Twenty minutes into his lunch-hour presentation at the Billings Job Service office on Rosebud Drive last week, Patrick Hoy motioned with his thumb to a door in the corner of the room, the one farthest from the lobby.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, “if something should happen while we’re here, this is the way out.”
It was a sobering reminder that having to deal with an active shooter intent on killing as many people as possible is a scenario that could play out almost anywhere, at any time.
Last week’s presentation, sponsored by the Billings Job Service Employer Council, attracted about 35 people from area businesses and government agencies, and came when memories of the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history were still relatively fresh in people’s minds.
Hoy gave those in attendance what he said was “a very abbreviated version” of the presentation he would make if he were to go to any one of their workplaces.
For those visits, said his marketing director, Shelly Popp, Hoy studies the building or campus in question and gives practical, detailed, site-based advice on how to survive and deal with an “active shooter.”
At the Job Service office, Hoy went over some of the more general aspects of an active-shooter situation, giving advice applicable to most settings and talking about the traits shared by many of the people who have carried out mass shootings.
Hoy said part of how he approaches this subject was developed during his years as an A-10 attack pilot for the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s. “We studied our adversary” — which was primarily the Soviet Union, he said, and then trained to respond to whatever sort of attack the Soviets might launch against the United States.
That’s the same reason he has made an intense study of many mass shooters, he said, sometimes sounding a bit like the characters in “Mindhunter,” the Netflix series about the FBI unit that pioneered intensive research into the motives and methods of mass killers.
Hoy said he founded his own business, PJJH Survival Perspectives, after he was asked, while working as the emergency management director for Billings Clinic, to develop a response plan for the clinic in the event of a mass shooting. After undertaking that study, he decided to expand what he knew to cover similar incidents in other businesses and agencies.
He said his research into shootings all over the country revealed “little gold nuggets of understanding, so we can understand the kind of people who would do something like this.”
Among the things he learned is that 98 percent of mass killers are male and that the mean age of school shooters is 16 to 17, and 35 t0 45 for killers in the workplace. Revenge is usually the motive, the killings are usually random and death for the killer is usually the outcome: 49 percent commit suicide after killing others and 17 percent are killed by police officers.
Most killers are full of rage, are intelligent, probably do not have a diagnosable psychosis, and have made plans that include a study of previous attacks, plus planned innovations on earlier shootings, in hopes of upping the death toll.
Another crucial similarity, he said, is that such killers usually have no formal military training. People in the military are taught to advance and keep firing when under attack, whereas an untrained person will duck if something is thrown at him, whether it’s a can of soda or some similar object.
Throwing something at the killer would come during the third of Hoy’s three recommended options: run, hide, fight.
All three options require some advance planning and familiarity with the building or terrain, he said. Running means knowing where to go that appears to be in the opposite direction of where the firing is coming from. Leave belongings behind, Hoy said, and attempt to help others get out, too, unless they refuse, in which case you should get yourself out.
If you can get out — he recommends a first-floor fire-escape door — get at least a block away and call 911 as soon as possible.
If you can’t get out, he said, the best defense is a locked door. He said his research showed that attackers will rarely pause to deal with a locked door. If you can’t lock the door, keep quiet, turn off phones and lights and get behind something protective, like a file cabinet.
As a last resort, he said, you can fight back, improvising weapons if need be, which could include a chair or a fire extinguisher. At his presentation, Hoy showed a short video in which several people in a darkened room crouch beside the door and attack the killer as soon as he enters the room, while others in the room pelt him with whatever is handy.
“As dark as this subject seems to be … I don’t want you to fear what you’re seeing,” he said. “I want you to use it.”
Ultimately, he said, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to find yourself in an active-shooter situation, but without being paranoid it’s possible to be prepared, to make mental notes on what you’d do in whatever building you’re in.
“I pray,” he said at the end of the session, “that you never have to use this information.”