Overlooked & Under-utilized: Non-lethal Defense Products Effective Option for Civilian Response to Active Shooter/Workplace Violence

After a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 first graders and six teachers four years ago, followed by high profile attacks like those at the Navy Yard, a military recruiting office in Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Emanuel AME Church and Pulse nightclub, schools, businesses, faith organizations and others started to take seriously the need to prevent and respond to sudden violence. When recently retired Metro DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier said on “60 Minutes” in November 2015 that every American needs to learn how to defend themselves during these attacks (https://youtu.be/x6J_8NXJONw), it was a confirmation that if violence breaks out at your facility, you are the first responder.

Despite increased use of electronic security measures and more training for teachers and employees, Americans in all settings are still vulnerable when it comes to fighting back. And current response protocols mostly focus on the extremes, gun or nothing. What’s overlooked is the role non-lethal defense products can play in disrupting violence long enough for people to evacuate or for police to arrive on scene, without harming bystanders. Which is the point of all violence response protocols—slow or stop the perpetrator so intended victims can escape and police can remove the threat. Non-lethal defense products are uniquely suited to this purpose, and are designed to be used effectively even by people with little skill.

There are hundreds of videos on YouTube showing ordinary people using non-lethal products to stop attacks, but one stands out (https://youtu.be/FoK1OAmDs2E). In June 2014, a gunman entered a building at Seattle Pacific University and began shooting. As he paused to reload, a student armed with a small canister of pepper spray confronted him and doused him, stopping the attack. One person was killed and two injured that day, but it could have been much worse. Imagine if everyone, students 18+, staff, and employees of all kinds of organizations, had training and access to something as simple as pepper spray in these situations. Could we improve the outcome and reduce injuries and deaths? That’s what our company set out to achieve.

Like many Americans, our family was devastated by the Sandy Hook attack. Sitting around my brother’s kitchen table in January 2013, my brother, our nephew, a police officer who had responded to an active shooter attack at a local high school that same year, and I lamented that the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook had no way to defend themselves and their students that terrible day. While many elected officials and others called for schools to arm teachers with guns, we wondered if there was another way to defend against these attacks without the risk posed by putting firearms in close proximity to children and bystanders.

So, we researched and tested the full range of non-lethal defense options looking for one that would meet the following criteria: simple to use by ordinary people during the chaos of a violent attack; would not require precise aim since people lose fine motor skills when their adrenaline kicks in; could be used at a safe distance to prevent contact with a violent person; would impair the vision of a violent person so he/she could not accurately carry out an attack; and the most important criteria—powerful enough to temporarily incapacitate an attacker so people could evacuate, disarm him, or for police to arrive–without causing permanent injury to bystanders.

Our research, testing and training confirmed that one of the oldest weapons used by man is still one of the most effective. Ground hot peppers were used to temporarily blind enemies in China and Japan in ancient times. Today, pepper gel powers our product line, Safe Zone CM™. Unlike sprays, pepper gel doesn’t contaminate interior spaces, sticks to the target with very little overspray on bystanders, and projects up to 25 feet, much further than spray. With a full 16 ounces of gel in the canister, there’s enough to coat multiple perpetrators. The easiest way to describe it is that Safe Zone CM is like a fire extinguisher for violence.

The Safe Zone CM pepper gel is housed in wall-mountable steel cabinets locked to prevent unauthorized access, but easily opened by designated personnel, and comes in four models, with two different access control options, depending on where the cabinets are installed. The newest model includes a bleeding control trauma kit to treat mass casualty victims until emergency medical help arrives, increasing survivability for the gravely injured.

Safe Zone CM can be installed under reception or security desks, in safe rooms, classrooms, offices, conference rooms, multi-purpose rooms, manufacturing and warehouse facilities, shipping areas, or anywhere an attack may occur. The product offers a defense option most organizations don’t have today, and is easily integrated into existing active shooter and workplace violence response protocols. Alternative Defense Strategies also offers an optional live training package to teach designated operators how to use the product effectively, too.

Safe Zone CM has been adopted by Fortune 500 companies, manufacturers, small and mid-size businesses, houses of worship and faith-based organizations, county and municipal offices, and K-12 schools to strengthen their security programs. Like us, our customers know their employees are capable of defending themselves and others, without the risk of causing permanent harm, and they are giving them a non-lethal way to do it.