BY KATHY KAHN
Sixty years ago, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of an observation deck at a Texas University and shot 46 people. Thirty-six survived. Whitman was eventually killed by a first responder.
Today, attacks at schools, universities, military posts, stores and entertainment venues may seem more the norm than the exception, primarily due to the instant news available to the public. The majority of us go into the world every day, and members of North Rockland’s Chamber of Commerce got some advice on how to deal with violence in the workplace—as well as using common sense while out and about– from Rockland County Undersheriff Robert VanCura.
“Always have an exit plan,” was VanCura’s advice. “More importantly, think about yourself, not your things—don’t stop for a handbag or cell phone. Just get yourself out of there. If you can’t get out safely, hide. Turn out the lights. Shut the cell phone off. Remain quiet and calm—you can do it. If your life is at risk, and there is nowhere to turn, commit to taking the shooter down.” (Think Flight 93.)
It’s good to have an exit plan in place wherever you are—whether at work or sitting in a stadium. VanCura urged chamber members to remember three things: “Run, hide and fight—even though you may feel ‘frozen’ if you find yourself in the situation. You have to try your best to remain calm and quiet.”
VanCura said an actual attack takes place within a 10-15 minute time span more than 50 percent of the time: “Many lives were saved at Virginia Tech because students and teachers piled up desks in front of the door so the shooter couldn’t get in.” At other times, there is no opportunity to plan quickly. It’s best to be prepared.
VanCura also told gun carriers to be wary: “We issue several hundred permits each year, but if you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, make sure you let responders know….you do not want to be mistaken for the shooter!”
Schools have ramped up their policies to keep students and staff safe. Some have initiated a dress code—shirts must be tucked in, baggy pants are out—making it difficult to concern a weapon. Some have metal detectors. It may not seem like the world you went to school in, but violence gets immediate attention, especially in today’s 10-second breaking news blasts.
“Whatever you do, and whatever kind of business you own or work in, have a plan in place. Your personal safety depends on it. If you can get out—run, don’t walk to the nearest place to get out and leave your personal items behind,” VanCura said. “They aren’t worth stopping for. Have a plan in place so everyone knows what to do. It may not seem like it can ever happen where you work—but it’s always better to be aware and be prepared.”
VanCura said the mindset of individuals who seek to wreak havoc are either those who are either suicidal or plan to continue unless they are taken down. “More than 60 percent of the inmates in our prison system have mental health issues…and according to FBI statistics almost all the shooters are on some type of psychiatric medications.
With fewer beds for those with mental health issues, Rockland applied for and received a grant for a behavioral mental health response team. “We’ve found that one response team is not enough,” said VanCura. “We’re now looking for additional grant money for a second mobile mental health crisis unit and beef up mental health awareness on our website.
There’s a “See Something, Say Something” app available for iPhone and Android users, and VanCura encouraged his audience to download it.
“There are also many videos on the FBI website www.fbi.gov and You Tube for employers to share with people in their workplace.”
A valuable number to post on your workplace billboard or store in your phone is 1-866-SAFENYS (1-866-723-3697).