Active Shooter Seminar Leads to Public Awareness in St. Augustine

On Oct. 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 59 and injuring 546 people. A little over a month later on Nov. 5, Devin Patrick Kelley walked into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and injuring 20 people.

These devastating mass shootings have opened up conversation about gun regulation and gun safety in the United States as well as lead cities such as St. Augustine to take action in informing residents of public safety.

Barry E. Fox, chief of police at the St. Augustine Police Department (SAPD), took initiative to send out two of his sergeants and contacted Alicia Ramsdell, the student life specialist at Flagler College, to set up an active shooter seminar in hopes they could educate students on how to prepare themselves should an active shooter situation ever arise.

You don’t know what you’re going to react to in [an active shooter] situation. You can hope this is how you will respond and hope I’m not the person who is curled up in a ball. I hope the students who were there took something from it feeling, ‘Oh I didn’t think about that and this is what I should do’,’” Ramsdell said.

Bailey Smith, a sophomore at Flagler College, feels the campus is not as safe as it could be.

“With no security check points or gates restricting people off the street, our campus is vulnerable to anyone [who wants to walk up to the academic buildings,]” Smith said. “This campus is a tourist attraction, [therefore] threats can pose as a visitor and can gain access to any part of the campus, even the classrooms.”

On Oct. 17, one week after the Las Vegas shooting, Sgt. Brandon Embrey, Sgt. Richard Warner and Officer Gary Johnson gave an active shooter seminar at Flagler College.

“We used to have to come here and say what we were going to do in a situation, now we have to come in and tell you what to do,” said Embrey, a sergeant at the SAPD.

Reporting suspicious activity can be a major factor in preventing an active shooter situation as well.

“The only time we can prevent it is when we intervene. So many times after an event like this, they find there was somebody who noticed someone acting unusual,” Embrey said. “It can be as simple as contacting security and it can be anonymous, but it is important.”

The policemen informed the students to find cover and concealment if they find themselves in an active shooter situation. Warner defined cover as “something solid and metal that’s most likely to stop bullets,” such as a metal door or table, anything that can shield gunfire.

As a last effort to save yourself and others, the officers say to fight back.

“Don’t be the one rolled up in a ball in the corner of the room. That comes from not preparing yourself,” Warner said. “The unfortunate truth is you can’t save everybody,”

If you stick to these basics, it could be the difference between life and death, Warner said.

Chuck Mulligan, commander of the Community Affairs Bureau for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, has observed the change in conversation about active shooters and has adapted new methods to his officers.

“I’m not saying to be paranoid, we live in a good, safe place. People have to understand we’re adapting our tactics and use of personnel to confront new dangers,” Mulligan said.

This includes getting rid of the shotguns the department has used over the years. Shotguns are made to fire a number of small, spherical pellets at short range in order to slow down a target, where rifles are more precise in aim and can quickly end an active shooter situation.

Mulligan urged residents to stay calm and be aware of your surroundings to be prepared for such an incident.

“If someone were to start doing something violent right now, what would you do? Where’s the closest exit? Where does it take you? It’s not paranoia, it’s the real world we live in and people should think about it,” Mulligan said.

In regards to public safety in St. Augustine, Mulligan said there’s more that can be done.

“The public has to make a decision for what freedoms they have to give up so they can be safe. [In regards to the Las Vegas shooting,] should we search every person going into the hotel or do we secure the venue? I think it’s a little of both,” Mulligan said.

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