A workshop on surviving in the workplace, literally

A couple of weeks back, our Human Resources Manager Deborah M. Allen stood in front of a packed conference room on the fourth floor of our New London offices and discussed the topic of the day.

“Thanks for coming, it’s great to see such a good turnout. You know, this is active shooter in the workplace training,” she said to us.

What kind of country have we become that such training would be necessary and that it could seem all so routine? Just another staff workshop.

The introductory video presented by our instructors — Sgt. Thomas Gorman and Trooper Kevin Connelly of the Connecticut State Police Training Academy — and their frank assessment of what we should all be prepared for was at various times troubling, emotional and empowering.

The opening video began with scenes from the Aug. 1, 1966, University of Texas tower shooting. A former Marine used the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the university as a sniper’s nest. Over 96 minutes he shot and killed 16 people, injured 31, before police shot him. I remembered watching the same scenes on my black-and-white TV screen when it happened. I was 9.

It is considered the nation’s first active shooter event, the instructors said.

Over the years the number of incidents and the killing efficiency of the weapons have escalated, exponentially in the past decade. In October 2017 a gunman used the perch of a 32nd-floor hotel room in Las Vegas to kill 58 outdoor concertgoers and wound 422.

I know the odds of an active shooter coming into The Day offices are remote, but I also recognize that they’re not zero. It was just about a year ago, June 28, 2018, that an aggrieved reader shot up the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees with a shotgun.

These are not folks looking to rob or take hostages.

“Their objective is that of mass murder,” Connelly said.

It is dangerous that President Donald Trump calls the news media “the enemy of the people” and labels reporting he doesn’t like as “fake news.” It is not hard to imagine a sick, violent mind using that as a license to thin the ranks of the enemy.

While no one has delivered outright threats — I’d let the police know about that — some of the mail coming into the office, electronically and otherwise, can be unsettling. There are the long treatises, scrawled in difficult to read cursive, railing against some perceived injustice. Last Monday an email in my inbox declared, “The Day is a FAKE NEWS PAPER.” A letter to the editor decried the critical reporting about the president and warned, “The press will pay a price for their betrayal.”

There is less chance an active shooter would be armed with a high-capacity semiautomatic assault-style rifle in Connecticut, given the outlawing of the sale of those weapons after the massacre at Sandy Hook that killed 20 first-graders and six educators in 2012. But, of course, he could still be so armed. By the way, it’s always a man.

In an active shooting event there are three options, we were told — run, hide or fight. Escape if you can without having to pass the shooter. Shelter and hide if there are no clear escape paths. Attack the shooter if option one and two do not exist.

“Get as nasty, as violent as you can, then take it up another notch,” Sgt. Gorman advised, if attacking a gunman is the option. Fire extinguishers make great weapons, he said. Spray the attacker in the face, then use the metal hydrant as a bludgeon.

To maximize the chance of survival should such an event occur, the instructors advised us to frequently take time to think about the run, hide, fight options we would have in the given setting we find ourselves — out to eat, church, a school assembly. Be prepared and there is less chance panic will disable your ability to react.

“Think, 'If it is going to happen now, if it is going to happen here, what are my options?'” Gorman said.

Sound advice, I suppose. But, oh, how awful.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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