter.


The man was actually a participant whom Tomlinson asked to play the part of an active shooter during the ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — training.

“What you have to do is simply get up and move and make a decision to survive,” Tomlinson, the Aberdeen Police Department’s ALICE training instructor, told the group.


About 18 people participated in the training, the second public session offered by the APD this month. The prior class was held Dec. 1.

The ALICE classes, which are available through the ALICE Training Institute, are designed to give civilians the skills to react to an intruder or active shooter before the police arrive, according to the institute’s website, https://www.alicetraining.com.

“In actuality, there is a [time] gap before we get there,” Tomlinson said.

The training session Friday was conducted in the City Hall council chamber. The group included a number of city Department of Public Works employees and several representatives of New Life Fellowship Church of God in Aberdeen.


Tomlinson also put the group through scenarios such as responding to a shooter who burst into the council chambers — participants threw foam baseballs at him — and how to keep a shooter from getting into a room.

The group split into two subgroups, and participants used whatever they had handy — chairs, folding tables, their belts — to barricade two emergency exit doors.

Tomlinson praised people for not freezing up during exercises.

He asked them about their heart rates, and several people reported elevated rates. Tomlinson cited studies which show that, the higher a person’s heart rate goes in a crisis, the more motor skills they lose, making it more difficult to react.

“In law enforcement, we have to work within a relatively uncomfortable heart rate most of the time,” he said.

Those same studies show police who go through regular training, such as SWAT officers, have lower and steadier heart rates in emergencies, Tomlinson said.

Participant Chris Sands, a DPW maintenance worker, recalled witnessing an armed robbery at his church when he was a child. The robber brandished a pistol and took money that had been collected during services, but he did not shoot anybody, Sands said.

“Today they’re firing, so this training, it's much needed,” Sands said during a question-and-answer session with Tomlinson.

Participants told Tomlinson they were glad to learn some ways to fight back against a shooter, even if they don’t have a gun.

“We have to do what we can do to survive with what we have available to us,” Tomlinson said.

Murel Bledsoe, a senior plant operator at the Aberdeen wastewater treatment plant, said later that “you only have a split millisecond to respond” to an active shooter.

“Hopefully, in that split millisecond, I would remember something from this course,” Bledsoe said.

Tomlinson encouraged participants to discuss with others in their organizations how to respond to an incident, such as thinking of “avenues of escape” and how to assist people with disabilities.

He said that “unfortunately,” people must make such preparations in a world where shooting incidents happen with increasing regularity.

“The more we ignore these conversations, the more people are going to die,” he said.

Tomlinson stressed police cannot tell civilians, through ALICE, exactly how to respond to a shooting.

“You have to figure out what are you going to do to survive... all we can do is give you tools and empower you to make a decision,” he said.

Tomlinson said he and a fellow Aberdeen officer, both members of Harford County’s municipal police SWAT unit, attended an ALICE training at police leaders’ request.

After Friday’s training, Tomlinson said he “really fell in love with the idea of taking the time to train civilians, not just law enforcement, to respond to these type of scenarios.”

He said members of the city administration, along with the staff of the Century 21 real estate firm in Aberdeen, have been through his ALICE class.

The Dec. 1 session was the first open to the general public, according to Tomlinson. He said there have been at least 25 people in prior classes.

The classes are free. The police department spent about $200 on equipment, such as the Airsoft gun and face masks for participants, according to Tomlinson.

He said police officials want to get as many people in Aberdeen trained as possible; ALICE could be provided to people in other parts of Harford County if there is sufficient interest and APD commanders approve.

Anyone interested should call the department at 410-272-2121 and ask for Tomlinson.

Training and seminars to prepare for an active shooter situation are becoming more common in Harford County, such as a seminar hosted by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Thursday at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa. More than 450 people signed up for that seminar, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Army hosted an active shooter exercise in August at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The Bel Air Police Department and the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company held an active shooter exercise in the summer of 2016 at Bel Air Middle School.

Fred Monath, superintendent of maintenance with the Aberdeen DPW and one of Friday’s training participants, said he and his colleagues have discussed for a number of years how they would respond to a shooting in the workplace or out in the field.

Municipal workers already have to deal with traffic hazards when working on road projects, he said, and people on the loose wanting to do harm with guns makes their jobs all the more perilous.

“Working in the streets, it's definitely a dangerous profession,” Monath said.

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