Schools prepare for active shooters

Trainers study tragedies in effort to educate others

Friday marked another school shooting tragedy. The shooter’s profile was what Rick Capozzi is used to hearing: male, 17 years old. As more details come out about the case, he will use it to add to his training.

Capozzi of Hollidaysburg is founder and president of the Capozzi Group & Survival Mindset. With a team of professionals, including police and psychologists, he trains people for an active shooter scenario.

His group conducts training sessions from coast to coast for churches, companies and school districts.

When a male student was taken into custody on Friday morning after a shooting spree inside a high school in southeastern Texas, Capozzi was conducting a training session in Erie.

“It’s sad every time one of these happens. But the good news is we get a bit smarter, we up the ante, we get better responses,” Capozzi said.

The Capozzi group uses FBI reports after each case; they watch hours of video footage from police body cameras or cellphones of people on the scene. And although usually shooters don’t survive, if they do, the group studies court transcripts.

Court testimony of a shooter at an Oslo, Norway, youth camp in 2011 revealed what most surprised the shooter was that the victims didn’t move.

“That significantly impacted the way we do our training. Never will you hear me say ‘sit under a desk.'”

Run. Hide. Fight.

used by some schools

Run. Hide. Fight. is a concept formed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that state police are teaching high school students through videos at school.

Spring Cove Super­intendent Betsy Baker said the Run. Hide. Fight. video has been shown to high school students.

“We have shown Run. Hide. Fight. videos to all of our K-12 staff. As far as students are concerned, all schools routinely provide various safety assemblies as appropriate to the age of the students,” she wrote in an email. “Depending upon the information being shared with the students, we often involve our school police officer and may also involve local and state police. Police also engage in frequent walkthroughs in our schools and assist us in our continuous safety assessments. We have only shown the Run. Hide. Fight. video to our high school students as part of a safety assembly dialogue.”

For students in elementary schools, the book “I’m not scared … I’m prepared” is used by some teachers, including Hollidaysburg Area teachers, to instruct students on what to do in a shooter situation. The message of the book is basically to follow the direction of the teacher, Hollidaysburg Area Foot of Ten Elementary School Principal Brian Keagy said at a recent school board meeting.

Jo-Ann Semko, director of education for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, said some Holy Trinity elementary school teachers have used the book and some have not.

“There has been no mandate to use any certain book or curriculum with the students, but each school is working through these tough times in the manner in which they feel is best for their students,” she wrote in an email.

“Administration, teachers and staff members are trained in the Run. Hide. Fight. concept and students are being worked through this methodology and train of thought in gentle ways that are age appropriate.”

In this situation, she added, no one way fits all students, but all must be aware and trained to an appropriate degree.

“We are taking a developmental approach and meeting students where they are age- and maturity-wise in our classrooms. Without scaring our children, but being as realistic as possible, we have worked diligently to be as prepared as we can be for what we pray never happens in our schools.”

After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Capozzi’s focus became shootings in gun-free zones.

His first project was at Penn State University, helping to develop its first active shooter strategy with campus police.

“I’m a behavioral instructor in stressful situations. I’m not a cop, not in the military or a psychologist,” he said. “But our team includes 100 advisers in all of those professions.”

Capozzi earned a degree in communications from Clarion University in 1985. His group includes members of the military, pistol shooters, self-defense experts, a psychologist and even engineers to talk about making buildings more secure.

The group helps regular people build “mind maps” and muscle memory to use in active shooter scenarios.

“As harsh of a topic as it is, people leave the training feeling more empowered in an active shooter situation. They realize ‘I don’t have to be a victim.'”

During a training session in a church or a company, Capozzi picks a spot in the building and pops a balloon to signify a gun shot and says, “OK go.”

“What we see is the most common errors people make is they don’t have a plan or they just freeze. … That is the one most common. If you have built muscle memory in, if you build mind maps, that’s when people rise up and increase their survival,” he said.

“People get significantly faster and handle it better after repetitions,” he said.

The training is situation-based.

Some situations call for people to climb out a window or barricade a door and form a “fatal funnel” behind it for the bad guy so that those in the room can get control of the weapon if the intruder does enter. Some circumstances could call for weaponizing a fire extinguisher for offense or defense.

Each year his group does an event at the Blair County Convention Center. One is scheduled for Aug. 7. The group simulates a real-time drill.

“One of the main messages we need to get out there is people get into a victim mentality of ‘we can’t do anything about it.’ That’s not true. Through situational awareness, training, knowing how to respond — whether it’s by barricading, getting out, taking control of weapon and also taking control of medical side of it,” he said.

National awareness campaign

Launched in October 2015 by the White House, Stop the Bleed is a national awareness campaign intended to cultivate grassroots efforts that encourage bystanders to become trained, equipped and empowered to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives.

In April, during the House Judiciary Committee’s resumed public safety and gun hearings, a Bucks County lawmaker urged his colleagues to consider his idea to equip schools with trauma kits.

The proposal would create a state emergency preparedness grant program to provide schools with kits containing such items as tourniquets and special bandages and training to use them to provide first aid in emergencies.

Capozzi said that kind of help is absolutely needed.

“We can significantly increase the survivability rates of gunshot victims by focusing on the Platinum 10, which is the initial 10 minutes after getting shot. Considering most police are not attending to the wounded until they stop the killer and EMS is typically not getting into the building until the scene is secured, the responsibility falls in the hands of the people who are present at the time of the shooting, stabbing or bombing.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.