- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - As a dietary worker at a big hospital in Orem, Lydia Mead fears her workplace could someday become a target for a mass shooter.

So when Mead found out that Orem Police would be one of the first Utah law enforcement agencies to offer a course to the public about how to survive an active shooter situation, she hurried to sign up. She’s one of 100 people who quickly filled the available slots for the first class scheduled for late February.

“If somebody walked in with a gun, I don’t think I would be very prepared,” Mead said. “Most of us would just panic. I’d rather be educated and be able to help.”

Orem Police first decided to offer the class to area businesses after the December mass shooting at a county office building in San Bernardino, California, Orem Police detective Michael Paraskeva (Pear-a-skeeva) said. That went so well with a handful of businesses, police leaders chose to open the courses to all residents, he said.

Paraskeva said Orem’s one-hour program is based on the tenets of a Department of Homeland Security program. It also includes parts of a course developed by Los Angeles Police, Paraskeva said.

The first class filled up quickly after the agency posted a notice on Facebook earlier this week and KSL-TV in Salt Lake aired a story about the program, Paraskeva said. They are likely to offer several more courses in the future.

“Unfortunately, this is the society that we live in now,” Paraskeva said. “People are interested because it’s a real possibility now that they may be involved with that (a mass shooting) during the course of their lifetime. God willing it never does happen, but they want to prepare themselves.”

The last major mass shooting in Utah was 2007 when a shooter killed five people and wounded four others at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square mall.

Homeland Security has hosted active shooter workshops across the country for private businesses and police agencies since 2011, agency spokesman S.Y. Lee aid. Another 549,000 people have taken a separate online course, “Active Shooter: What You Can Do,” which includes basic lessons about what a person should do if they encounter a shooter, Lee said.

“Our goal is to ensure awareness of actions that can be taken before, during, and after an incident,” Lee said in a statement.

The premise of the teaching is based on the model of “run, hide and fight,” Paraskeva said.

People are taught to first look for a safe way to exit. If that’s not possible, they should find a place out of the shooter’s view where they can hide and be covered by something that could block a bullet.

The last case scenario is fighting back rather than just giving up, Paraskeva said. Anything you can find can be used as a weapon, he said, such as a pen, fire extinguisher, screwdriver, a chair or a mop.

“We don’t want you to just lay down and be a duck in a barrel,” Paraskeva said. “Active shooters are there for a body count, they’re not expecting people to fight back.”

Participants are also given context on the type of places where mass shootings have happened and characteristics of shooters, all based on research about past events.

They also hear about how to manage the physiological effects people often feel in mass shootings: panic, time distortion and fainting. For instance, they are taught to take four deep breaths to slow down their heart rates and calm down, he said.

Orem Police’s program for businesses not only teaches employees what to do, but also provides the company with an assessment of how secure its facilities are and what improvements could be made.

The classes are free. Police consider it an investment in the community, Paraskeva said. Orem is a city of about 92,000 people located 40 miles south of Salt Lake City.

“If there’s a situation in our community, potentially we could save lives by having this program,” he said

Mead said she receives brief online tutorials about what to do in emergency situations, but she doesn’t think that’s sufficient. She hopes others sign up for future classes too.

“We should all know about what to do and not just assume somebody else will do it for us,” Mead said.

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