It's a Monday afternoon at 3015 in Trinity Groves, and about 50 restaurant owners, managers and developers are pretending they just received a text message from an employee. Shooter in the restaurant, the text reads. Can't call. He put us in the walk-in. Please help.
Ed Bollen, a CIA veteran and employee at Dallas-based security firm Trident Response Group, reads the text to the group and pauses. "Now," he says solemnly. "What do you do?"
Last week, the DFW Restaurateurs' Conference brought around 50 members of the local restaurant industry to a daylong gathering that addressed everything from protecting trade secrets to effective noncompete agreements. The last seminar of the day: "Run, Hide, Fight — Active Shooter Wargame Scenario," led by Bollen, local food and beverage lawyer David Denney, and Michael Hughes, a lieutenant with the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department.
A few years ago, training like this might have been considered macabre, but with the seemingly never-ending stream of mass shootings happening all over the U.S., Denney says, it's time to consider active-shooter training as important as first aid training or fire drills.
"This is a real, clear and present danger to people that are in an open society where you have a door open and people can walk in and out," Denney said. "It just is."
The training is especially important, Denney said, for small, independent bars and restaurants.
"We’re talking about it because the big chains have risk management teams, they have risk management policies and procedures — the Hiltons, the Brinkers, they’ve got three-ring binders on this stuff," Denney said. "The independent restaurateur [or] bar owner, has no mechanism to train on. It’s something we don’t really think about. And that’s why we’re doing this."
So how do you survive when a gunman starts spraying bullets around you in a bar or restaurant? In short, Bollen said, your best plan can be boiled down to three words: run, hide, fight. Escape should be your first concern, he said, and if that's not possible, you should hide. If there's nowhere to run or hide, you've got one option left: fight.
A common mistake restaurants make, according to Bollen and Hughes, is not having every exit clearly marked. A restaurant will have signs above obvious exits, Hughes said, but in an active shooter scenario, those exits may not be usable. Bollen said the best course of action is to use less-obvious exists, like back doors accessible through the kitchen. Hughes suggests marking doors that lead to other potential exits.
Being aware of every exit is integral to dining out in 2017, Bollen says, and most eateries are not designed with these scenarios in mind.
Bollen called the design of a popular burger chain a "death trap," and said that another chain of coffee shops is "really bad."
"Look at how you’re set up — can you do something a bit different?" he said.
If you can't run and can't hide — and don't forget to silence your cellphone, Bollen said, if you hide — your only option is to fight. Convert whatever you have into weapons, he said: pots, pans, liquor bottles. And make sure your fire extinguishers are in working order.
"Fire extinguishers, those can actually be weaponized," Hughes said. "Dry chemical extinguishers can really incapacitate a person."
The more people who fight back, the better.
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"If everybody there is doing something to the attacker, yes, somebody might get hurt, but the chances of surviving increase drastically," Bollen said.
Every restaurant should have a plan in place in the event of an active shooter, Bollen says. Employers should make sure workers know the addresses of their restaurants. You'd be surprised how many servers don't know their restaurants' addresses, he said, and that's the first information they'll need when calling 911. Employers should establish a safe meeting space nearby where employees can gather after escaping the restaurant. Front-of-house employees, especially hosts and servers, should be trained to recognize warning signs. When one of those employees expresses worry about a patron, management should listen.
Have a plan so that if you do get "the text" — in these scenarios, you're more likely to receive a text than a phone call, Bollen says — you'll know your staff has the training to hopefully make it out alive.
"You need to have some type of emergency action plan for fire, tornadoes, extreme weather, but you also need them for an active shooter, disgruntled employee, an employee that gets fired and comes back in," Bollen says. "This is the world we live in."