Homeland Security official to LA businesses: Draw up an active shooter plan and practice

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LEWISTON — If your office is suddenly under attack from someone armed with a gun or knife, Bill DeLong’s first advice is to run.

If you can’t run, hide, but not behind your cubicle; it’s too flimsy.

If you can’t hide, fight, and don’t discount a pair of scissors or a heavy, well-aimed stapler.

“Commit to it, go, go hard, go as hard as you can go,” DeLong said. “You will be amazed what some adrenaline will do to people’s strength.”

DeLong, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s protective security adviser for Maine, gave a nearly two-hour presentation Friday at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce on active-shooter preparedness. 

He asked the group of 30 how many of their offices had emergency action plans. Three hands went up.

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Every business and organization needs one, he said, no matter the size.

And employees need to practice it.

“Give them a chance to actually do it — it brushes the scary off a little bit,” DeLong said.

Asked afterward about the odds of ever facing one of those deadly situations, he said: “It all depends on whose having a bad day and their thought process as they go down the path of violence.”

As part of his job, DeLong travels the state meeting with businesses, for free, to review their plans and walk facilities for vulnerability assessments.

“The advice that is out from some of the terrorist organizations is ‘use what you can get your hands on,'” DeLong said. “‘It doesn’t have to be spectacular, it doesn’t have to be an airplane flying into a building, it doesn’t have to be a bomb. If you can only get your hands on a kitchen knife and you’re so motivated, do that.’ You just need to be prepared.”

Looking at fatal attacks in the U.S. between 2002 and 2012 in which three or more people died, 96 percent of the perpetrators have been male, he said. Forty-three percent committed suicide. Thirty-seven percent happened at work, 17 percent in an academic setting.

“Oftentimes they will have a previous, explosive confrontation in a facility where they end up doing their crime,” DeLong said. “It’s rare it’s a complete stranger.”

Among his advice: 

* Does your business have a policy on missing uniforms or lost badges? Or a policy for deactivating old badges?

* If your office door is opened by a code or badge, don’t hold the door open for others; police will need an accurate count of those in the building to make sure everyone has gotten out in an emergency.

* If something happened, do you have a way to alert employees and visitors inside the building to what’s going on? A way to tell employees who are due in not to come to work?

* Do employees know where to gather if they’ve rushed out of the building? Consider asking a neighboring building if it can be a meeting point.

* Designate the person who will talk to the media post-event.

“People are going to want a statement and it’s not going to be ‘no comment,'” DeLong said. “Social media will be ahead of anything that’s happening in your facility, and it’s probably going to be wrong, and people are going to freak out.”

* Do you have a backup facility to work in if your building is locked down for weeks or months as a crime scene?

“The mind boggles that people try to do harm,” DeLong said. “All we can try to do is blunt it the best we can.”

He encouraged organizations to give police a digital copy of both their floor plan and their active-shooter plan and to float the plan by someone like himself for feedback before employees begin practicing it.

Officer Joe Philippon said police on Lewiston’s community resource team are happy to meet with any business or organization to also go over its plan.

To reach Lewiston’s community resource team, call 513-3010.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

For more information on active-shooter plans, visit dhs.gov/activeshooter. To reach Bill DeLong, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s protective security adviser for Maine, email william.delong@hq.dhs.gov.

William DeLong, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, gives an active-shooter presentation to members of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in Lewiston on Friday morning as Joe Philippon, right, Community Resource Officer from the Lewiston Police Department, listens in. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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