A line of citizens formed inside the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame on Monday night, as men and women of all ages waited patiently to find their seats inside the Gordon Pirkle Room to participate in an active shooter response training course hosted by the Department of Homeland Security.
More than 120 people came out on Feb. 3, 2020 to participate in a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training aimed at teaching the survival skills needed in active shooter threats, no matter the location.
“You have a right to survive,” said Kevin Stanfield, Department of Homeland Security Coordinator of Georgia’s Area 6, who led the night’s presentation.
The CRASE course, which was developed by the Department of Homeland Security and Georgia Emergency Management, features the Avoid, Deny, Defend strategy developed by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.
“The biggest reason I wanted to come was, several months back I went to a first aid/CPR training for my place of work and the instructor actually started going over and touched on some of the subjects,” Thomas Sweatman said after the class. ”He recommended it to people and I had the idea to do it ever since.”
Sweatman and his wife Stacy traveled from Lumpkin County after seeing an article published by the Dawson County News discussing the class.
For the Sweatman family, the training was something they wanted to bring back to their congregation at Christ Fellowship Church.
“I do childcare every other Sunday night for revival and I have usually the two and three year olds, and I’ve just been playing in my mind what would happen if somebody were to come in,” Stacy Sweatman said.
Part of the program that resonated with Stacy was a discussion of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting and watching an interview from one of the schoolteachers who barricaded her classroom and kept her students safe inside the bathroom.
“We have security and a lot of times we have Dawson County cops there too on the busy nights and stuff, but still I mean just the thought of where you would put them,” Stacy said of her church. “I just keep thinking, you know, ‘I could put them in the bathroom’ but how will I keep them all quiet because you’ve always got new kids and they’re always going to cry especially when you go cramming 15 kids in a little bitty bathroom.”
For the Sweatmans who both take turns leading children ministry at Christ Fellowship, the training helped them consider ways to keep the children safe that would be easy to implement by simply switching doorknobs, covering windows and thinking of every possible scenario in order to be prepared for anything.
“A lot of it I’ve already run through my head, but you’ve got a lot people that don’t think about it like that. They don’t think of the scenarios and what can go wrong,” Thomas said.
The training course emphasized the importance of situational awareness, being vigilant of your surroundings and taking mental notes of exit routes and any items that could be used as a weapon of opportunity such as a fire extinguisher or can of wasp spray which could thwart a violent attack.
“It’s something everybody ought to go to…it helps make you aware of what you need to think about,” Dale Smart said. “Always be aware of your surroundings, what’s going on in case something should happen to you, and I felt like they did a pretty good job of making that point.”
Smart heard about the training at a recent Rotary Club of Dawson County meeting and was excited to learn how he could prepare himself in the event an active shooter targets his community.
“I think I’ve always had ingrained in me an awareness of where exits are and how to get out of someplace in case of fire,” Smart said, “But this helped me, makes me think I need to be aware about what weapons are available to us. I just hadn’t thought about that.”
Stanfield said anything around you can be used as a weapon and that if you find yourself on the offensive, to target the attacker’s weapon, eyes and breathing. It could mean spraying a shooter down with a fire extinguisher or can of wasp spray or hitting the shooter with something heavy like a laptop or chair. Whatever is around you, is a weapon of opportunity, and when it comes to your life, Stanfield says, you need to fight dirty and have a survivor’s mentality.
The training was especially eye opening to Dawson County Republican party chairwoman Seanie Zappendorf who saw the benefits of the course and the overall message of being prepared for any situation that can occur.
“I think everybody needs to be aware and alert, not be all politically correct that this may not happen in our small town, because we’ve had numerous terroristic threats. Even though they might be joking and never proceeded with the attack, we need to be alert and teach the children or the students that these are nothing to joke about,” Zappendorf said. “Some of the kids that made terroristic threats are not bad kids. They just needed some kind of attention. People need to understand it’s a wrong way of trying to get attention.”
The experience was educational and something Zappendorf hopes more people will go through when more courses are offered.
“You just never know and then just going through different types of training will help you be more prepared,” Zappendorf said. “You can never prepare exactly what’s going to happen, but this is very educational.”