When it comes to surviving a mass shooting, members of the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office believe mental preparedness is key.
While speaking at Friday’s monthly Brown County Republican Women’s Club, Burnet County Patrol Deputy Tracy Weems gave attendees a few tips for mentally prepare to take action while in a potentially fatal situation.
During the meeting, Weems outlined the four stages of dealing with a dangerous scenario: denial, deliberation, reaction and impulse.
“This is what everyone goes through at some point or another during an event,” said Weems, who has more than 20 years in law enforcement with training in patrol, S.W.A.T. and internal affairs. “The first one is denial. Have you ever witnessed a car wreck and thought to yourself, did I really see that? … In every event, there is a denial stage. The longer you stay in denial, the more time you’re going to stay in one place to make a final decision so move past the denial stage. Check your surroundings and look for other peoples’ response.”
As part of the second step, deliberation, Weems said this is the point where a potential victim must figure out what to do next. As part of a program, developed in part by Brownwood Police Department Chief Terry Nichols, it is recommended to avoid, deny and defend. Once the denial phase has been overcome, those involved must then decide what is their next step. Weems said the best way not to become a victim is to leave the area immediately. When fleeing is not an option, the second step is to deny the shooter access to more victims by locking or barricading doors and putting as much distance as possible from the shooter. If the shooter cannot be avoided, then the last step is defend, but before any of that can take place the potential victim must decide what he or she will do next at their first point of contact.
“One of the things me and my partners do is say ‘Look, just take a deep breath for a second. Literally, let’s all take a breath,” Weems said. “It does a few things for you. It literally makes you stop and slow down and it actually replenishes the oxygen in the blood so you can think more clearly. If you’re under stress take a deep breath to start with. It’s two seconds in an event that will help you process the whole thing.”
Weems said the next step is controlling reaction and shifting from panic to controlled anger. He added manipulating one’s emotions is not easy and requires practicing mental roleplaying for dangerous situations.
“The difference between fear and anger is a thin line,” Weems said. “Shift that fear of realizing you’re in this event into the anger of I’m not going to be manipulated or controlled by this event. I am going to take control of at least my situation, my part of it and get mad. If you’re involved in an active shooter event, getting mad will help you out. It will make a difference in your response … I still do it as an officer.”
Weems said the final step is impulse or reaching a decision moment. Using the as an example, Weems used hero airline pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenburger’s landing over the Hudson River in New York City. Weems said Sullenburger, who was also served as a pilot in Vietnam, used the four steps of mental preparedness to finally come to a decision moment and his cool thinking saved hundreds of lives.
“This emergency has never happened, but because of his scripting, his knowledge and the ability to make a decision quickly, he was able to land that aircraft into the Hudson with no life lost,” Weems said. “He didn’t deny the circumstances. He did not have to deliberate on a response. He did not have time, a couple of minutes is all he had … He made his decision and he stuck with it.”
Although many associate mass shootings with places of education, Weems said that is not true and more than half of all mass shootings are in places of commerce. For that reason Amy Seymour, a board member of the Brown County Republican Women’s Club, said she wanted to bring in the BCSO and, after seeing their presentation, she is happy for it.
“Right now, this is a hot topic. With shootings, we think are we protecting our kids enough? Are we doing enough as citizens and organizations?” Seymour said. “We need practical application and this is not something the everyday Joe wants to get into. We need special training on it and awareness. Our local law enforcement is incredible and we know and trust them, but as citizens we have a responsibility to step up. It’s important.”