Detroit church trains its parishioners to defend against violent attacks
Detroit — When an active shooter was reported at the University of Michigan last March, the alert ended with three ominous words: Run, hide, fight.
Less than a year later, those principles are still the same, but the terminology surrounding them has changed to the more acronym-friendly avoid, deny, defend — ADD.
Sunday afternoon, Sgt. Terri Kennedy of the Detroit Police Department offered several-dozen parishioners of downtown’s Second Baptist Church instruction on how they could protect themselves and others in the event of an active attack.
“You have to shift your emotions from fear, to 'Not today,'" Kennedy said. "You have to tell yourself, 'I’m going to get out of here today.'
This used to be called active shooter training, Kennedy said. But with recent high-profile attacks on the public involving knives and even vehicles, the nomenclature has shifted.
“Run, hide, fight is what they used to teach you,” Kennedy said. “But I don’t like that word, hide.”
Deborah Malone, a trustee at Second Baptist, helped bring Sunday's active attacker training, as well as a "stop the bleed" training by Detroit Receiving Hospital, to the church.
Malone hoped about 30 people would show up, but the crowd was twice as large, despite it being Super Bowl Sunday and a nearly 50 degree day outside, a rarity for February in Detroit.
Barbara Bass, 88, a retired nurse, came for the active attacker training but left before the medical training, which her former career provided long ago.
"I'm retired, but you never forget," Bass said. "You never hope you'll have to use it though."
When matters of life and death are being decided, in attacks that often take just seconds, hiding is not a plan, Kennedy said.
“Hiding is an absolute last resort,” Kennedy said, to be used only when a person lacks the option of avoiding the danger or defending against it.
She asked how many exits there were in the dining room where Sunday's seminar took place. After some discussion among the crowd, a consensus emerged: there were three exits.
Actually, there are four, Kennedy said. What about picking up a chair and breaking out a window? It is that mindset, which asks "What about?" rather than freezing when a threat is presented, that the training is meant to foster.
“When you go to a place, do you look at the exits?" Kennedy challenged the group of mostly senior citizens. "Do you ask, 'Hw could I get out of here?' Most people don’t do that.”
Kennedy played a video of an attempted shooting at a church.
The gunman approaches. A man sees him and attempts to hide. A woman sees the man hide and does the same rather than walking out of he door she was standing near.
Fortunately for both, the gun jammed. Neither was hurt. But the smarter strategy would have been to leave the area and call 911.
Deny doesn’t match up exactly with “hide,” Kennedy said, because denying an attacker their opportunity is an active process. (In one video Kennedy played to show the limitations of hiding, a woman played dead inside a party store after a gunman emerged, lying down in a row he hadn’t yet crossed).
To defend matches up with the old guidance of fighting. This means engaging the attacker directly, distracting them so others can escape, or taking actions that slow their progress just enough for the authorities to arrive.
Bass said she would share the lessons of Sunday's training with her family. The lesson that stuck with her most: "Always look for the exits."
In the University of Michigan incident in March, there was no active shooter, just a group of students popping balloons. The initial alert sent by campus police read: "UM EAlert Ann Arbor: Active shooter in Mason Hall. Run, hide, fight."
For both the panic, and its timing — coming not only in an era of mass shootings but on the same afternoon as a vigil for a mass shooting at a New Zealand mosque that killed 51 people — the students apologized to the campus.
"It is unacceptable to merely pass off our actions as a poorly timed coincidence," the students wrote in a letter to the Michigan Daily. "To do so would be to ignore the politically charged atmosphere that day and the many serious events on campus that preceded the false alarm."