They sat together, with dozens of other bar owners and nightlife employees, to learn how to respond if their venue turned out to be next on the long list of establishments devastated by mass shootings.
“Has it happened in D.C.?” asked senior D.C. police officer Dorian DeSantis, a member of the department’s emergency response team, referring to mass shootings.
“Will it happen again in D.C.?” said DeSantis.
“Yes,” the room responded.
Trainings about how to respond to active shooters are not uncommon in schools, and the city has offered similar programming in the past. But the Thursday sessions, run by the Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism and Partnerships, come as fear of mass, indiscriminate violence has escalated. Officials brought together representatives from multiple agencies, including police, fire and homeland security, to offer what they called the first “one stop shop” active-shooter trainings to D.C. residents. They were tailored to members of the nightlife sector and the religious community, who had a separate session in the morning, because of their vulnerability to mass violence.
“We have seen a lot of instances across the country, indeed across the world over the last several years, of these types of situations,” said Christopher Rodriguez, director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, which helped facilitate the trainings.
This is what cities across the country have accepted as necessary, as the fear of mass shootings intensifies with every elementary school classroom and holiday parade shattered by indiscriminate gunfire. In San Antonio, for example, a group of bar tenders signed up for an active-shooter training session held at a local pub. In the D.C. region, everyone from students to pastors to bar owners have learned how to barricade doors and scan rooms for exits.
“Are you guys studying what happened down in Uvalde?” asked Gabriel Tolliver, a 55-year-old film and TV industry executive, at the training Thursday.
“Yeah, that was gut-wrenching,” DeSantis said.
Police told audience members at the afternoon session that places of commerce were the most common sites of mass shootings and reminded attendees of some of the worst moments in their industry’s history. The shooting at Pulse nightclub in Florida that left 49 people dead. The day a man opened fire at a crowd at a music festival in Las Vegas and slaughtered 60 concertgoers. The rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Co. that killed 12. The hope, public safety officials told the audience, is that D.C. residents and venue operators could learn from the tragedies of the past to prepare for what could come.
“Do you hear the stress in their voices? And they are trained professionals,” DeSantis said, as he played a video of authorities in Aurora, Colo., responding to reports of an active shooting at the theater. “We are trying to reduce stress level in you if something like this ever happens.”
The training is one of multiple strategies from the District government to keep bars and clubs safe in D.C., as covid restrictions have been rolled back and officials say the nightlife corridors have become more crowded than they were before the pandemic. In June, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced a pilot program that deploys teams of police officers, transportation officials and other agency employees on the H Street, Connecticut Avenue and U Street corridors to disrupt “patterns of violence” on weekend nights.
Authorities said that not all task force team members have received this interagency active-shooter training, which is still in its early stages. There are no more open sessions scheduled, officials said, but community members can request the trainings.
On Thursday, a cast of public safety officials offered advice about how trainees could save lives — walking them through how to recognize warning signs of potential mass shooters, what to do if a gunman is nearby and how to treat bullet wounds.
D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Capt. Charles Steptoe taught the group about how to treat gunshot injuries depending on where the bullet strikes.
“Hold your arm out,” he said, tying a tourniquet around the arm of William Howard, a 25-year-old who owns a media company that operates in bars across D.C. “Okay, this is where the pain would come in.”
Howard, who came to the event to make sure he knew how to safely run a business, said he walked away eager to join D.C.’s Community Emergency Response Team — a group of volunteers that support first responders at disaster sites.
“I really appreciate this entire thing,” he said.