Alum plans workshop on church shooting prevention

active shooter event

Workshop poster

When nine members of a treasured community church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot to death following a prayer meeting in June, the incident placed a harsh spotlight on what professionals in the homeland security enterprise have long known – it can happen anywhere.

“I felt this (the Charleston shooting) was only a precursor of what we may be facing here in the United States,” said Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree graduate Rodney Andreasen. “I was concerned about specific active shooter attacks against churches; however, I was concerned for preparedness for whatever disasters or incidences may impact our local churches.  As the county Emergency Management Director, I was more concerned in an all-hazards approach to church protection and started with this as the focal point.”

Andreasen is heading a collaborative effort providing active shooter training to churches in Jackson County, Florida, where he is Emergency Manager. A day-long seminar scheduled Aug. 26 will bring together public safety, emergency management and the faith community.

Several incidences prior to the Charleston church shooting provided urgency to developing a program to engage the churches in the area.  In 2011, a gunman opened fire on the neighboring Bay County School Board. Quick action was taken by the Bay County Chief of Security to neutralize the threat.  Then in November 2014 a lone gunman fired upon students at Florida State University.

Those incidents combined with the seeming never-ending spate of lone shooter incidents in the United States and abroad had long grabbed the attention of Andreasen.

“The workshop was formed and ready for release when the incident in Charleston occurred,” he said. “This incident was the watershed event that pushed the program idea to the forefront and caused alarm for the entire religious community.”

The event will draw on the region’s expertise. Mike Jones, Security Chief with Bay District Schools and 20-year police veteran, will discuss the December 2010 Bay County School Board shooting as well as the importance of preparedness. Jones was lauded as a hero after exchanging fire with a disgruntled gunman at the Bay District School Board meeting. The man had fired at school board members, after ordering all but six men out of the room, but missed despite shooting from close range. The gunman shot himself to death after a shootout with Jones that wounded the attacker.

Florida State University (FSU) Police Chief David Perry will discuss the November 2014 lone gunman shooting at the FSU library that wounded three, leaving one of those victims paralyzed.

Andreasen is scheduled to lead a training program known as ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate). He became a trainer in the program several years ago and has brought it to schools in the Jackson County area.

“ALICE is designed to provide a toolbox of ways to meet the threat of the active shooter in a variety of situations,” Andreasen said. “The program will not focus on one system such as lockdown, but a variety of methods to employ based on the situation.”

In developing the seminar, organizers also collaborated with Rev. Craig Hicks, who is the youth pastor leader for the area Assemblies of God, as well as the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

The key point Andreasen wants attendees to understand is that active shooter incidents can happen anywhere and it behooves congregations to be aware and prepared. With the average police response time at six to eight minutes, a lone gunman in such events can shoot a person an average once every 15 seconds.

“The second point is not to live in fear, but have confidence that they can take actions to prevent, stop and survive an active shooter,” Andreasen noted. “Tools to do so are available and the ability to do so will be presented during the seminar.”

Building a collaborative team was among the importance lessons Andreasen cites from his CHDS days. Among his inter-agency collaborative efforts has been establishing an email chain comprising active shooter specialists, and other law enforcement experts, to exchange information on trends and events.

Another CHDS lesson came from a required reading of “The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.” Andreasen sees the book’s contention that a “red light” was blinking prior to the attacks as analogous to church shootings.

“Instead of being proactive prior to 9/11 we stood by and ignored the warning,” he said. “I felt that the red light was blinking on the threat to our churches and businesses from active shooters and thus embarked on this subject to hopefully prevent them from happening or preparing the community to survive such an incident.”

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