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A plan for personal survival is key in workplace shootings, expert says

Kenny Kemp
West Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Michael Lynch shows how to thwart a gunman in the workplace during a training session Tuesday at the Charleston Civic Center.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An individual response plan for when a gunman starts shooting in the workplace could be the difference between life and death, experts said at a training event Tuesday morning.

"The person with the best plan usually wins," said 1st Sgt. Michael Lynch of the West Virginia State Police. "If your plan can get you away from [the shooter's] plan, your probability of survival goes way up."

Lynch spoke at a training session for office managers and workers Tuesday morning at the Charleston Civic Center. About 130 people registered for the session, which aimed to train workers about what to do in the event of a workplace shooting.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department organized the training with the help of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office, the Charleston Police Department, the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, the West Virginia State Police, Kanawha County and the city of Charleston.

Having an individual plan for the workplace is especially important because the shooter is often a fellow or former employee who would know the office's emergency procedures and could use the plans to his or her advantage, Lynch said.

That was the case during a 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., when two students pulled the fire alarm and opened fire, killing five, as students and teachers streamed out of the school building.

Survival options include running and hiding or, ultimately, fighting if there are no other choices, Lynch said.

That might mean being shot, but six of seven people who are shot survive, Lynch said.

"My mindset is, if you shoot me, you're only going to piss me off," Lynch said.

Keeping yourself in good physical shape, with a healthy diet, can increase your chances of survival, he said. So can wearing clothes that are easy to move in, he said.

Women who wear high-heel shoes might be able to take them off and use them as a weapon, he said.

Those in offices with locking doors can take cover there, he said. Lynch also encouraged people to think about at least two escape routes in their offices that they could use in the event of a shooting.

"Get as far away as possible, as quickly as possible," Lynch said.

Moving targets are more difficult to hit, he said, so people should not run in a straight line.

Lynch also warned people to take responsibility for their own safety. For instance, you should alert other people to the danger, but if they don't follow you to safety, he said, don't stay and risk your life trying to persuade them.

Many shootings in the workplace are the result of domestic violence, he said. If you fear for your safety because of a spouse or partner, tell your manager and leave pictures of the person at the office's reception desk, he said.

There have been 15 prominent high-casualty shootings in the U.S. in the recent past, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Each year, 1.7 million people are the victims of workplace assaults or homicides, Gupta said. People in Southern states are twice as likely to get shot at work when compared to people in the rest of the country, Gupta said.

Gupta hopes Tuesday's session helps prepare people in case someone opens fire in the workplace.

"Hopefully it doesn't happen, but if it does happen, we're better prepared," he said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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