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Free Training Aims to Prep Schools, Businesses, Churches for Active Shooters

You’re sitting at your desk at work and suddenly, the unthinkable happens — gunshots in the lobby. You either have a plan to implement in this kind of emergency, or you don’t.

Sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo R. Garcia is the primary instructor for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office Active Shooter Awareness Program — or ASAP. The training program is offered to everyone for free.

“I’ve taught this class to thousands of people over the last couple of years all over the state of Texas,” said Garcia, who has an Army background. The majority of the lessons he’s led has been for educators. But businesses and other entities stand to benefit from the same type of training, since such incidents can happen anytime, anywhere.

“The good news is this: There have been enough incidents, we have cracked the code,” Garcia said. “We have begun to see patterns where we can hand you the keys of success in this.”

Some of those keys include being aware of your surroundings.

“We’ve unplugged from the world around us,” Garcia said. “My challenge to you is look at everyone around you.” Be aware of the parking lot when you’re arriving at work or the store. If you sense something off, Garcia urges you to call the police.

“Call us a thousand times,” he said. “It’s OK. The one time that it pays out, it’ll be worth it for everyone involved.”

Another key is to be proactive and pragmatic.

“The truth is this: The world has changed,” Garcia said. “The very first step for us to take the power away from these people who are doing these horrible things is accepting that the world has changed.”

People can move forward from that initial step by completing a plan of action for active shooter scenarios. This can take the form of a safety committee in the workplace, to investing in a quality first aid kit, to talking to your children about what to do if they get separated during an emergency situation. Garcia said that he is always available to help review and implement safety plans.

If the worst happens, and an attacker gains entry, know what you can do. This includes three directives: run, hide, and fight.

Run. If there is an opportunity to do so, flee through the exit nearest to you — away from the gunshots. Leave in spite of what people around you are doing. Don’t worry about your belongings. If you have the chance, help others escape, too. Try to stop people from entering the danger area. Once you’re safe, call 9-1-1.

Hide. If your exit is blocked, find someplace safe to hide, away from the shooting. Try for a separate room or closet. Lock or barricade the door. Stay quiet, including silencing your cell phone. Keep out of the shooter’s view.

Fight. As a last resort, when you are in danger, attempt to stop the shooter. Use physical aggression. Improvise weapons with what you have around you. Once you’ve started to make your move, commit to it.

The goal of these three actions is to limit the damage the attacker can do in the time it takes for officers to arrive.

“You need to learn how to buy time,” Garcia said. “I need the two minutes it’s going to take to get here. Once you hear sirens, we’re good. But how do you buy me those two minutes?”

Having this sense of partnership between the public and law enforcement is the next step toward better safety preparedness.

“We’re winning because we are beginning to talk as a community,” Garcia said. “We’re beginning to match our response to what we need you to do. We’re going to end this trend because we’re going to take charge again.”

And knowing what you’re going to do ahead of an emergency empowers you to act.

“I can tell you this from experience, having been in dozens of combat situations. You will always fight the way that you train,” Garcia said. “When something goes wrong, you will always act in an instinct that is brought about through repetitive training and thought. That’s how it works.”

Even taking a few minutes to look around you to see where you could quickly exit, take cover, or what on your desk could be used as a weapon to fend off an attacker is valuable.

“When something is happening, when the endorphins and the cortisol and the adrenaline are coursing through your body, that is not going to be the time for you to have coherent thought about what you’re going to do next,” Garcia said. “If you’ve never had the conversation with yourself, you will do nothing.”

For more information about how to take part in the Active Shooter Awareness Program, contact Sr. Dep. Ricardo Garcia via the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office Academy by phone at (956) 381-7979 or email at ricardo.garcia@hidalgoso.org.