FBI agent preps students and faculty for active shootings
On Sept. 16, the Youngstown State University Alumni Lecture Series welcomed 15-year supervisory FBI agent Todd Werth to speak about active shooter threats and civilian responses in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center.
YSU Police Chief John Beshara introduced Werth to students, faculty and members of the Alumni Society.
“Todd has worked several programs for the Mahoning and Trumbull areas in violent crime, drugs, gangs and organized crime. He’s been working with the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy to develop a new law enforcement response to active threats,” Beshara said. “Our community is safer because of his efforts.”
Werth explained that active shooters can be found in any area, at any time, and that public response can quickly change the gravity of the situation.
“These events evolve and happen very quickly as law enforcement is responding. Our actions can make a bad situation worse, or determine how safe we stay,” he said.
He advised audience members to prepare themselves in the event of an active shooter.
“You need to mentally and physically prepare yourself, whether it is evacuating, hiding, taking action against the shooter, or reacting to what law enforcement tells you to do,” Werth advised. “The first and most important response is to figure out what is going on.”
He advised students and faculty to be aware of their surroundings and use any resources around the area to help.
“Being aware of your surroundings is important. Have an escape route and plan in mind, or play dead if you can’t run or hide. Lock the door if you are in a confined room, blockade it with heavy furniture, and keep silent,” Werth said. “And as a last resort, only when your life is in danger, attempt to disrupt the shooter.”
Chief Beshara added that active shooters target those who are the most vulnerable, and listening to law enforcement may help the situation.
“An active shooter incident can affect anyone. It’s important for people that are involved to listen to what the police are saying, even though it can seem like they are being rude,” Beshara said.
Incidents of active threats in Ohio include the Cracker Barrel in Brooklyn on April 12, 2012; the Nov. 7, 1994 shooting of Wickliffe Middle School; and the May 9, 2003 shooting at Case Western University.
“These things happen in Ohio, but that does not mean that we have to live our lives in fear,” Werth said. “In our society, we just need to be prepared.”
Werth explained what people can expect from police officers in the event of an active shooter.
“Officers may arrive in small groups of three-to-four armed with rifles, shotguns, handguns, shields and high-powered weapons. Don’t leave a safe location until they tell you, and avoid screaming, yelling and pointing. They may use pepper spray, tear gas and flash bangs,” Werth said.
He explained that the authorities and any law enforcement involved in a shooting would take the necessary measures to ensure public safety.
“Any tool that we can use to prevent these shooters and shootings from happening is what we want to accomplish,” Werth said. “Based on our time and resources, the law enforcement and I are going to do everything we can to make that situation as safe as possible.”
Students at the event felt that Werth was knowledgeable in his field, and that they would be more prepared if there was a shooter on campus. Justin Meade, law enforcement major, felt that he benefitted from listening to him.
“I felt that Todd knew what he was talking about, and even if he didn’t know something, he admitted it,” Meade said. “If something like an active shooter actually happened at YSU, I feel like I would be more prepared for it instead of looking lost.”