‘How You React Will Determine Survival’

Police advise residents on life-or-death situations.

Turn on TV, pick up a newspaper or check the news feed on your phone and, chances are, there’ll be information about the latest school or workplace shooting, home invasion or other tragedy. So it’s a good idea to be as prepared as possible, should the unthinkable occur.

Toward that end, the Sully District Police Station’s Citizens Advisory Committee hosted a program presenting possibly lifesaving tips to local residents. And Lt. Brian Ruck — now in his 20th year with the Fairfax County Police Department — told them what they can do to help survive an act of violence.

Currently the School Liaison Commander for FCPS, he served 16 years on the SWAT Team and then joined the Firearms Training Unit, teaching police officers what to do when facing a violent situation. And because it’s such a critically important topic nowadays, he’ll also be giving his presentation to workplace employees throughout the U.S. and the world.

Showing attendees photos of the Pulse nightclub and Las Vegas mass-shooting victims, Ruck said, “We focus on the victims because these were the lives that were shattered. Life-and-death situations are pretty hairy. Over the years, the level of violence has increased — and the sad truth is that bad people will find ways to hurt good people.”

Since 2000, he said, there have been more than 200 mass-shooting incidents. And that number doesn’t reflect the number of people shot during each tragedy or the total injured and/or killed overall. Notably, only three of these events involved more than one shooter.

“Typically, they’re over in fewer than 10 minutes,” said Ruck. “At Virginia Tech [in April 2007], Seung-Hui Cho killed 31 people in less than 10 minutes. And that’s important because the average response time in Fairfax County is 3-4 minutes — so you need to figure out how to survive until the police get there.”

“Once the shooter is down/contained, the actual threat is minimal, even though it takes time [for authorities] to clear all areas,” he continued. “But victims have bled out from non-lethal wounds while awaiting care.”

Ruck said there’s no set profile of an active shooter, although they tend to be male. “It could be anybody,” he said. “But people see the signs and are either afraid to say something or don’t attach enough importance to them.”

He then showed a video instructing people caught up in an active-shooting situation or act of violence to run, hide and/or fight. It also told them what to do when law enforcement arrives on the scene and what information they should provide to police or to the 911 operator.

The movie explained that people’s motivations for committing violent acts are different, varying from person to person. “But the devastating effects are the same, and you need to be prepared for the worst,” said the narrator. “Your survival may depend on whether you have a plan.”

  • Run: First, said the narrator, “If you can get out, do — run. And don’t let other people’s indecision slow you down. Leave your belongings behind and get out of harm’s way. Then prevent others from going into the danger zone and call 911.”
  • Hide: “If you can’t get out safely, find a place to hide,” said the narrator. “Act quickly and quietly. Secure your hiding place, turn off the lights and lock the doors. Silence the ringer and vibration mode on your cell phone, and do your best to remain quiet and calm.”
  • Fight: As a last resort, said the narrator, “If your life is in danger, act with aggression. Improvise weapons and commit to taking the shooter down and incapacitating him, no matter what.”

Then when law enforcement arrives, advised the narrator, “Remain calm, follow instructions and keep your hands visible at all times. And don’t have anything in your hands.”

Ruck said these instructions are crucial toward preventing a further tragedy, as a dark-colored cell phone can look like a weapon to an adrenaline-fueled officer responding to a crime scene. “The police will be amped-up to take down a shooter, so follow police commands,” he said.

Still, in an ever-changing world, no one can ever be certain how the next attack will play out. For example, said Ruck, “What happened in Las Vegas was a completely untraditional event. [The perpetrator] was shooting from the 30th floor of a hotel. It’s also hard to defend against people driving vehicles into a crowd.”

He said police rapidly deploy to a threat, assess the shooter’s location, make entry and start seeking the threat so they can shut it down. And as they’ve gained more experience responding to such incidents, they’ve also adapted the way they deal with the injured victims.

“We now treat people’s wounds before the medics get there and carry bleeding-control kits with us,” said Ruck. “And our Fire Department now trains with us and we have a coordinated, hostile-incident response. All police and Fire Department recruits receive this training.”

Basically, he said, “If we can get injured people to a hospital quickly, there’s a good chance of saving them. So we’re now teaching civilians how to save lives by stopping bleeding. It can be after a car accident, a serious fall, etc. The campaign is called, ‘Stop the Bleed, Save a Life.’”

People may obtain kits to control bleeding at Inova Hospitals and via www.bleedingcontrol.org. Each kit contains gauze, scissors, a tourniquet and chest seals (for holes in torsos), and usage instructions are available on that website.

“Call 911 first and then put pressure above the wound and apply the tourniquet until it hurts worse than the injury,” said Ruck. “That way, it’ll be tight enough to clamp the artery to the bone.”

Ruck also told residents, “In your daily life, you should be in a state of relaxed awareness. But if you notice something wrong, you move into focused awareness. High-alert mode is when you’re taking some form of action — running, hiding or fighting. You don’t want to be comatose — in shock, unable to function in response to a threat.”

He said law-enforcement officers operate in a particular, behavior pattern every day. “We observe, orient, decide and act — OODA — in a constant loop,” said Ruck. “For example, if there’s a shooter on the third floor of a building, I observe the situation and determine where am I in relation to him. I decide to run, but then I see him down the hall and I have to reset my OODA loop.”

The same is true, he said, for both victims and the perpetrator of a violent situation. “The shooter wants to find the easiest targets,” said Ruck. “But if you make it harder for him, you’re disrupting his OODA loop and making him change his decisions.”

To protect children, he also advocated for a police presence in Fairfax County’s elementary schools. “Our high schools and middle schools all have SROs [police school resource officers], but our elementary schools are unprotected,” said Ruck. But that wasn’t always the case, before county budget cuts. Noting that elementary schools here used to have SEOs (police school education officers), with a police cruiser parked outside, he encouraged residents to request them again for the elementary schools.

At the end of Ruck’s presentation, he answered various questions from attendees. In addition, Gary Orski, a volunteer paramedic with Fire Station 11 in Prince William County, shared his own experience with an active-shooter incident.

“I work at the Navy Yard [in Washington, D.C.] and I was there during the shooting on Sept. 14, 2013,” he said. Orski then described what the terror was like that day and the horrified looks on people’s faces as they tried to evacuate the building.

“When something so unexpected occurs, we can’t believe this is happening to us because we feel safe and secure in our surroundings,” he said. “So you have to override your senses and do what you’re trained to do — and remember to run, hide and fight.”

Summing up, Ruck said, “In a life-or-death situation, you’re going to have an emotional and physical reaction. And how you react will determine whether you’ll survive.”

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