Don’t think it can’t happen here

STEUBENVILLE – Security consultant Tim Dimoff had a message Thursday for those in the community who think a mass shooting couldn’t happen here in the Ohio Valley: Yes, it can.

Dimoff, in fact, said it can and does happen in the unlikeliest of places – schools and colleges, movie theaters, shopping malls, even churches. Who lives through it – and who doesn’t – is going to have a lot to do with not only how quickly people perceive a threat exists, but also by how they react to it.

“Understand what you need to do to increase survival,” advised Dimoff, in Steubenville for an Active Shooter seminar at Eastern Gateway Community College, which was sponsored by the Jefferson County Safety Council and the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.

Dimoff is founder and president of Akron-based SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, specializing in high-risk workplace and human resource issues, security, vulnerability assessments and crime. A former narcotics detective and SWAT team member, he is board-certified by the American Society of Industrial Security as a certified protection professional.

He said too often, the warning signs are there, but people either don’t notice or turn a blind eye until the aggressive behavior erupts in violent acts. He said 14 years ago at Columbine, for instance, the two shooters demonstrated behaviors that should have been spotted as putting them or their community at risk, like creating a video in art class about a murder.

“The school didn’t miss the signals, they ignored them,” he said.

Likewise, he said family members didn’t think it strange when one of the boys started sleeping in a box in the basement and spent months in the family garage breaking glass and gathering items to make bombs.

“Ignore the signs, and the signs will find us eventually,” he said.

Dimoff said aggressive behaviors typically “start at a low level, very subtle, and then build.”

“Along the way there are lots of clues, lots of indicators …you can see it progress,” he said, citing the breakdown in the American family as a big contributor to the problem, though it’s not the only trigger.

“There’s also weakened belief that there will be consequences for negative behaviors, which is huge,” he said. “And last, our failure to respond to those in any kind of emotional pain and try and intervene earlier. It’s almost to the point where we ignore it now … we think, ‘It’s not my kid,’ ‘It’s not my student,’ ‘He’ll graduate soon,’ or ‘We’ll terminate that employee’… usually it only means that physically we’ve removed the person, but their emotional pain was not (removed).”

He said the conventional response to violence in public places is to find a hiding place and wait for help to arrive, but tragedies like the Columbine school shootings – where 13 people were gunned down before the two teenage shooters committed suicide in 1999 – and Sandy Hook, where 20 young children and six staff members were killed in December – teach that, when possible, putting distance between yourself and the aggressor is critical. If there’s an exit nearby, he said, victims need to use it. But, if fleeing isn’t possible, he suggested locking doors, building barricades and improvising weapons, or, worst-case scenario, turning the tables and attacking the attacker.

He said police, too, have to learn that the best way to help the wounded is to make sure the attacker is neutralized: Stopping to assist a victim before the threat is contained will expose the rescuer to attack.

“It’s hard to do,” he said. “But if you don’t walk past that person (more people will be injured or killed.) Walk past the injured until the situation is neutralized.”

Dimoff said those who find themselves in a violent situation should “control the attacker, if they can.” Otherwise, when police arrive he advises following their orders, answering any questions officers might pose, sitting or kneeling on the floor and keeping your hands in plain sight. Above all, he said you should never pick up a weapon discarded by the actual perpetrator for fear of being mistaken by police for him or her.

He also advised the group to “do a security assessment before a crisis happens.”

“Look at your vulnerabilities, look at solutions,” he said, pointing out that could mean beefing up security systems and procedures as well as developing evacuation plans and other personnel issues.

“The object is to assess and identify vulnerabilities and integrate” solutions, he said, suggesting much of the violence that’s occurring is “recognizable and preventable.”

Among his suggestions for potential targets such as workplaces, schools and churches:

Make sure police and firefighters have copies of the building’s facilities plan ahead of time so in the event something happens they’ll be able to respond more quickly. Dimoff pointed out first-responders at the Columbine school shootings were delayed 45 minutes while students and staff sketched out the school’s floor plan on a napkin.

Consider security measures, such as installing surveillance cameras, alarm systems and installing an inexpensive panic button so that receptionists or others on the front lines can alert coworkers if they sense a problem developing.

Control the flow of people into and out of the building. Keep doors locked.