Sgt. Adrienne Thomas, a community outreach officer with Howard County Police, discuss ways for houses of worship, business owners and civilians to protect against active shooter situations and other emergencies.
Sgt. Adrienne Thomas, a community outreach officer with Howard County Police, discuss ways for houses of worship, business owners and civilians to protect against active shooter situations and other emergencies. (Jess Nocera/BSMG)

Katrina Murphy said she woke up Thursday and was shocked as she learned of a gunman’s late-night attack that occurred less than four miles from her alma mater, California Lutheran University, in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“Did I really hear Thousand Oaks?” Murphy thought.

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Thousand Oaks “is the town of yesteryear,” Murphy said. “It’s a quaint town where the people are very kind and welcoming.”

“You don’t envision this thing, [for] the peacefulness to be shattered,” she said.

Late Wednesday night, a man opened fire in a California country-themed bar, killing 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy who responded, before turning the .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol on himself.

Nearly 3,000 miles away in Howard County, police officers spent the morning discussing ways to respond to active-shooter situations and other emergencies at a session for residents, business owners and church workers.

Murphy was among the nearly 80 people at the presentation at Grace Community Church in Fulton, where Murphy is assistant to the director of adult ministries.

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Journalists dove under their desks and pleaded for help on social media. One described the scene a “war zone.” Another said he jumped over a dead colleague and fled for his life.

In the last two years, the country has seen the incidents arise at a more rapid rate, according to Officer Steven Mitzel, of the Howard police Department of Community Outreach. FBI statistics show there have been 250 active-shooter cases in the U.S. in the past 17 years.

“The average law enforcement response time to these incidents is approximately 3 minutes,” Mitzel said. “If you’re waiting for us, that is the longest 3 minutes of your life.”

Mitzel, looking to the crowd, said, “until we get there, you are your own first responder.”

The police department’s decision to hold the discussion was in response to last month’s deadly shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as workplace attacks in Annapolis and Harford County.

“These things [active shooter situations] are not just happening across the country, they are happening in our area,” Mitzel said. “Howard County is not excluded from this.”

In 2012, a homeless man entered St. Peter’s Episcopal Church through a back door and killed two church employees, a co-rector and administrative assistant, before ending his own life.

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Two store employees were fatally shot at The Mall in Columbia in 2014 after a gunman opened fire on the second floor of the building before killing himself.

The police department held similar presentations last winter focusing on places of worship. Thursday’s session was for places of worship, businesses and civilians.

“Any place isn’t off limits,” said Sgt. Adrienne Thomas, a community outreach officer. “If you are open for business, you’re open for business in all aspects.”

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Thomas discussed establishing an emergency plan that can include having a lockdown protocol, a safe room, medical supplies and a phone landline.

Having a volunteer security team or local officers make nighttime security checks is another security option, Thomas said.

If an active shooting incident should occur, police went over the “Run, Hide, Fight,” method.

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Howard County police held their second "Safety and Security in Houses of Worship" meeting on Thursday night, to equip faith leaders with knowledge about how to prepare for the worst.

“Run, if you can’t get away. Hide, if the shooter confronts you. Fight as your last resort,” according to a checklist handed out.

“Take this information and put it to action,” Thomas said.

Helen Winoker, administrator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, said she heard useful information.

Temple Isaiah, “is very security conscious and we have been working on our security program for the past few years,” Winoker said.

“It’s really a process of working with everyone, so they know what to do [in a situation], Winoker said.

Murphy, who also found the meeting informative, would like to see more presentations.

“Even though we’re on the East Coast, our hearts still go out to those on the West Coast, [to] the students, the alumni, the community,” Murphy said.

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