Lee County staffers get tips on handling active attacker

Lee County Sheriff's Dept. Investigator Chad Donaldson talks with county office staff in Keokuk Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


KEOKUK – On the heels of a Lee County department head almost demanding security upgrades at the North Lee County Courthouse, six county staff and one supervisor got tips Wednesday night on how to handle an active situation.

Chad Donaldson, an investigator with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and head of the Lee County Narcotics Task Force, gave the staff and Supervisor Gary Folluo more than two hours of information on how best to react and survive an active attack, not just in the office, but also anywhere else in life.

“We’re trying to get away from calling them active shooters, because once again if all you think about is events that involve guns, that’s all your going to plan for,” he said.


“As you’re all well aware, there are a lot of events happening that involve things other than firearms, such as driving vehicles through crowds and edged weapon attacks.”

Donaldson outlined several tactics to utilize in the event someone was looking to do harm in the South Lee County Courthouse. He said people in courthouses can be full of emotion and stress and having a workable, and practiced plan is the best way to be prepared.

Donaldson said people looking to do harm are looking to hurt as many people as possible and as quickly as possible.

“We need to focus on limiting their targets of opportunity.”

He used the recent New Zealand mosque shooting as an example of what people who are intent on doing harm are seeing.

The shooter in that tragedy had a Go-Pro type camera and recorded the shootings first hand.

That showed clearly how the shooter was determined to kill as many people as possible inside and outside the mosque.

“When it comes to the active attacker there is no set profile. Nothing easy that leads us to say, this is what this person’s going to do.”

“But once again, especially in the courthouse, you deal with the same people we deal with. Those same people are coming here, to attorney’s offices, and to upstairs floors, and a lot of times they are upset.”

Donaldson said people in the building need to be aware of their surrounding and be able to recognize when something doesn’t sound right.

Typically, people will have three reactions when something dangerous is occurring, denial, deliberation and decisive movements, Donaldson said. He said human brains react differently than what he called “lizard” brain.

“A lizard encounters something out of the ordinary and it’s gone, but humans will try to process it, or deny it. That’s time that you lose in those situations,” he said.

He said people in the building should know the difference between a stack of papers dropped on the floor compared to a ‘pop’, ‘pop’, ‘pop’.

“If you spend time telling yourself, No surely that couldn’t be gun fire and your in denial, you’re wasting time. Don’t be in denial of what’s taking place. If you’re wrong, at least you’ll be there to be wrong,” he said.

He said the deliberation phase is when you realize something his happening and you need to execute a plan. If you don’t have a plan, he said, you’re wasting time in the deliberation phase. Practice plans result in the shortest time lapse in deliberation.

The decisive action is when a person is taking action to protect themselves. Donaldson said there are dos and don’ts in what actions to take.

He said keeping your heart rate under control with deep breathing to keep cognitive function. He said at 90 beats per minute is when the body loses fine motor skills. At 120 beats the body starts to lose complex motor skills, but the body is in a better state to flee.

He said the first reaction should be to avoid the situation, which equates to running from the scene through the quickest exit you can find, or staying away from the scene. He said people react together. If someone runs, most people will run and that group mentality will create a delay in the attackers movements as they will have to process the running.

If you can’t escape the building, Donaldson said you should look to deny access to the attacker, which includes hiding and barricading in a room, the heavier the barricade the better. He said using tethers to hold a door closed is workable, but stand away from the front of the door.

“Once again that takes time for the attacker to find targets of opportunity, and that gives law enforcement more time to react,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson said average response time for law enforcement to arrive after being dispatched is three minutes. He said that’s just til arrival. Entry, locating and stopping the suspect is additional time. That delay is when people in danger need to react. Stay mobile and look for exits.

Donaldson said law enforcement in those live active situations, will not stop for injured people until the threat has been neutralized.

“We have to eliminate the threat because if we’re still hearing gun fire we will keep moving to the sound of that gunfire,” Donaldson said.

“And even with an attacker down, law enforcement will still clear the building”

He said when law enforcement shows up the best thing to do is breathe deep, follow commands, show your palms and don’t move. He said even though area law enforcement would know the people in the building, they will approach everyone the same way.

“At that point I don’t know who’s doing it and I have to approach everyone in the same fashion. We don’t know if someone has had a bad day or what.”

The training didn’t include any physical activity, but a power point presentation along with some question and answer sessions. Donaldson said those options are available, but the training was a first step to get people thinking the right way.

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