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Utah Security Expert: Situational Awareness Key To Escaping Active Shooter

Health care workers walk out of a King Sooper's Grocery store after a gunman opened fire on March 22, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Following the shooting that killed 10 people in a Colorado supermarket, it’s unnerving to imagine a confrontation with an active shooter. But one Utah security expert said surviving something like that comes down to situational awareness when out in public.

You may have thought simple logic would kick in, but in a fight-or-flight situation, our brains and bodies don’t always react the way we think they should.

“Sadly, in the way our world is these days, as it’s probably going to continue to be for quite some time, is that we do need to be a little bit more situationally aware. We want to be more mindful of our surroundings,” said retired police detective Justin Boardman.

Retired police detective Justin Boardman. (Mike Anderson/KSL-TV)

Boardman was among the officers who responded to the 2007 Trolley Square shooting, when a gunman killed five shoppers and wounded four others.

Boardman is now a consultant who has worked with law enforcement. He told KSL the changes we make to our everyday lives can begin with something as simple as paying attention to where the nearest exits are.

If you do come across a shooter the best option is to get away safely.

“However, sometimes that’s not possible,” Boardman said. “So the next best route would be trying to find cover and concealment and that would be hiding from the shooter.”

Boardman also recommended silencing your phone and, if possible, calling 911.

“However, you wouldn’t talk,” he cautioned. “You would just leave an open line so that the operator could listen to what’s happening.”

In a worst-case scenario, as a very last resort, you may even have to fight.

Boardman said what you think you will do in the situation and what you actually do are often completely different. Some people might freeze.

“It varies from person to person. So our reactions are hardwired in the back of our brains, if you will,” Boardman said.

Finally, he said as law enforcement arrives, stay back and don’t come at them. “We want to see your hands visible, nothing in your hands. Just drop it. And your fingers spread apart because we don’t know what we’re coming into.”

The first responders to arrive on the scene will be running toward the shooting. It’s what they trained to do.

Boardman said it’s important to strike a balance between awareness of your surroundings but not getting over-vigilant, which can lead to paranoia and other negative effects.

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