NEW BETHLEHEM — Ninety-seven New Bethlehem and surrounding area residents attended a three-hour seminar on mass violence on Jan. 9. The free event was sponsored by the New Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department.
Presenter Greg Agosti was gratified by the large turnout.
Agosti is a Pennsylvania state trooper and runs Agosti Emergency Preparedness Solutions, Kersey, as a sideline business.
“This started out as the usual class I teach to emergency responders, and it is based on a course developed by Butler County Community College,” he said. “But when the fire department here told me about how many regular citizens had signed up, I tweaked the content a little for their benefit.”
Agosti told the group that active shooters are here to stay, and the public needs to be prepared. It is on everyone’s mind.
“There is no government official who can wave a magic wand and make it go away,” he said. “There is a lot of hate out there.”
The intensive seminar covered a lot of ground between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Being aware of one’s surroundings and the people in it, how to react when the police show up after a shooting and the role of ordinary citizens in saving victims were major talking points.
Agosti dealt first with the role that social media often plays in acts of mass violence. On the other hand, there are dedicated law enforcement officers who use it for gathering useful intelligence. Potential perpetrators often telegraph their intent.
He also spoke of the methods that ordinary people can use to spot trouble before it happens. Situational awareness decreases dramatically when people are staring at their electronic devices while in public. Checking smart phones can wait until the user is in a safer space, Agosti said.
Most active-shooter incidents take less than 15 minutes from the first shot to the last. And while 277 people died between 2000 and 2018, the vast majority of attacks are thwarted before anything happens.
During the second half of the seminar, Agosti provided useful tactics if confronted by a shooter. He discussed the three most-common tactics for surviving a mass shooting. These are “run, hide, fight.”
“But if you choose to hide, stay hidden,” he said. “Something we found out after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was that one victim hid in a closet, peeked out to find out what was happening and then was shot by the gunman.”
Agosti urged the attendees to remain hyper-aware in the aftermath of an attack. Attackers may try to blend in with victims and catch a ride in an ambulance to a hospital in order to claim more victims. Emergency responders are sometimes targeted in the second phase of an organized attack, making initial scene size-up a vital part of preventing injuries and deaths among police, firefighters and EMTs.
He also told those attending that law enforcement officers’ primary job after arriving at the scene is to get the bad guy. There is no time to tend to the wounded, and trained bystanders can make the difference in saving lives before emergency services show up.
In a brief after-class interview, Agosti said that he provides seminars about improvised explosive devices, too, but there does not seem to be much interest in them at present. He reiterated his pleasant surprise at the large turnout.
“It seems that this area is taking mass violence very seriously, especially the church groups who showed up this evening,” he said. The seminar was held only a few days after a lone gunman in Texas disguised himself with a large fake beard, entered a church sanctuary and gunned down several members attending Sunday services.
“We say it all the time,” Agosti said. “See something, say something.”