BY BEN SIMASEK — In Hyattsville, like in many other communities around the world, our hearts ache for the victims of violent tragedies in Orlando, San Bernardino, Charleston, Newtown, and far too many other places to name. The best response that we can have as a community is one of solidarity, peace, and preparedness.
On Thursday, June 30, the Hyattsville Police Department held a “Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Event” community training at the Municipal Building that was open to the public. Sgt. Mike Rudinski led the training, accompanied by Detective Zach Nemser. Most of the 41 attendees were Hyattsville and University Park residents.
Participants watched video and listened to audio of previous active shooter events and other real emergencies. They then assessed the decisions people made in those situations. The training’s central message was Avoid, Deny, Defend — in the order that these actions should be taken if someone has threatened public safety. The Avoid Deny Defend (ADD) program was developed by Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center.
Rudinski explained that when we are overcome by fear, our ability to assess the situation and act intelligently is often hampered. “Humans have a physiological stress response — adrenaline pumps into your system, [your] heart rate rises, you get tunnel vision and auditory delay. We want to avoid becoming paralyzed by fear; we need to deliberate,” said Rudinski.
Rudinski noted that one key is to always be aware of your surroundings. Whether in a store, theater, classroom, or workplace, it’s smart to locate the exits and find alternative ways to leave the building quickly in case the primary exit is not safe. Use your senses to observe when something is wrong — the sound of gunfire, frightened reactions, or signs of aggressive behavior. This is the avoid action.
If you aren’t able to immediately escape, the second option is to deny the attacker. This means using cover or concealment. Try to place objects between you and the attacker and alter their route so that you can escape. Lock or barricade doors using belts, straps, or heavy objects and remain silent and out of sight.
As a last resort, if you are not able to escape the attacker and your life is in danger, you have every right to defend yourself and others. This means fighting dirty — use heavy or sharp objects and go for the attacker’s eyes, throat, or groin. Teamwork can help overpower an attacker. It is best to ambush and disarm an attacker by pushing any weapon away.
The officers informed the audience that the Hyattsville Police Department regularly stages crisis response drills. Even though the average police response time is only three minutes, this is enough time for shots to be fired. Therefore, it is important that civilians know what to do to protect themselves. “You are not helpless. What you do matters,” said Rudinski.
Those who attended felt that this training was very valuable and were appreciative of the police department’s outreach. Kia Murray, a property manager for an apartment complex in Hyattsville, invited the tenants from her building. Murray said, “All of this stuff is on the news and it’s terrifying. You are ultimately responsible for the safety of your family and your community. … It takes all of us to look out for one another and be each other’s keepers.”
Rudinski emphasized that attendees should share this information with their neighbors and coworkers (www.avoiddenydefend.org). He also encouraged people to seek first-aid training and ensure that their workplaces have emergency plans and stress-management strategies. Tracey Nicholson, Hyattsville city administrator, informed participants that they can receive instant emails and text messages in case of a local emergency through a public messaging service (www.nixle.com).
The police officers assured the attendees that they will continue to engage the community with these important public safety and preparedness efforts.