I went to the grocery store the other night. I made my way through the produce department, the meat counter, the pet foods aisle, canned goods and on to frozen foods.

It wasn't until I got to the dairy section that I realized my unplanned after-work stop at my neighborhood King Soopers was the same situation as that of some of the shoppers at the Boulder store March 22, when an active shooter took the lives of 10 people.

The shoppers and employees that day were probably just cruising along with their routines when the shooter entered the store and began killing. Some were in line for the COVID vaccine.

A chill ran through me as I got in line for checkout. One of the store managers was there, pleasant as always, chatting away with employees and shoppers as he worked. He recognized me and said hello. I've been going to the same King Soopers for the six years, and several of the employees I know well enough to greet by name. Others, by sight. And they know me as well. 

The employees of this store were doing their jobs, as usual, during what had to be a very difficult week, to say the least. These same workers have been risking their lives to COVID exposure for the past year, and now they have to think about this death-threat too.

If what happened in Boulder, at 2:30 p.m. on a Monday, happened at "my" neighborhood grocery store, how would I have reacted?

As a journalist, I'm trained to observe, not react. Would I have frozen, watching the scene unfold? 

It got me thinking about what you're supposed to do in an active shooter situation. 

Kids today (sadly) have "active shooter" drills in school. But what about the adults, like me, who only ever experienced regular old fire drills in school? 

Just Google "what to do in an active shooter situation," and you'll find some extremely detailed instructions.

The Department of Homeland Security topped my search results with a link to a 13-page publication, "Active Shooter — How to Respond."

"An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims," states the booklet.

DHS stresses that you should take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit. This is great advice!

Also: If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door; If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door.

I will share the agency's recommendations: 

HOW TO RESPOND WHEN AN ACTIVE SHOOTER IS IN YOUR VICINITY

Quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Remember that customers and clients are likely to follow the lead of employees and managers during an active shooter situation.

1. Evacuate

If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises.

Be sure to:

• Have an escape route and plan in mind

• Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow

• Leave your belongings behind

• Help others escape, if possible

• Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be

• Keep your hands visible

• Follow the instructions of any police officers

• Do not attempt to move wounded people

• Call 911 when you are safe

2. Hide out

If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.

Your hiding place should:

• Be out of the active shooter’s view

• Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction (i.e., an office with a closed and locked door)

• Not trap you or restrict your options for movement.

To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place:

• Lock the door

• Blockade the door with heavy furniture

If the active shooter is nearby:

• Lock the door

• Silence your cell phone and/or pager

• Turn off any source of noise (i.e., radios, televisions)

• Hide behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks)

• Remain quiet.

If evacuation and hiding out are not possible:

• Remain calm

• Dial 911, if possible, to alert police to the active shooter’s location

• If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen

3. Take action against the active shooter

As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:

• Acting as aggressively as possible against him/her

• Throwing items and improvising weapons

• Yelling

• Committing to your actions

Go to dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf for additional instructions on what to to when law enforcement arrives on the scene and how to train for these situations.

The FBI puts it plainly: the order of action is "Run. Hide. Fight." Go to fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources to watch a series of short (and graphic) videos.

Other resources:

ready.gov/public-spaces

dhsem.colorado.gov/info-center/readycolorado/colorado-hazard-information/active-shooter

fema.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/fema_scenario_1_active_shooter_TTX_answer_key-01102020.pdf

Many of the people interviewed after the Boulder shooting said they had expected to be in an "active shooter" situation like this at some point. We are no strangers to these situations in Colorado, unfortunately. Others said if not for the actions of the employees, who helped usher shoppers out of exits, they would have remained frozen in place.

It's not pleasant to think about, but give it some thought now so you don't freeze if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Editor of this publication and the other three Pikes Peak Newspapers weeklies, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for six years. Contact her at michelle.karas@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

Editor, Pikes Peak Newspapers

Michelle has been editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers (Pikes Peak Courier; Tri-Lakes Tribune; Cheyenne Edition; and Woodmen Edition) since June 2019. A Pennsylvania native and Penn State journalism graduate, she joined The Gazette's staff in 2015.

Load comments