With its place in Tornado Alley, southern Oklahoma is no stranger to disaster, but a group of health professionals are tackling a crisis of the mind instead.
That was the goal of Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative’s Preparing for Community Devastation and Recovery workshop, an all-day event covering everything from how to handle a crisis to how to prepare for one. The event was open to the public and began with active shooter training.
“In doing this we wanted to bring awareness to not only preparing for it, but also the aftermath,” ABHC Director Ashley Godwin said. “There are going to be a lot of feelings and trauma that come up in a situation like this.”
Employees from local businesses like Valero, Carter County Health Department staff and teachers from area schools learned alongside librarians and counselors.
“A lot of organizations have brought in trainers like this but I’m not sure we’ve had one recently for the general public,” Godwin said. “It’s not just one organization’s job. It’s all of us as individuals, as agencies that are serving people, and as an entire community.”
Civilian Response to Active Shooter Event, or CRASE, training, focuses on teaching civilians to be proactive instead of simply hiding. Tulsa Technology Center’s Ben Crockett led a presentation that included audio of frantic 911 calls from the Columbine school shooting. At another point, gunshots played over the speakers without warning.
“He was trying to show how unexpected it is and how it takes you a second just to register what you just heard,” Godwin said. “The focus today was on civilian response.”
The method teaches potential victims to Avoid, Deny and Defend. The first step is to try to avoid a shooter. That means fleeing the area if possible. If not, civilians should Deny, or try to hide as well as possible, taking steps like turning off lights to stay hidden. If all else fails, civilians need to defend with anything in reach, including keys, office items or heavy objects.
Staff from the University Center of Southern Oklahoma attended the training as well. Interim UCSO President Peggy Maher, whose background is in education, said she’s watching the protocol for active shooter situations evolve over time.
“I have noticed some differences from the last time I was trained,” Maher said. “As one of the speakers said, they seem to update it about every 10 years, as they learn what they could have done better.”
Maher said in the past, faculty and students were told to hide as well as they could, instead of first trying to escape the situation.
“A lot of peoples’ response is to hide,” Maher said. “And just getting from where you are to a safe place, that makes you vulnerable.”
She said the university center is developing a new active shooter plan for the upcoming semester, one meant to accommodate both the new center and the old, which still houses some classes.
“We’re well into that process, but it does motivate you to make sure it gets done,” Maher said. “You can’t make those decisions in a crisis situation.”