March 14, 2019 - Lieutenant Del Birdwell with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department spoke at the Women on the Go Club meeting hosted by AgriLife Extension on Thursday, March 14th concerning civilian response to an active shooter situation.
Jheri-Lynn McSwain, Ph.D., Shelby County Extension Agent - Family and Community Health, introduced Shelby County Sheriff Willis Blackwell, Chief Deputy Kevin Windham, and Lieutenant Del Birdwell to the group. Lt. Birdwell was the primary speaker and described options in an active shooter situation - to run, to lock, or to fight.
From left: Del Birdwell, Sheriff Willis Blackwell, Jheri-Lynn McSwain, and Kevin Windham
Lt. Birdwell explained, "An active shooter is defined as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area." He continued, "Their objective is to kill as many people they can and as quick as they can." According to statistics, when an active shooter engages a group by shooting they kill on an average of one person every 15 seconds until first responders get there.
While doing research for the program he referenced reading, "To 'hide and hope' is not a good strategy. And that's really a pretty good thought, if somebody comes into here, you can go over into the corner and you can hide. And you are hoping they don't see you and you are hoping they don't kill you. That's not the best strategy in the world."
He advised it's important to be aware of the area which is called situational awareness. Knowing where the exits are located is important because situational awareness can help you have some kind of plan in place mentally. Once you are aware of your surroundings think about if a shooter enters, where the 'fatal funnel' is located. The fatal funnel is the view of the shooter.
"There are three options that you have when there's an active shooter. Run, that's your first option. Lock is your second option. And I'll cover some things with all of these and fight is your third option. Running is the best option as long as you have a plan in place," listed Lt. Birdwell.
If you are able to run, avoid the fatal funnel when possible, and run to the nearest exit. It is harder for the shooter to hit a moving target. Once you are out of the building or the room, be sure to take cover behind a vehicle or something substantial enough to stop a bullet.
If you aren't able to run but are able to lock in place, then close the door and lock it. If no lock is available, push a wedge under the door or something else to prevent it from opening easily. If in a bathroom, one option Lt. Birdwell mentioned is to put a trash can in front of the door (if it opens inward) and to lay down behind the trash can with your weight stopping the door from opening easily. If you are able to delay entrance, the shooter may move on since they know their time is limited as law enforcement will be en-route. Also, it is advised to be as quiet as possible and be sure to silence cell phones from alerting or ringing.
If not able to escape or find a secure place to hide, then your option is to fight. Look around the room and find anything that can be a weapon such as a folding chair. The element of surprise is to your advantage if attacking a shooter. Stay calm and quiet and commit to your actions, try not to hesitate. Most active shooters, although their targets may be selected randomly, they are aware of where they are going and know the floor plan. Remember a moving target is harder to hit and if possible stay out of the fatal funnel as much as possible before attacking.
If you are carrying a weapon and you do decide to engage the shooter, be aware of others around you so you don't shoot them instead of your target. When law enforcement show up, place your weapon down and put your hands up so law enforcement know you are not the active shooter or the threat.
Several people at the meeting asked Lt Birdwell about their kids and what parents can do to help kids to know what to do in the event of an active shooter. Lt. Birdwell advised talking to them about the same things he had mentioned at the meeting - Run, Lock, or Fight. One mother at the meeting said she had heard where some parents were putting door stoppers in their child's backpack. In the event an active shooter situation occurred the door stops could be used to hopefully secure a room.
From left: Ellen Manning, Connie Morrison, and Margaret Smith
McSwain and the audience thanked the Sheriff and his deputies for their presentation with a round of applause. Door prize winners were then announced to be Ellen Manning, Connie Morrison, and Margaret Smith.
During the meeting, McSwain introduced Konnor Windham who will be interning with the Shelby County Extension office as she works on earning a bachelor's degree in family studies. Konnor is a 2017 Center High School Graduate and is attending Texas Women's University.
Upcoming events McSwain mentioned were: Health + Wellness Fair on March 21st at the John D. Windham Civic Center in Center; Freezer Pleaser Meal Prep Club on April 6th from 1-5pm; and Women on the Go Club next meeting is April 11th from noon to 1pm.
Links for more information about what to do in an active shooter situation: