Active shooter conference stresses awareness

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Active shooter conference stresses awareness

Harlingen Police Department’s Sgt. Jesus Sanchez asks attendees to raise their hand if they have any training related to active shooting events during the Civilian Response to Active Shooting Events (CRASE) seminar Saturday at the Public Safety Conference by the City of Harlingen and the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District at the Harlingen Convention Center. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — Hiding under a table with your eyes closed doesn’t cut it anymore.

People everywhere need to be ready to take action when an active shooter invades a school — or a grocery store or a church or an office, experts say.

A Public Safety Conference presented Saturday morning by the City of Harlingen in partnership with the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District addressed the shattering new reality spreading across the United States of assailants using firearms, knives and cars to massacre large numbers of people.

“They want to go over there take out the people they feel have wronged them and anyone else around,” said Sgt. Jesus Sanchez of the Harlingen Police Department.

“A shooter has three things on his mind,” Sanchez said. “They’ll either take their own life, law enforcement will take their life, or they’re going to give up.”

Sanchez was giving a presentation to a large number of people at the Harlingen Convention Center. The presentation “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events” addressed the raw insanities of the horror in Uvalde, the massacre in El Paso, and the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida — just to name a few.

Everyone listened closely to what he said, and attentions were riveted to slides from mass shootings around the United States with pictures of people running and videos with people screaming. Especially poignant in a maddening sense was the image of yellow dots popping up on a U.S. map. Each represented a shooting, and every time another year appeared, more dots showed up, eventually covering the map like blisters.

Sanchez spoke about stress responses and the importance of situational awareness. Oftentimes people hear gunshots, but they don’t want to believe what’s happening.

Don’t deny, he emphasized. If you hear gunshots, go to deliberation.

And what’s that?

Avoid – Run, Deny – Hide, Defend – Fight.

And fighting means having a plan and being able to use that plan under duress.

“Make sure you are capable of that plan,” he said. “Once you’re stressed you can forget things.”

Photos showed people hiding in crisis situations with several obvious escape routes they didn’t take because people often go into freeze mode. He emphasized the importance of taking deep breaths to stay calm and keep thinking clearly.

He presented maps and diagrams of buildings that had been attacked and talked about exits, emphasizing the importance of always knowing the location of all exits anywhere.

Superintendent of Schools Alicia Noyola applauded the presentation and the way it addressed the changes taking place.

“One of the things I’ve shared with everybody here is the critical importance of continuing to educate ourselves around safety and all the potential impacts of different things that may affect us,” she said. “What are we doing to educate ourselves to be able to protect ourselves in the long run.”

She observed how the presentation addressed not only school shootings but shopping center massacres and university campus rampages and even people plowing through a crowd in a car.

“Everyone could see themselves in that particular situation,” she said. “Our community members in our audience, through that presentation obviously could see themselves in any kind of setting whether it’s at the mall, at the local convenience store, at Wal-Mart, wherever it may be.”

She pointed out, however, that there are many other issues involving school safety such as cyberbullying, CPR and hurricane preparedness. These were presented in breakout sessions after Sanchez’s presentation.

“We have hurricane season coming up,” she said. “How do we protect ourselves from COVID 19? That’s why today’s sessions are not just about active shooters but they are about all the various things that can threaten our person and physical safety, our health, and so today’s sessions are very diverse.”

One topic that has been on everyone’s mind along with the active shooter situation is mental health. There was an entire breakout session about mental health and cyberbullying. While many were pleased, at least one mother was not, Tiffany Ann Dosal, whose 13-year-old daughter Aurelia Star took her own life in May after being cyberbullied. Aurelia Star had just graduated from the eighth grade at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.

“I feel that HCISD is not educated on things that, when it comes to cyberbullying, they’re not educated,” she said.

The bullying which led to her daughter’s suicide by hanging apparently had been ongoing for quite some time.

“She was bullied in Vernon and cyberbullied at Gutierrez,” Dosal said. “The times that we would go and tell Vernon they would go and sweep it under the rug and say ‘We don’t have any proof. We can’t do anything about it.’ The school districts are not educated on the effects of cyberbullying on a child. If they don’t have quote unquote ‘proof’ nothing is going to get done. And I lost my little girl.”