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Teachers, school staff, office workers and others have been flocking to recent active shooter survival workshops in the Region.

They're learning, say organizers, not only to "see something, say something" to help avert potential mass shootings and attacks, but getting insight into how they might react and what to expect from police when they respond to an incident.

The trainings are aimed to make people think, "What would you do if?" Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said. 

"We want them to know how to protect themselves. We're not asking them to carry a gun, but to have a plan for what can happen," said Munster police Lt. Ed Strbjak.

Tuesday night more than 50 people attended a two-hour class sponsored by the Portage Police Department. It was the third class hosted by the department in the last month, all filled or nearly filled to capacity.

A month ago, the Munster Police Department hosted a similar class at Centennial Park which attracted some 200 people, Strbjak said, adding they've hosted several smaller sessions for individual organizations.

"We drill so much, but this is out-of-the box thinking. How do I fight? How do I run?" said Amanda Fronczak, a teacher at Jackson Elementary School in the Duneland Community Schools district near Chesterton and a member of the school's safety team.

Portage police Capt. James Maynard, SWAT team commander, spoke to the group about high stress events, how people react and what to do to make it through such an event alive.

Maynard said when a high stress event occurs, heartbeats and breathing rise rapidly; skin becomes pale; tunnel vision develops and your whole body can begin to tremble.

The idea, he said, is to recognize what is happening and to "bring yourself back around," using techniques such as tactical breathing to slow down your heart rate and clear your head and be able to react, instead of freeze.

"Any decision now is better than a great decision 10 minutes from now," Maynard said.

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He also explained "OODA Loop," a concept applied to the decision-making process with continuing events. It is, he explained, training the brain to observe, orient, decide and act in a matter of seconds and can be attained by practicing hypothetical scenarios.

"Mental preparation is huge," he said.

"These are tools to insert order into chaos," said Portage Assistant Chief Ted Uzelac Jr., adding that in the time of a crisis or chaos, people look for someone to lead them.

The workshop also covered police response to active shooter incidents. The response, said both Williams and Strbjak, has changed in the 20 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Williams said his department has changed its protocol responding to fire alarms in schools since the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February. Now, he said, if an alarm is pulled, police respond and stay on scene until they know it is no more than a fire alarm.

Today, first responding police units go in with the mindset of finding the shooter, they said.

"Our first priority is to get to the bad guy," said Williams, adding police will "step over" a victim in the pursuit of ending the threat. It is then that rescue teams will come in to help the wounded.

Portage Capt. Mike Candiano, who reviewed the "run, hide, fight" protocols, told the groups that any resistance, any way to delay a shooter, can discourage the shooter.

It is also, he said, a matter of buying time for police to arrive.

"It is all about time. Ten seconds is going to mean something," Candiano said.

Attendees also were given lessons in basic first aid, including using a tourniquet, the difference between cover and concealment, how to barricade a door, warning signs of a potential shooter, what weapons might be used in a police response, the need for a reunification plan, and basic self-defense.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.