Targeted violence isn’t a topic that’s pleasant to discuss, but it’s a reality in the world we live in, and it can happen anywhere. Being prepared, in case it does happen, was the presentation Special Agent Joseph Malhoit from the F.B.I. gave to 65 community members on Oct. 12th on the Mille Lacs Health System Onamia campus.
Malhoit began by saying that his whole presentation is based on the main concept of situational awareness, and then mental preparation for the “what if” that might ensue. “If you take away nothing else today, remember to trust your instincts if you think someone is acting ‘off,’ and then ask yourself what you would do if a situation ‘breaks bad?’”
Agent Malhoit asked the audience – which included hospital personnel, community members, representatives from schools, and law enforcement – to ask themselves some hard questions. What would you do if you encountered a sudden violent episode? Would you be prepared to fight, and what would you defend yourself with?
“If you don’t think about these things ahead of time, you’ll panic, and if you panic, you become completely ineffective,” Malhoit said. He went on to mention that he makes it a point to always know where exits are in an unfamiliar place. He checks out his environment in public areas, and even asks himself who would be the calm person he’d turn to for help if something went suddenly, terribly wrong.
The speaker underscored the fact that the point isn’t to walk around in your life and constantly be paranoid. He noted that targeted violence - like mass shootings- is rare. But when they happen, they are disastrous. And one person who is calm and yet decisive may be able to make a difference in the outcome. “I’m just saying be purposeful about how you live,” Malhoit said. “Pay attention to your ‘Spidey-sense’ and just be prepared.”
Much of the discussion centered around the “Run, Hide, Fight” model that the F.B.I. is teaching communities in the wake of mass violence. The theory is that there are options if targeted violence occurs. “I know some organizations really defend the shelter-in-place idea,” Malhoit said, “but it just isn’t reasonable. Why be sitting targets in a room? You have a better chance if you are a moving target than if you’re in a cluster. That makes it too easy for the shooter.”
Another idea that goes along with this is that if people have left an area where a shooter is, it makes the law enforcement’s job that much easier. “We’re not worrying about getting the wrong people in a cross-fire, and we can concentrate on the shooter,” said Malhoit.
Hiding is an option when escaping is not. But the special agent said barricading, being smart about where you hide, is essential. Fighting is also in the mix of options, and a quick look around the room where the talk was being held had Malhoit coming up with several things that could be used as weapons. Think chairs, fire extinguishers, coffee pots, anything that can be used to defend, hurt, or halt a violent episode.
Malhoit, who has extensive experience investigating the aftermath of targeted violence, said most perpetrators are acting out on a grievance that ̶ in their minds ̶ has escalated to where they have pushed most people in their lives away and the grievance takes over. “That pathway can be changed,” he said, “if someone notices, steps in, encourages them to get help. The grievance may or may not be rational but the externalization of blame makes them vulnerable to want to make the biggest day of their lives the last day for many others.”
The presentation ended with the special agent saying that targeted violence episodes can happen anywhere and no one ever expects it, so that’s why having a healthy situational awareness is so important. “I’m here because I want you to know sometimes you can act in ways that you can protect yourself and sometimes you can’t. Incidents typically last five minutes or less. And the goal here is to be able to go home to your family. So you need to know you have options.”