At least six municipal officials have been injured and 19 killed across the nation after gunmen opened fire in municipal buildings across the nation since 1998, according to available media reports about the incidents.
They’ve happened in places like California, New York, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and even as close to Superior as New Hope, Minn., in 2015, when two police officers were shot after a swearing-in ceremony, prompting city councilors to suspend their meeting to take cover under their desks.
Five of the eight shooting incidents in city halls across the country have taken place since 2013.
“It’s an extremely unlikely event,” Superior Police Sgt. Paul Winterscheidt said. “Even though they are on the rise and they are happening all across the country, it is extremely unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself in active shooter situation. The chance of being struck by lightning is actually probably higher.”
Superior Mayor Jim Paine asked the Superior Police Department to provide councilors, department heads and others who attend Council meetings with an abbreviated version of the training Tueday, Sept. 17. The department provides free two-hour sessions with drills to churches, schools, businesses and groups in Superior on how to react in an active shooter situation.
“I would much rather us be prepared in the event something did happen,” Paine said.
Being prepared is prudent with the number of active shooter incidents on the rise, Winterscheidt said.
“Their only mission is to harm as many people as possible,” Winterscheidt said of shooters. “We have to think about that mentality as we think about how we’re going to respond.”
With 20 years of data from active shooter events, Winterscheidt said the best practice no longer involves sitting in a barricaded room, hoping for the best.
“The key concept to remember as an active shooter event develops is that you have the individual authority to save your own life,” Winterscheidt said. “You have the individual authority to make a life-saving decision. There’s no policy book that’s going to tell you to shelter in place or tell you to run or tell you to do anything other than whatever you think you need to survive that event.”
The first step is to be alert to “sounds of violence,” such as gunfire, running, yelling and screaming.
Gunfire sounds different indoors than it does outside, the 14-year veteran of SPD said. He said soft surfaces such as furniture absorb certain frequencies of the sound and it won’t be as loud as one might expect.
“Our brains are not prepared to deal with really … bad news,” Winterscheidt said. “Our brains are going to want to rationalize that … give yourself permission to act.”
He said when making an escape, leave personal items behind and ditch shoes that may slow the escape. Grab a cell phone, but only if it is within reach, to call 911 and share information, he said.
“Chose a path away from the shooter,” Winterscheidt said. “Chose a path away from the sounds of violence.”
When barricading in place, make sure cell phone ringers and notifications are off and use large objects to block the door, Winterscheidt said.
“Don’t let other people slow you down with indecision,” Winterscheidt said. He said while one person may think their best chance to survive is to escape, another may think barricading in place is the right decision; it is really an individual choice and indecision can burn precious seconds. Data shows another person is shot every 15 seconds, he said.
The Government Center boardroom isn’t ideal to barricade in because the east wall and likely shooter entrance is almost entirely glass.
“If the shooter can see you, you are in danger,” Winterscheidt said.
Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander suggested exits on the north and south sides of the chamber to escape. In both cases, people should head to the ground floor and exit the building because upper floors require proximity cards to leave the stairwell.
Winterscheidt said fighting back is a measure of last resort, and one that might be necessary if a shooter breaks into a barricaded room. Even when someone chooses not to fight, he said people can use the distraction to escape.
He said the goal should be to end the fight quickly and people should use improvised weapons to extend their power.
“Even trained fighters are only going to last 20 or 30 seconds,” Winterscheidt said. “Most of us aren’t so we have to end the fight very, very quickly. Preferably you want to take away their ability to think, to see or to breathe.”
Winterscheidt also explained how law enforcement would respond to an active shooter. He said with the mentality of an active shooter trying to harm as many as possible, law enforcement will come in quickly to end the threat.
In the Government Center, which houses the Communications Center and Law Enforcement Center, that response could be as quick as 15 seconds, Alexander said, noting that’s about how long it took officers to respond the last time he pushed a panic button in the room.
When law enforcement officers arrive, people should show the palms of their hands to show they are not a threat, and avoid pointing, especially with something in their hand, to avoid a tragedy, Winterscheidt said.
“Recognize that when law enforcement gets there, it is going to be chaotic,” Winterscheidt said. “You can evacuate past law enforcement … keep your palms out.”