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What to do if you believe you’re near a mass shooting

(The crowd running out of Valley Fair Mall after a sign fell, sounding like gunfire. Credit: Joe Oliver, video)

WEST VALLEY – A motorcycle backfire in New York… an unsubstantiated claim of a gunman near the USA Today headquarters in Virginia… and a sign falling in West Valley, Utah.  Three things that caused panic among crowds that thought someone had opened fire on them.

Some safety experts say it’s not necessarily an overreaction to assume a shooter may be nearby if they hear something that sounds like gunfire.  However, they say some people overreact in how they respond to this kind of situation.

Department of Public Safety Sergeant Wyatt Weber teaches classes on what people should do if they believe they’re being targeted by an active shooter.  Since the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, he’s received more than a half dozen requests from companies asking him to teach these classes.  As part of the instruction, Weber fires blanks inside the workplace so people would know how they actually sound.

“Gunshots don’t always sound like what people think they’re going to sound like.  Unfortunately, most of the training the general public had has come from movies,” Weber says.

If everyone around you is panicking and running, Weber says you should do the opposite.  He says it’s best to pause for a moment to determine exactly where the sound is coming from.

“Sound does really strange things within buildings,” Weber says, adding that people could accidentally run into a problem if they don’t know where it’s happening.

If you decide to leave, Weber stresses that you need to stay calm.

“A lot of people are hurt in these type of incidents by run over and essentially stampeded by people with no regard for other individuals,” he says.

Plus, it’s important people move “with a plan.”  Weber says if there is an active shooter inside a mall, it may be more dangerous to leave through the main hallways.  He recommends people move from one safe spot to another.

For example, you could walk out of the main hallway into one of the stores, then, “You could move from that store to the back storage room, and from that storage room to the exit door,” Weber says.

He says panicking only helps when someone is specifically confronted by a shooter.  If that happens to you, Weber says it may be helpful to turn that panic into a fight response.