Expert suggests churches train for active shooters

- The deadly Texas church shooting has churches across the nation reviewing their safety plans.  Active-shooter training for the whole congregation is one way a former law enforcement officer recommends people can get prepared.

"It's not the first, it won't be the last, and it won't be the worst, unfortunately," said Chris Sutton, of the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas that claimed the lives of at least 26 people.

Sutton founded Clearwater-based C.O.B.R.A. Self Defense International back in 2002. He has taught active shooter training at churches and corporations globally.

"You don't get to know when this guy is going to come in with a gun. Most gunmen don't have a criminal background. They buy the firearms legally," explained Sutton.

He said the best way people can prepare for a mass shooting is to be hyper-aware of their surroundings. Being able to recognize the sound of gunshots allows people to react faster.

It's best to find immediate cover and determine a way to run for safety.  In a church, Sutton recommends grabbing books from pews to shield your vital organs as you run, in addition to bending over and bringing your elbows into your body to make yourself a smaller target and protect the inner portion of your body.

Getting to safety as a family is also important. Even if relatives are separated in a building, children should be taught how to get themselves out.

"Talk to your child. Say, 'Hey, do you know where all of your exits are in your preschool, at the church, or at your school?' If they say no, walk them around and study," continued Sutton.

Children and elderly family members are what Sutton calls "soft targets." They may need your help getting to an exit.

He said it's best to hook arms with them and get low as you run together, using your body as a shield of protection for them.

As the well-known phrase "Run, Hide, Fight" implies, according to Sutton, trying to fight off a shooter should be the last effort to save yourself.

His research has shown that it takes the average person four seconds to reload their gun. It takes just two seconds or less to run up and charge a shooter from 30 feet away.

Sutton said if everyone in a congregation is trained to handle an active shooting, they can yell "reload" during that small two-second window of opportunity, which could give someone a better chance to take down the shooter.

"You've just got to keep training," said Sutton. "We have plans for everything. Debarkation drills on a ship, Amber Alerts, hurricane preparedness. This is just a plan that we want to put in place to effectively survive the situation."

RELATED: Sign of the times: Churches hire security

On November 15, C.O.B.R.A. Self Defense is offering free active shooter training, open to the public, at 6:30 p.m. at MA Fitness, 4400 34th St North, St Petersburg, Florida. For more information on attending the training, call 727-392-3198.

For more information on C.O.B.R.A. Self Defense, visit www.cobradefensesystem.com

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