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CCU Atheneum: Lt. Bobby Pellerin leads a S.A.F.E. Response to Violence training session in the Coastal Science Center.
Lt. Bobby Pellerin leads a S.A.F.E. Response to Violence training session in the Coastal Science Center.

Keeping S.A.F.E.: CCU extends active shooter training to community

by Doug Bell
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On March 7, Lt. Robert Pellerin conducted three back-to-back sessions of S.A.F.E. Response to Violence training for more than 100 employees of the Brittain Resorts & Hotels group in Myrtle Beach.

It was a busy afternoon even for Pellerin, who has led similar safety training sessions for every academic and administrative department at Coastal Carolina University, but he believes it’s probably just a sample of things to come.

Pellerin is the designated training officer in CCU’s Department of Public Safety, responsible primarily for creating and conducting in-house training programs to enable campus law enforcement officers to maintain certification. The reason he is now spending some of his mornings or afternoons delivering active shooter training to off-campus groups is because of a real need in the community and CCU’s willingness to meet that need.

“The S.A.F.E. training, which addresses how ordinary civilians should approach active shooter situations, is mandatory for all Coastal employees,” said Pellerin. “A lot of our faculty and staff members belong to civic clubs, churches and other organizations out in the community. They would often come up to me after a session and say, ‘Our group really needs to get this training.’ ”

Pellerin relayed these requests to his boss, Chief David Roper, director of public safety at CCU, who approved the idea.

“It’s part of our campus outreach not only to make CCU a better place, but the whole community,” said Roper. “Lt. Pellerin is the architect of this program, and I told him to do all he could and that we will support his efforts 100 percent.”

Regrettably, another reason for the high community interest in Pellerin’s services is the frequency of deadly mass shooting incidents, which has created a widespread sense of unease in public institutions and organizations all over the country. The memory of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was obviously fresh in the minds of the Brittain Resort employees as they listened to Pellerin outline the dos and don’ts of responding to a rampaging gunman.

“America is the worst country in the world when it comes to active shooters, by far,” he told the group. “There’s an average of one incident a week — so many that we are in danger of becoming desensitized. It’s gonna happen. You have to plan, because planning can change the situation you find yourself in.”

Pellerin described the S.A.F.E. (Secure, Alert, Fight, Escape) plan and explained how police response techniques have been improved and refined in the wake of successive shooting events beginning with Columbine High School in 1999 and continuing through Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.

Heads around the room nodded in somber understanding when Pellerin explained the rationale for barricading doors with available furniture, disabling door hinges and bombarding the attacker with cellphones. “Shooters want to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible because they know the police are coming,” he said. “The key is to do anything you can to buy time for law enforcement to arrive. For every two minutes an active shooter event progresses without intervention, five people die.”

When Pellerin asked for volunteers to act out a scenario calling for two teams, one to distract and one to attack a hypothetical shooter, many were eager to participate. Taking the part of the shooter in the role-playing demonstration, he advised the group to be gentle with him, explaining that some actors in previous sessions had gotten into their roles so intensely that they took him down with a bit more force than was necessary.

“Sometimes when they really get going, they don’t know their own strength,” he laughs. “The instructor takes the brunt, but it’s a good learning experience for them and me.”

The training closed with an extended question and answer session. Many of the employees of Brittain Resorts, which has 16 Grand Strand properties including the Breakers, Litchfield Golf & Beach Resort and Ocean Reef (where the event was held), felt they took away something from the training that could be useful to them.

“It really opened my mind about what to do if an active shooter comes into my space and how to take action as a group,” said Jaynie Holmes, an assistant housekeeper at the Breakers Resort.

“The training was really informative,” said Carlie Stevenson, social media manager for Brittain Resorts. “My boyfriend is a police officer, so some of it was familiar to me generally, but the specific tactical information was really valuable.”

Pellerin is originally from Wallingford, Conn., where he played high school baseball, basketball and football. He was studying criminal justice at West Connecticut State University when he and his wife Tara decided to move to Myrtle Beach to be near her parents, who had just retired here.

He completed his associate degree at Horry Georgetown Technical College while working night shift as a security officer for CCU public safety. He was hired full time by the campus police force and attended the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia. Promoted to sergeant prior to finishing his bachelor’s degree in sociology at CCU in 2006, Pellerin continued on the night shift until 2013, picking up another promotion, to lieutenant, along the way.

“Night shift was interesting,” Pellerin recalls with a smile. “People are influenced by a different set of motivations at night than during the day. I’ll leave it at that.”

When he was tapped to be an operations support officer on the day shift five years ago, his career changed. “I had never done training, never pictured myself doing training, but I decided to give it a shot.”

He was mentored by Wayne Freeman, the active shooter training coordinator for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), who impressed Pellerin with his passion for safety training. Pellerin and Roper embraced the S.A.F.E. training model, which they recognized as more effective and straightforward than the previous prototype, whose catchphrase was the unwieldy “Get Out, Call Out, Hide Out, Help Out, Keep Out, Take Out.”

Active shooter training now accounts for about 50 percent of Pellerin’s duties. In addition to on-campus training for student groups, faculty and staff, he has presented to many off-campus civic organizations and churches, as well as a group of more than 75 members of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. He has received requests for training from HTC Inc. and Coast RTA, which he will be conducting in the near future.

Pellerin has never been in an active shooter situation personally. “I hope I never am,” he said. He and his fellow CCU law enforcement officers have investigated a number of threats, however, and he believes that their proactivity has saved lives.

“We take every complaint we get very seriously,” he said. “We investigate until we know for sure there’s nothing there. We catch things because we pay attention.”

CCU’s emphasis on transparency in reporting and responding to incidents of potential criminal activity sets our campus apart from other institutions, according to Pellerin.

“Our community reports everything. This is something we stress to our students and the entire campus. Awareness is the first thing I talk about in training. We need to pay attention to changes in behavior and report anything suspicious. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere all the time, so we rely on our community to help keep everyone safe. If you see something, say something.”

 

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