The class began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, Dunwoody Police Department’s Lt. Mike Carlson asked the crowd, “Why do you think you are here tonight?”

Lt. Mike Carlson of the Dunwoody Police Department. Carlson and other officers are trained to teach residents Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (C.R.A.S.E.) classes. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

A woman from the audience volunteered, “To learn how to react when there’s an active shooter.”

“I couldn’t think of a better response,” Carlson said. “Give her a round of applause.” The audience did just that.

Carlson was teaching a recent Civilian Reaction to an Active Shooter Event (C.R.A.S.E.) at the Dunwoody United Methodist Church, one of several Dunwoody police have put on in the past couple of years.

A crowd of nearly 100 people sat in folding chairs in the Fellowship Hall listening to Carlson’s presentation, part of a growing number of people in metro Atlanta seeking answers for what to do if they somehow are caught in the middle of a shooting.

In addition to Dunwoody, police departments in Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Atlanta also have offered such classes, all free and open to the public, as news of “active shooters” continue to make national headlines. An active shooter as defined by the FBI is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The Sandy Springs Police Department has offered three C.R.A.S.E. seminars to the public so far this year, and also 11 private classes, said Sgt. Forrest Bohannon.

“We have a lot of private requests. We do lockdown drills at schools. Schools have different policies than what we teach with C.R.A.S.E. Some of the principles are the same, but some are not because of the younger children,” Bohannon said. “Some of the classes we have done are for medical offices, business offices, private school parents, citizen police academy.”

Brookhaven Police Department will be scheduling more classes after the summer and the APD has held several successful classes this year.

Carlson told the Dunwoody crowd that there have 160 “active shooter incidents” in the U.S. from 2000 through 2013.

• That’s an average of 11.4 incidents per year. However, since 2006, that number has jumped to 16.4 incidents per year.

• There were 486 people killed in these incidents and 557 wounded.

• 70 percent of the incidents occurred in either a business/commerce or school environment.

• 60 percent of the incidents ended before police arrived.

Avoiding ‘normalcy bias’

Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, last year’s San Bernandino attack – these are all well-known active shooter events, Carlson said.

Carlson played a recording of Columbine teacher Patty Nielson calling 911 from the library as students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris could be heard in the hallway shooting.

“Just stay down!” she shouts at students. Audible gasps could be heard from the crowd listening to the tape.

A video re-enactment of the shooting, with actors portraying Klebold and Harris as well as injured and terrified students, is then played for the crowd. More gasps from those watching could be heard.

Carlson said most people have a “normalcy bias” and don’t believe anything bad, such as being in the midst of an active shooter situation, could happen to them. Classes such as this are meant to jar people into realizing they need to get out of that bias toward normalcy

The number of deaths at an active shooter event depends on how fast police arrive and the “target availability” – how easy people are for the shooter to actually kill.

It takes police an average of three minutes to respond to an active shooter event, which is like an “eternity” for those at the scene trying to survive, Carlson said. The best way to save lives is to teach civilians how to respond themselves, he said.

Playing dead doesn’t work, he said. Nor does hiding behind desks, he said, because desks aren’t bulletproof.  “Those are two bad strategies,” Carlson said.

Instead, people are urged to “avoid, deny, defend,” he explained.

Avoid: Make sure you have “situational awareness” when walking into a room. Know where all the exits are and consider secondary exits, such as windows. This gives options to escape.

Deny: If in a school or office building, close the door to your office or room and use a belt or other strap to lock up the handle so the shooter cannot enter. Also, barricade the room shut by pushing desks and other furniture in front of the door so the shooter cannot open the door.

Defend: If all else fails, be ready at the doorway for the shooter to come and surprise the shooter by positioning yourself to attack and take the gun away. “It’s you or them,” Carlson said. “Remember, you are not helpless. What you do matters.”

Barbara Pryor attended the presentation with her husband, Jay Pryor.

“I feel it is of utmost importance for everyone to be aware … to practice in your mind this situation,” she said. “It is especially important for schools and for teachers, because it will all come as a shock and surprise when and if it happens.”

“Unfortunately this is something we all need to know about these days,” he said. “You want to be prepared. The takeaway I have is … don’t deny what’s going on. If it sounds like gunshots, act like it is gunshots. And if you think you need the police, call the police.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.