BY: JAMIE BRENNAN
CSULB graduate student Michael Wolf sat transfixed on the security monitors in the loss prevention office at Kohl's department store. As the cameras zoomed in and out, he watched the images go from small to large and back again. He paid close attention to each teenager, soccer mom, and employee who entered the frame. A ringing phone broke his concentration, and he quickly answered, "LP." An employee on the other end alerted him to a suspicious man at the front of the store. Wolf rushed toward the door and stepped into the world that, less than a minute earlier, he watched on the screen. Wolf noticed the troubled stares of customers in the checkout line. They focused on a distraught man screaming at the front of the store. "Tiffany!" the man yelled, turning his head from side to side to shout in opposite directions. He screamed again, "Where's Tiffany!" Wolf saw the hatred in the man's eyes. And then he noticed the 4-inch switchblade. With adrenaline jolting through him, Wolf approached the man. "Tiffany is not here," he said.
The man no longer shouted as he turned to face Wolf, who tried to anticipate his next move. "I need you to leave the store," Wolf said. And to his relief, the man did just that. While this scene did not turn into an "active threat" situation, Wolf said he routinely sees the potential for violence at one of the company’s 1,163 stores. Kohl's is part of an increasing trend, fueled by a string of highly publicized mass shootings. Schools, law enforcement, rescue officials and local retailers—including Wal-Mart and the Cerritos Mall—are making it a priority to train employees in how to respond to an active threat.
More than 250 people died during active shooter incidents since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, according to a 2013 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) study. FEMA classifies an active shooter as, "one or more subjects who participate in a random or systematic shooting spree, demonstrating their intent to continuously harm others."
The 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University revealed that institutions of higher learning are not immune. In that incident, a mentally ill student fatally shot 32 people and wounded 17 others, before turning a gun on himself. The shooting served as a wake-up call to universities that lacked procedures to deal with campus violence.
CSULB, in conjunction with the Long Beach fire department and Long Beach police department, conducted its first collaborative, large-scale active shooter drill on campus in August 2013. CSULB emergency preparedness coordinator Jonathan Rosene said the drill provided an opportunity for campus and city officials to jointly strategize about preparedness—and in an active shooter situation, preparedness is crucial, he said.
"They're typically over in a matter of minutes,” Rosene said. There's really not any time to stage a bunch of equipment and make phone calls. There's no time to talk about what we're doing, we just have to do it.”
As the head of CSULB’s new emergency preparedness committee, Rosene says it is the committee's goal to make CSULB the most disaster resilient university in the state.
"The culture of preparing for disasters has changed," Rosene said. "As an institution, we need to be prepared, regardless of what's occurring outside of us. We need to be self-reliant.” By centralizing CSULB personnel, police, medical, and fire officials during last year’s emergency drill, these agencies began creating a unified command capable of reducing confusion.
University police conduct tactical active shooter training on campus each summer. Participants fire rounds of simulated gunfire—elevating the stress of the responding officer, creating more realistic conditions. The drill was the first time the CSULB student health center responded to a mass casualty incident and practiced triaging victims, Rosene said. The training exercise led the health center to update its triage tag equipment, and the center plans to test triage protocols during another training in January.
CSULB conducted its first shelter-in-place drill in October. The discussion-based drill was designed to inform students and faculty about emergency scenarios, including severe weather, hazardous material release, and violent events including active shooters. CSULB’s emergency preparedness committee is also drafting emergency information for instructors to include on course syllabi.
Both the Long Beach fire and police departments used last year's drill as an opportunity to implement a new active shooter policy called force protection. The policy permits rescue officials to enter the "hot zone" to treat and transport victims under 360-degree police protection. "The far majority of agencies out there have not trained in force protection,” Rosene said. “Long Beach is at the forefront of the agencies actively training and developing policies.”
Entering the "hot zone" immediately upon arrival can place rescue personnel at risk of becoming victims themselves. A 2013 study conducted by researchers at Texas State University examined 84 active shooter incidents and found that in 57 percent of shootings, police arrive while the shooting is still underway.
Orange County police and fire associations adopted force protection policies in 2012, and initially tested them during a large-scale active shooter drill at Buena Park High School in March. Prior to new policies, firefighters and paramedics were prevented from accessing the scene of an active shooting until the active shooter was either in custody, barricaded, or dead. As a result, victims remained untreated for a period up to several hours.
"After receiving a gunshot wound, the victim only has 15 to 30 minutes to live," said Orange County Fire Authority Captain Steve Concialdi. "It all depends on whether the bullet struck any vital organs or arteries. Someone can bleed out in a short amount of time.”
During the Columbine shootings, students reached out to law enforcement by placing a sign in a window reading, “1 bleeding to death,” referring to teacher David Sanders, who was shot in the neck. Sanders bled for four hours before rescue officials reached him, according to the Denver Post. He eventually died from massive blood loss.
"Most counties in the nation are not doing this," Concialdi said. "This is extremely dangerous. But we feel that by going in quickly with the protection of law enforcement, we will save lives."
The Buena Park High School drill is one of many recent efforts to train officials under the new policy. This past spring, Emergency responders conducted active shooter drills for the first time at Seal Beach's McGaugh Elementary School and Mission Viejo's Saddleback College. In May Orange County agencies participated in two simultaneous overnight drills at Mission Viejo Mall and South Coast Plaza. The mall drills, organized by the FBI, are part of an ongoing effort to implement large-scale training nationwide.
For the last 20 years, law enforcement has conducted site surveys of Buena Park High School and other local campuses. These surveys include thoroughly mapping out the schools and documenting things like telecommunications and closed circuit televisions, which can be useful to law enforcement in the event of an active shooter. In addition to training officers, Buena Park Police Captain Gary Worrall said his agency works closely with school officials, faculty, and staff to help prepare them to respond to an active shooter on campus. Active shooter drills will now take place at Buena Park High School each spring break.
Buena Park High School Resource Officer James Woo said students have never participated in an active shooter drill during school hours, but students regularly practice emergency lockdown drills. In the future, Woo said he would like to implement a procedure for tracking students and reuniting them with parents, should an emergency force a campus evacuation.
"We have close to 2,000 students,” Woo said. “We want to make sure everyone is accounted for, and we want to make sure they go home safely."
Orange county resident Erika Viramontes said she has put little thought into active shooter drills. But as the mom of a 5-year-old son, she said the idea of an actual shooting is frightening.
"It makes me feel somewhat safe, and it gives me a little more comfort in dropping off my son at school," Viramontes said. "But it doesn't mean it will stop crazy people from acting in rage."
Although active shooter incidents on school campuses are highly publicized, only 17 percent occur there, according to FBI data. About 50 percent occur in the workplace. During the 20-minute active threat training at Kohl's, four primary objectives were stressed: identifying indicators, understanding actions, response strategies (evacuate/hide out/take action), and how to respond when law enforcement arrives. All four sections include video clips featuring an active shooter in the retail setting. Kohl's loss prevention officer Vanessa Andrade says that an active shooter in the store is something that she frequently pictures, and for which she mentally prepares.
"We've had many people come in and show their weapons," Andrade said.
Andrade's supervisor, Wolf, stressed that the danger is not hypothetical when it comes to apprehending shoplifters at the store. "Every stop that we make is a potential active threat."