Club owners, bouncers attend active-shooter training ahead of Seattle Pride weekend

Jun 21, 2016, 3:52 PM | Updated: 5:37 pm
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Dozens of bartenders, bouncers, waiters, and restaurant managers flooded the city’s first of two active shooter trainings. A second session is planned specifically for event organizers ahead of the Seattle Pride Festival weekend. (Jillian Raftery, KIRO Radio)
(Jillian Raftery, KIRO Radio)

It was standing-room-only Monday as members of Seattle’s nightlife industry packed into a small Capitol Hill event space, drawn to a city-sponsored training on active-shooters.

Nearly a week and a half after the Orlando shooting left 49 dead, and 53 wounded, Seattle responded with with the special training targeted at bouncers, club owners, and bartenders. It’s not only timely because of the deadly incident at a Florida gay bar, but it comes days before Seattle celebrates its Gay Pride weekend.

But for bartender Justin Savage, who works at the popular gay bar R Place, the training is helpful for his year-round job. He has been shaken ever since the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub.

Related: Seattle Police adding hundreds of officers for Obama visit, Pride weekend

“R Place kind of seems like the same kind of bar as Pulse is,” Savage said. “We have a lot of the same kind of characteristics, like a family environment, a big presence in the gay community. That makes it seem very much like a mirror image of that bar. So that’s why we came.”

Preparing for a Seattle shooting

Though R Place’s security does routine bag checks and pat-downs, the staff who attended the training all said they’ve been hyper-alert ever since last week’s shooting.

But how would they react if someone showed up with the intention of murder? Savage hopes that this training would help him stay calm.

“Your first reaction is the customer’s first reaction,” Savage said. “You’re the person that has this training, that’s helping the hundreds of people you’re taking care of. As a bartender, when you come in, you’re taking care of everybody who comes in until they go home. So whenever these instances happen, you’re automatically one of the leaders and one of the people who handles it the best.”

“So this kind of training was automatically, once I heard about it, something that became important to me,” he said.

Seattle police offiver Jeff Geohagan is the man to teach Savage and others like him. Geohagan has been a police officer for nearly 24 years, spending the last 14 on Seattle’s SWAT team. He said the most effective way to fight a shooter is preparation and prevention. That’s because, according to Geohagan, most violence isn’t random.

“If we look at the numbers, the vast majority of people that are involved in one of these mass shootings come from internal, or they’re related to somebody that’s internal to that group or that organization or that employer,” Geohagan said.

For example, the attack on a San Bernadino Public Health Department training and Christmas party last December was carried out by an employee, along with his wife. Some reports say the Orlando nightclub shooter was a regular at Pulse.

Even if the threat is from an outsider, a perpetrator usually scopes out their target. So, Geohagan said, learning to recognize a threat is paramount.

“I’ll talk about a visual weapons scan, and looking at somebody — where they carry weapons, what indications they have that they might be armed, and some behavioral cues as well,” Geohagan said.

“Some of the things might be, simply, staff looks at somebody and they look away,” he said. “And they don’t hold eye contact. Or they’re anti-social, they’re alone, they’re not congregating or grouping with anybody. The clothing that they’re wearing is inconsistent with what they might be wearing for the evening — you know, somebody wearing a very, very heavy coat on an 80 degree afternoon or evening.”

Geohagan suggested one easy security technique the nightlife industry could borrow from retail.

“Nowadays, when you go into a retail store, somebody says hi to you in 30 seconds,” Geohagan said. “Now, a lot of people would say that’s good customer service. It’s also a security thing because now the anonymity you used to have is gone.”

Geohagan said he’s constantly amazed by the amount of attention people give to their phone — and that’s an important habit to break when scanning a room for danger or reacting to a shooting if it does happen.

Reacting to a shooting

While the training wasn’t planned specifically for the nightlife industry and event organizers ahead of Seattle Pride weekend, Geohagan said there is no specific threat. But if a shooting were to happen at those events, or anywhere else, Geohagan said your reaction could be the difference between life and death.

“There’s a huge disparity between the duration of an active shooter event and the response time from law enforcement,” he said. “And the ability of law enforcement to arrive on time — it’s not very likely. It’s rare to have law enforcement on scene or even arrive while the event is still occurring.”

To that end, Geohagan teaches a slightly different version of the popular “run, hide, fight” mantra in the “A, B, Cs” of surviving a mass shooting: avoid, barricade, and combat.

Avoiding, instead of running, means trying to keep your cool and putting as much distance between yourself and the shooter. Barricading is meant as an alternative to hiding.

“Hide is a bit of a passive response,” Geohagan said. “If we had an event happen, you could hide in a number of places here. But that doesn’t necessarily make you the hardest target possible. By going into a room, barricading things against that room, you’re creating a less desirable target for this person. They may come to that door, grab the door, shake it, can’t get in, and go on to an easier target.”

Combat is a targeted approach that should be a last resort, according to Geohagan.

As for taking a proactive self-dense approach:

“The question is always posed to me: should I carry a gun?” Geohagan said. “And it’s not just in a club, it’s in the work place, it’s life in general. And for me, it boils down to three things, the first of which — if you’re talking about a club; if you’re talking about your employer — do they allow it? If they don’t allow it, then you’re certainly not going to be carrying it. Second of which is, if you’re going to have a firearm, what are you going to do to secure it? Are you going to secure it in your vehicle — which I don’t recommend — are you going to be able to secure it at your home to make sure that children and others that are untrained don’t have access to it?”

“The third of which is, are you going to be trained?” he said. “If you have somebody that goes out and purchases a firearm and doesn’t take the physical training, but also some mental consideration to the decision-making behind taking a life, then they shouldn’t be carrying a firearm, in my opinion.”

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Club owners, bouncers attend active-shooter training ahead of Seattle Pride weekend