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‘Run, hide, fight’: Police Chief talks about what to do when there’s an active shooter
David Marsh
Cumming Police Chief David Marsh hosted “Citizen Response to Active Shooter Environments,” a presentation on how individuals should respond during active shooter situations on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Otwell Middle School. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

An active shooting can be one of the most dangerous and terrifying experiences possible, and Cumming Police Chief David Marsh said he wants to prepare people if they’re ever in that situation. 

On Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Otwell Middle School, Marsh hosted “Citizen Response to Active Shooter Environments,” a presentation on how individuals should respond during active shooter situations. 

“Most people are going to kind of conform to what the folks around them are doing, which is why it’s so important for you to be able to make a strong decision about the best way to maybe to get out or the best decision to make, that other people will then follow you and they can start becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Marsh said.

In intense moments, Marsh said people go into a “denial stage” struggling to make decisions and often following crowds or instructions.

He said instead of using a “human brain” to reason or explain away dangerous situations, such as many shooting victims saying they first believed gunfire to be something harmless like fireworks, they should use a “lizard brain” and go into fight-or-flight mode.

“If you guys have ever been around a lizard, if you step anywhere near that lizard what does it do? It scurries off,” Marsh said. “There’s no deliberation here, there’s no, ‘I wonder if that’s a threat or not a threat.”

Make plans before a dangerous situation, such as finding a second exit.

After denial is the deliberation stage to decide about how to respond, Marsh said, which includes a rising heart rate and adrenaline.

“What you have to do is pull that down a little bit, calm yourself, breathe,” he said. 

When deciding about how to respond to an active shooter, Marsh said people should remember ADD, for ‘avoid, deny, defend,’ or the phrase ‘run, hide, fight,’ each describing the order of actions one should take in a shooting.

“If you can’t get out, we’re going to deny,” he said. “We’re going to make it as hard for someone to get to us as possible. If there’s a secondary exit, let’s say we barricade our door and somebody has the bright idea, ‘Holy cow, there’s a window right there. Let’s break this window and get out of here.’ Well, we’ve denied and avoided right there. We’re 2-0.”

As an example, Marsh used his personal experience responding to the 2014 Forsyth County Courthouse shooting, where employees barricaded themselves in an office during the shooting.

“It took a couple of us to pry that door open,” Marsh recalled. “No shame, good for them. They did a good job. That person, if he was going to get in that office, was going to really, really struggle, and that was a tough scene, there was a lot of people who were really, really scared… and for them, they did everything right.”

He also referenced the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, when one class was able to break a window and escape the shooter with no injuries and another student, who was shot, played dead to avoid being shot again. 

Marsh said fighting an armed attacker is the last-case scenario and recommended waiting on police if possible, giving them any important information and following their directions.

“At the end of the day, when law enforcement gets there, their goal is, No. 1, to neutralize any active killer … they’re going to step over people who are injured, they are going to step over people who need medical help,” he said. “That’s a really tough thing to do, but at the end of the day though, our job is to neutralize that threat because we can’t effectively help people if more people are getting hurt.” 

He also recommended CPR and automated external defibrillator training to assist with injuries during emergencies.

In the aftermath of a shooting, Marsh recommended anyone involved to get professional help to deal with the event’s trauma.

Before wrapping up, Marsh also noted that in the presentation, the names of shooters were never used so as to not “glorify” their crimes.

“Most of these people who have done these things have done them with the expectation that they will be what? Famous,” he said. 

“So, we want to deny them that. We don’t want to talk about their names. We don’t want to give them credit. We want them to fade into the woodwork of history without anyone knowing who they are.”