Nashua Police Offer Classes on How to Respond to Active Shooter Situations

Apr 8, 2016

In the wake of the killings in Brussels, Paris, the Mideast, and San Bernardino, more people in New Hampshire want to learn how to respond to an active shooter — in the critical minutes before police and medics arrive.

Nashua police officer Adam Anderson
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

Active shooter trainings in workplaces, schools and for state employees are increasingly offered throughout the state.

And in Nashua, police are holding free training sessions to teach civilians what they can do.

Sean Sylvain of Nashua says he never lets his guard down.

“Whenever I go into a building, I’m always looking for exits,” he says. “And I constantly play scenarios in my head about what would happen if someone came in to do us harm. What would I grab?”

Sylvain is one of about 20 students in a four-hour class at the Nashua police station. The course  gives tips on surviving attacks like the one in San Bernardino — and treating the wounded.

This isn’t the first time Sylvain has trained to respond to danger.

“There was a citizen police academy I attended. And I’m a concealed gun carry holder and I thought it would be very good, especially with all that’s been in the news.”

Sylvain admits he’s what you call hyper-vigilant. But that’s not the reason everyone’s here.

Kathy Eicher is a teacher in a Nashua public school.

“It seems like it should be standard across the board if you’re teaching.”

All eyes are on police officer Adam Anderson, as he kicks off the class with a re-enactment video from the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.

While two gunmen prowl the halls for targets, captions spell out the 911 call a teacher in the library made from her cell phone.

“And the school is in a panic and I'm in the library," she tells the dispatcher.  "I've got-- students down, under the tables, kids! Heads down under the tables!”

Muffled screams and gunshots interrupt the dialogue before the tape goes silent.

“So that’s where it stops, says Anderson. “Mainly because the shooters went down the library and began executing people that were on the floor.”

Anderson says the teacher told the kids to lie under the tables. He asks the class to consider other options.

“The main thing to take away from this is: do something,” says Anderson. You can run, barricade, deny them access or fight — but don’t just hide and hope the person isn’t going to shoot you.”

Anderson gives the class practical advice: Look for all possible exits. If you can’t reach them, block the doors with desks or file cabinets. Cover the windows and turn out the lights.

And if all else fails, defend yourself.

Anderson says you have to act fast in a threatening scenario. And he reminds them that "hope is not a course of action." He asks the class to imagine the possible responses:

“You’re using a broken-off broom handle. You jab him in the face and it goes in his mouth and out the back of his head,” he describes.  “Offices have scissors, fire extinguishers. Anything. Don’t fight fair and use the element of surprise.  Keep attacking until the threat is eliminated.”

Despite the emphasis on defense, the class doesn’t encourage people who carry guns to actively engage.

“The one thing this course isn’t teaching: you’re at the Pheasant Lane mall, and down at Sears, you hear there’s an active shooter. This course isn’t designed so you can pull your gun out and charge into Sears to solve this problem.”

Anderson says he supports the right to carry. But civilians typically don’t have the training, enough ammunition or a way to communicate with police officers.

And in the midst of chaos, they may get mistaken for the bad guys.

Repeatedly, Anderson shows clips from other catastrophes: the Virginia Tech and Fort Hood shootings. The Boston marathon bombing. The Mumbai and Paris terrorist attacks.

Some question whether classes like these fuel fear. 

Jim Ramsay, a security studies professor at the University of New Hampshire, acknowledges that talking about armed intruders and what you might do with them is unsettling. But on the other hand, he says that learning self-defense has its place.

“If this sort of thing were to happen, complete ignorance is probably not going to lead to wiser decisions. Education, on balance, helps reduce or control fear because a better understanding of something helps us react and I think, react better.”

The United States sees an average of 18 active shooter events a year. That number is more than double the incidents between 2000 and 2007.

Those statistics prompted the state’s insurance company to train police officers — like the ones in Nashua — to train civilians.

And Nashua officers have made sure to spend part of the training on how to quickly treat someone who’s wounded.

This second half of the class – on emergency medicine — is the first of its kind in the state.

Dave Elliott with the Nashua police discusses emergency medicine.

Officer Dave Elliott demonstrates how to use a tourniquet - or whatever’s on hand - to control the bleeding.

A typical active shooter event ends in nine minutes. But a person can bleed to death in only three.

“When it comes to street medicine and all I have is a dirty, oily rag - am I going to use it? Absolutely. We’ll worry about infection later. I’ve got to help that person long enough before he gets to the hospital for better care.”

Attendees like Marie Hendra say it’s good to think ahead.

“I work at the Adult Learning Center. We have a very open door policy. Sometimes we feel like sitting ducks. We’ve put a lot of safety measures in place. But it’s never enough.”

So far more than 100 people have taken the class and four more classes through the next two months are nearly full. 

Nashua police officials say they’ll offer the class as long as the public wants it.