Area Businesses Learn to Respond to an Active Shooter

Jun 13, 2018

The disturbing discussion of active shooters came knocking in the bedroom community of Stafford Township last week. It arrived on a sunny, picture-perfect June day on a tree-lined street less than 3 miles from where seven local intermediate school students were charged with making terrorist threats after one bragged about wanting to become an active shooter earlier this year.

Invited by the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce, participants highlighted the need for local business owners to learn what they need to protect themselves, their employees and their customers in such a situation.

“We don’t like to think about it, but we have to,” Lori Pepenella, chamber chief executive officer, said. “Security is at the forefront of what we do, bringing together the right partners to educate our community to keep us current and accurate.”

It’s the second consecutive year the Hometown Security Initiative program was hosted by the chamber in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security Preparedness, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. The goal of the initiative, which was established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is to help local businesses better support the safety and security of their communities.

With the official start of summer around the corner, it came as a surprise to no one that the threat of an active shooter dominated the conversation, especially in light of two Ocean County elementary school students loading a gun on a crowded school bus less than 48 hours earlier.

“We truly need your help to keep you safe,” Stafford Township police Capt. Herman Pharo said. “It’s getting harder and harder to do it on our own.”

Local business owners were encouraged to report suspicious behavior or activity to their local police departments and to help police by providing them with as much information about their place of business as possible ahead of time. Site security plans should be filed with local police so in the event of any emergency, they can respond as quickly as possible.

“If you have ideas of how you can help us … call,” Pharo said. “We will take your calls. We’re here to keep you safe.”

There are signs of terrorism, domestic and foreign, Joseph Conrey, critical infrastructure coordinator for the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said. If business owners train themselves and their employees to recognize indicators, it’s possible to prevent an attack.

• Surveillance: If terrorists are targeting a specific area, they will likely be in the area during the planning phase.

• Eliciting information: This can pertain to person, place or thing and be conducted by phone, email, mail or FAX.

• Testing security: Moving into sensitive areas, areas that are blocked off for an event.

• Suspicious people: These are people who are in an environment where they clearly do not belong or who make unusual statements and/or ask odd questions.

“You have to be aware of what’s going on around you,” Andrew Smith, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said. “You have to have your wits about you.”

That’s one of the reasons the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is offering training on active shooter response, teaching community members to have an escape route and plan in mind and to leave belongings aside and keep their hands visible. When it’s not safe to run, community members should hide out of view, block entry to their hiding place and lock the doors. Only when a life is in imminent danger should an unarmed individual attempt to fight an active shooter. Calling 911 is encouraged, but only when safe to do so.

Recognizing these eight signs of potential workplace violence could potentially thwart an emergency situation: increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs, unexplained absenteeism and/or vague physical complaints, depression/withdrawal, noticeable unstable or emotional responses, increase talk of problems at home and unsolicited comments about violence and dangerous weapons.

“The time to talk is when you see something, not when the local news knocks on our door because your neighbor was murdered the day before,” Corney said.

— Gina G. Scala

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