Skip to main content

Millcreek Journal

Training for the unthinkable disaster

Oct 14, 2019 10:56AM ● By Kirk Bradford

Instructors Cathy Allen and Curtis Watkins with Millcreek’s immediate response members. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

Does your family know how to respond during an active shooter event? Millcreek’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) taught this training last month. CERT members were on hand for a public meet-and-greet followed by two hours of Immediate Responder Training at the city hall. The instructor for the evening was Cathy Allen, a community outreach coordinator and veteran of disaster response. 

The training taught responses to several disasters. Attendees spent the most time preparing to handle an active attack event. This is when three or more people are killed. “The attackers we are seeing are learning from us, and they are learning from past attackers’ mistakes,” Allen said . “Do not open the door for someone shouting ‘police’ during the shooting — attackers have learned this trick.” 

Knowing how to respond in these situations for a minimum of three minutes is critical. It’s the window of time before police respond. Three minutes is the national average and Salt Lake County’s time. 

Participants also learned the known signs most attackers present. Allen explained how compassion can possibly reduce incidents. She summarized the story of a boy, bullied and overweight. He said he didn’t have a friend in the world. He decided he would shoot up his school. After planning and ready to do it, a friend reached out. He decided that if he had one real friend, it was enough. He received help and didn’t attack. The simple act of reaching out can change someone’s world. 

The training detailed what is called “diffusion of responsibility.” People in large groups generally assume someone else will help, so they don’t get involved. Which is why the average time for help is 10 minutes. The interesting part of the demonstration was if one person came and offered help, others joined in. 

Trainers simulated the three universal stages of disaster — denial, deliberation and decisive action — by playing, without warning, five gunshots in delayed succession. “When you aren’t prepared, your brain goes into denial. It tries to make sense. Those must be fireworks going off next door, someone playing a prank. More time goes by and gunshots get louder and closer. Deliberation. People panic. If you are prepared mentally to cut through the denial, deliberate and make a decisive action, you can survive,” Allen said. 

Attackers can cover a large area in three minutes, so it’s critical to act quickly. “Scripting these situations a few times each day in your daily life will allow your mind to cut through the denial, deliberation and to take action if needed,” Allen said. 

Decide now that you’ll be the person to act. “The times we live in require us to prepare. It’s not if something happens, it’s when,” she said.

When it comes to protecting ourselves during an active shooting, participants were taught that instead of playing dead, which won’t fool shooters, they should think more creatively, such as blocking doors with whatever is on hand and using fire extinguishers as a weapon. 

The Millcreek Journal sat down with Curtis Watkins, an experienced community outreach coordinator. He explained how their funding came through a large grant. “We have the ability to come to your business, your church or home to train. All completely free to help you.” 

 “After this training, you can attend Emergency Response Training. Both are free and can help protect your employees, church or family if ever they’re injured,” Watkins said. To schedule a training or learn more, visit