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The worst-case scenario: police, public review active threat training

Stay informed to stay prepared, police chief says

File photo
File photo


View response training video “Run. Hide. Fight.”

By Kate Hayden |

One week after the mass killings in Orlando, Fla., Charles City Police Chief Hugh Anderson reviewed the survival training class he’ll present to a local business the next day. It’s a seminar Anderson had given for years with former chief Mike Wendel, before mass attacks seemingly dominated the news cycle.

“I have to change it, it seems like, every time I give it because something has happened since the last time I gave it,” Anderson said.

Mass shooting events –– defined by the FBI as events with four or more victims in a single incident, not counting shooters who turn the gun on themselves –– have touched nearly every state in the nation. Iowa’s record mass shooting incident was in 1991, when a former graduate student killed four people and wounded two on an Iowa City rampage after he was passed over for an academic honor. The June shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub, the deadliest in modern American history, killed 49 people and injured 50.

It’s something that stays on the minds of officers every time they hear new reports, Anderson said. While survival training for the public and police officers evolves, the goal is always the same.

“The basis of the course stays the same, and the heart, or the entire soul of the course is what they can do as a citizen if they were found in this situation with an active shooter,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t guess how many people, between myself and Chief Wendel, we’ve given it to now. It’s definitely in the thousands.”


Anderson’s course is based around the national initiative “Run. Hide. Fight.”, a grant funded video project with the Department of Homeland Security and the City of Houston’s public safety office. While the video outlines emergency action plans for those caught in an active threat, Anderson goes on to tailor safety advice to businesses he visits.

“If I go out to a large-sized factor or a small business here in town, they will react differently,” Anderson said. “It helps them to think that, ‘if I’m in my office or I’m out on the floor, I’d react this way’. The entire course is information on, whether this happened to you in a mall, at church, at one of your children’s school functions, you’d still be able to do what you need to do to survive and help others survive.”

Anderson has brought his course to all kinds of businesses within Charles City and northern Iowa, who call him to set up seminars for employees.

“OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) now is saying that a failure to train even for an active shooter or mass casualties is similar to failure to train in case you had a slip, trip or fall or a chemical incident,” Anderson said.

“I’m very passionate about it,” he added. “I’ve done quite a few of the larger employers in town, and many, many smaller ones. I’ve given it (at) the NIACC center to citizens in general, and I’ve given it to churches. The entire school system has had it.”


The Charles City Police Department is constantly refreshing their response training, Anderson said –– from tactical drills to joint department seminars. The department held an active drill earlier this year at the Cedar Valley Transportation Center for over two hours, and two officers are traveling to Mason City this week for a unified response seminar between fire departments and law enforcement.

Adjusting to a unified course of action between emergency departments could save lives in the case of an incident, advocates like Anderson say.

“As shown in Orlando or the school shootings, many times what we’ve trained as law enforcement is to go in and neutralize the threat that’s in there. In the meantime we’re passing by victims and injured people on our way to neutralize that threat, and so now we’re trying to actually do a unified triage,” Anderson said.

“We’ll take in EMS and possibly fire (department) with us to tend to victims even though we have what we call a ‘hot zone’…it’s been trickling across the country for quite some time. Otherwise they waited until we had the entire area cleared and safe, and EMS would come in and either do their assessment or their triage at that time.”

Charles City has no record of a mass shooting event, although the police department has had investigations into individuals who have allegedly made veiled threats –– from workplaces to classrooms.

“We take it very seriously,” Anderson said. “There have been students that we’ve investigated for verbalizing possible threats that we checked into in the past, but no direct threat.”


Nobody assumes they’ll witness a mass shooting event in their hometown –– but, Anderson said, information is key to preparation.

“If you don’t attend some type of training, get on the internet,” he said. “I tell people, ‘I’m not here to make you paranoid, I’m here to make you prepared and prepare yourself for what could happen.’”

People who stay aware of their surroundings can be the most help to law enforcement.

“So many times in studying these active shooters…they have telegraphed somehow that they are going to do this,” Anderson said. “It was out there…if we as citizens can be aware and call law enforcement –– even if we think, ‘hey, this doesn’t really seem important’, give law enforcement a call. We’d rather check it out beforehand, obviously, than have to deal with it afterwards.”