Churches hold active intruder seminars

Nobody wants to envision themselves in a rare active intruder situation.

But that isn’t stopping members of several Warren-area churches from preparing for such a situation.

The Emanuel United Church of Christ hosted an “Active Intruder and Emergency Planning for Houses of Worship” seminar on Thursday. Sgt. and soon-to-be chief Brandon Deppen of the City of Warren Police Department was the keynote speaker of the event.

“The most dangerous words anyone can say are ‘It will never happen to me,'” Deppen told the dozens of people who attended the seminar. “No one ever thinks that it will. More than likely, it won’t ever happen to you. But we have to prepare for when, not if.”

“Safety is something that you assume when you’re at church,” said Melissa McLean of Emanuel United. “Unfortunately, as we have seen across the country, that’s not always the case. Our goal for this program is to prepare ourselves.”

Deppen’s presentation provided a history of active intruder situations in the United States, prevention tactics, as well tips for people who may find themselves in such a situation.

“The time to win is before an attack ever happens,” he said. “Be vigilant at all times. There are always some signs before something like this happens. If something seems irregular, it probably is. It’s vital to know what to do before something like this ever happens. Conduct training and mental preparation. Limit access to your area as long as it’s practical.”

Deppen said the average response time for law enforcement in an active intruder situation is five to six minutes, but “it could be two minutes, it could be 11.”

“Unfortunately, do not plan on someone like me saving you from this kind of situation,” he said. “Violent intruders can do a lot of damage in five minutes.”

The presentation showed three main options for people involved in an active intruder situation: Flight, fight, or freeze.

“Your number one option should be flight, which means run away,” Deppen said. “Get away if you can. Obviously, that’s not always going to be possible, especially for people in a church. The next best option is fight. By fight, we mean counter. Use whatever tactics you can to disrupt the intruder’s plan. Whatever you have available is better than nothing. Find improvised weapons. What can you use? My favorite is a fire extinguisher. Spray it, or whack the shooter over the head with it. Use a pack mentality and surround the shooter if possible. The final option would be to freeze, or hide.”

Deppen several times cautioned against hiding.

“Hiding only works for so long,” he said. “Have a survivor’s mindset. Know in your heart and in your mind that you are going to live. Decide right away that you are going to do whatever it takes to survive.”

When the police arrive, Deppen said their priority is to locate the shooter as soon as possible.

“The situation will be chaotic,” he said. “We won’t always know who the shooter is and who the victims are. Don’t do anything out of the normal, the shooter will be located quickly and the victims will be tended to immediately after.”