Pocatello police tell event attendees how to respond in case of an active shooter situation

April 14, 2019 GMT

POCATELLO — Police officers Jordan Johnson and Justin Vae’ena recently discussed how to prepare for an active shooter event at the department’s third “Parents’ Night Out” session at the Outer Limits Fun Zone.

The discussion, which was open to the public, focused on how to prepare for an active shooter event, response options, and more. Both the Pocatello Police Department and Outer Limits Fun Zone have teamed up to present topics such as this one that affect or could potentially affect the community and offer education and advice to the public.

“I think this is one of the most important subjects that every parent should be aware of,” said Kyla Dunton, a mother of two children who attended. “I think the more educated you are the more of a chance you have to survive and make sure your kid survives. And I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about that.”

One of the main topics was the shift from the Run-Hide-Fight tactic to the Avoid-Deny-Defend tactic when dealing with an open shooter. While the Run-Hide-Fight tactic is a situational ladder in that the actions are to be performed chronologically, the Avoid-Deny-Defend tactic focuses on adapting to the situation around oneself.

“Run-Hide-Fight is a ladder,” said Vae’ena. “Avoid-Deny-Defend is not a ladder. It’s whatever presents itself to you. It’s having situational awareness and knowing where you’re at, what you’re doing, and where things are.”

Vae’ena encouraged not just school teachers and students, but also business owners and employees to understand the importance of being adaptable to one’s situation. He also stressed to use what one can to defend oneself, whether it is using items such as pipes, sports memorabilia, fire extinguishers, and even old books.

“If it comes down to it, there are no rules in a gunfight,” he said. “If someone comes to kill you there are no rules. All is fair.”

Another topic Vae’ena touched on was obeying officers in these types of situations, and to stress to parents not to bring guns on campus even if they are there to defend their children.

“Anyone who walks onto campus with a gun, we’re going to have a problem, regardless of why you’re there,” he said. “At the end of the day we don’t know why you’re there. It’s not safe. Have faith and trust in us that we will do what we have to do and will try our best to get it done.”

In attendance was Kyla Dunton’s 17-year-old daughter, Rose Dunton, who graduated high school last year and is now a student at Washington State University Global Campus. She said she hopes the open discussion helps break down the silence that seems to circulate around the issue.

“It does tend to be a taboo topic,” Rose said. “It is something that is difficult to talk about because it is very emotional and because it’s one of those situations it makes it all the more necessary to be brought up. Because without our knowledge and without that understanding, then people don’t know what to do.”

B.J. Farnes, a father of four children, came to the even for similar reasons, and to be informed enough on the topic so that he can discuss situations like these with his children in the near future.

“The more we don’t talk about these things the more we push them out of mind and neglect them,” he said. “I want to be able to communicate with my kids as openly as I possibly can. I want to be the type of parent where my kids can say, ‘dad, I want to talk to you about this’.”

Officer Johnson spoke about being aware that even though this community is one that doesn’t seem likely to experience a school shooting, it can still happen.

“Statistically, the odds of it happening where you are are low,” Johnson said. “But everywhere it’s happened it has been statistically low for it to happen there. With Sandy Hook, statistically they had no more or less reason for it to happen there than anywhere else…The overall principle is to be aware.”

In addition to talking with family, friends, and co-workers about situations like this, Vae’ena also included insight on the fight-or-flight concept, stating that in situations like these, seconds matter greatly.

“We have innate features which are fight or flight,” he said. “We are taught all our lives that these two things will kick in. Well there is another concept called ‘freeze’. Most people as a whole, when it comes to violence will freeze, because it’s not something we interact with on a regular basis.”

“With stimuli, it takes three-fourths of a second to observe something, to understand and inform yourself, and react to what you’re going to do,” he added. “Three-fourths of a second on a regular day. When something happens that is out of the ordinary for you, that delay goes to a second and a half to three seconds. Which, in a critical event, is a long time.”

In active shooter events, one needs to have a plan on exactly what to do in events such as these and commit to it, he said.

“I hope that this empowers you,” Vae’ena said. “Whether it’s for your kids, whether it’s for your business, whether it’s for you and your house, whatever it is, I hope that this empowers you to make the decision and go with the decision you make.”

The Pocatello Police Department will be holding another “Parents’ Night Out” event on May 7 at Outer Limits Fun Zone with the topic centering on the effects of drugs in the community. Parents are invited to bring children who are old enough to play at the location’s Palace Playhouse. The event is free to the public.