OPED: Options for responding to violence

Chris Hertig
Spring Garden Township

Violence can be shocking and unexpected. Response must be immediate. The acronym CANE, which stands for Cover, Assess, Notification and Escape or Engage, helps us think about how to react when faced with violence.

A law enforcement officer talks with students, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. A shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sent students rushing into the streets as SWAT team members swarmed in and locked down the building. Police were warning that the shooter was still at large even as ambulances converged on the scene and emergency workers appeared to be treating those possibly wounded. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

With response options in mind, I have outlined the principles of this option:

C – Cover (shielding) and Concealment (hiding) and Calming. Ideally cover and concealment are used simultaneously. Hiding behind a solid wall as an example. Cover includes objects (vehicles) or structures (walls) that shield one from bullets. Cover provides protection as it stops (prevents) or slows down (mitigates) bullets.  

A general rule is to get behind something but not glass due to the potential for injury.

Cover from other types of active threats may include furniture located or placed between the assailant and defender. This works for attacks with clubs or knives. A chair overturned in the path of a knife wielder or getting behind the corner of a desk or table provides momentary protection. The defender can distract the attacker to buy more time. Thinking about cover in work/school spaces should be encouraged. Strategizing in advance decreases response time in a violent situation. It also uncovers both hazards and vulnerabilities that weren’t seen before.

Concealment is anything one can hide behind. If the attacker cannot see their intended victim, it’s difficult to attack effectively and mitigates the risk. If they don’t initiate or continue the attack; the attack has been prevented. A good thing!

Calming is a good approach whenever one is able to communicate with an assailant. Speaking lower and slower to an agitated person (robber, hostage taker or irate customer, etc.) is one example. Being respectful, giving space/creating distance are others. Calming is contagious and calming works in a multitude of situations.

A – Assess from a position of cover and concealment. Seeing and understanding the threat is crucial to dealing with it.  And this must be done systematically. How many adversaries are there? What is in their hands?  Are they carrying a bag or package? What type of weapon do they have?  How are they dressed?  

N – Notification.  Alert the right people as quickly as possible: (police, security) rather than texting parents or friends.  Yelling to alert those nearby.  The yelling could also utilize the employment of strong verbal cues (called hard verbals) such as “Stop! Stop! Stop!” at the attacker. This approach stuns and may momentarily stop the assault. Hard verbals are quite useful as a defensive tactic.

Communications should be practiced. Communications training should contain practice (reiteration and repetition). An astute employer can bundle the communications skills used with active threats in with other communications training; making the instruction more cost and time effective. Doing so can also make routine classes more engaging.

E – Escape or Engage. Sneak away if possible. “Stay low-stay small” to hide and be a smaller target. Running away makes more sense even if seen by the assailant as a moving target is harder to hit and accuracy drops with distance. Unfortunately, while running may be a good tactic, real world human behavior may eliminate it as an option:  if the assailant is close it may not work or even be thought of. A weapon displayed at a close range captures the defender’s focus so much that only the weapon is seen.  Backing away is the initial response. Running won’t be thought of. Finally, there may be nowhere to run to.

Engaging with (fighting) an assailant may also be necessary. If the assault is in progress, it’s generally the only option. Fighting can be enhanced with hard verbals and distraction. Yell! Throw something at their eyes. Simple tactics buy time when time is of the essence.

Whether to fight is a critical decision. It must be made properly. A key consideration is distance from an adversary. If very close to a shooting assailant; grabbing and controlling the weapon would almost certainly be necessary. Many active shooters have been neutralized when bystanders tackled them while they were reloading or otherwise distracted. Conversely, as the distance from the assailant increases; the viability of engagement declines.   

Obviously protective service professionals have a greater duty to protect others, making engagement more likely for them than others. Fighting must be weighed in terms of law and policy; as well as weapons, training and ability of the protector. Ultimately, it’s a moral decision: how a police or security officer handles an active threat stays with them for the rest of their lives. 

— Chris Hertig, of Spring Garden, writes about security issues. He has published extensively and is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Protection Officer Instructor (CPOI).

Chris Hertig