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Batavia seminar teaches the art of survival

Take action in an emergency, expert tells chamber members

Rob Sarra is the deputy director of Controlled FORCE, a Batavia security firm with a worldwide presence. Sarra led a seminar for Batavia Chamber of Commerce members on how to deal with an active shooter situation. The event was held Thursday at Water Street Studios. Sarra is a Geneva resident, Iraq War veteran and member of the Maple Park Police Department.
Rob Sarra is the deputy director of Controlled FORCE, a Batavia security firm with a worldwide presence. Sarra led a seminar for Batavia Chamber of Commerce members on how to deal with an active shooter situation. The event was held Thursday at Water Street Studios. Sarra is a Geneva resident, Iraq War veteran and member of the Maple Park Police Department.

BATAVIA – Preparedness, situational awareness and the ability to take decisive action are the keys to surviving and rendering aid during an active shooter event.

Those skills are just as important in the far more likely event of a vehicle crash, home injury accident or weather-related disaster.

That was the message from security expert Rob Sarra, who led an intensive seminar for members of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at Water Street Studios.

Sarra is the deputy director of Controlled FORCE, a security firm headquartered in Batavia but with an international presence, providing training for police and military personnel around the globe.

“Do you have a first-aid kit in your car?” Sarra asked the participants. “When’s the last time you opened it?”

Preparation also means people need to take stock of every situation in which they find themselves.

“Know where the exits are,” said Sarra, explaining the whenever entering a restaurant, he first checks the restroom and locates the back exit to the building.

“I want to know how to get out of there,” Sarra said.

Sarra showed the participants videos of several active shooter and mass casualty incidents, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting and hostage-taking and the 2017 Las Vegas music festival sniper attack.

Sarra analyzed the video footage, noting how quickly the events can unfold, how ordinary people respond and the lessons to be drawn.

A resident of Geneva, Sarra is a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and an experienced law enforcement officer currently serving with the Maple Park Police Department in addition to his duties with Controlled FORCE.

Explaining the mantra of Run, Hide, Fight, Sarra outlined the three basic options for people when confronted with an active shooter.  

The first option is to get out of the attacker’s line of sight.

“Run whether others agree or not. Leave your stuff,” Sarra said. “You’ve got to think about yourself, ultimately.”

If unable to run away, there is concealment, or better yet taking cover behind something that will stop a bullet.

“Don’t restrict your options for movement,” Sarra said, and observe silence.

If left with no other options, a person can choose to fight the attacker.

“Only you can make that decision,” Sarra said. “But when you do, you’ve got to be aggressive, with speed, surprise and violence of action.”

He suggesting throwing objects and improvising a weapon. A blast from a fire extinguisher will blind the attacker, he said.

But if the attacker is out of sight, “Don’t go hunting,” Sarra advised.

In one of the many active shooter videos, participants noticed that the victims were talking and even arguing among themselves, but no one was calling 911, which Sarra described as the most basic action anyone should take in an emergency.

“If that’s all you do in a situation, at least it’s something,” Sarra said.

When in a crowd and dealing with a shooter or wounded victims, the key is for someone to take the lead.

“Someone must be the first to act. Start giving people tasks. Take over. Start your own little command post,” Sarra said.

Individual tasks might include calling 911, finding a blanket for shock victims or applying a tourniquet to someone losing blood.

“Every able-bodied person needs to assist in some capacity,” Sarra said.

At the same time, people needed to remain calm and focused on the task at hand.

“You can become part of the problem if you don’t have your stress in check,” Sarra said.

The principles of responding to an active shooter emergency remain the same for more common injury events.

“Let’s start using these skills for everyday life,” Sarra said. “Being ill-prepared isn’t an excuse.”

The people attending the seminar came from different walks of life, but found that the lessons applied to them all.

Donna Laughlin is the elementary school principal at Batavia’s Immanuel Lutheran Church, noting that the school routinely carries out evacuation drills for its students.

“This seminar was helpful in thinking about all the different scenarios and having a plan in place, because you can never predict,” Laughlin said.

Aimee Giangrosso, a human resources staffer at the big VWR International distribution facility in Batavia, also found the seminar to be helpful.

“This really put things into a real-life context,” Giangrosso said. “Just knowing where the exits are, something people don’t think about. It makes you stop and be aware.”

Dominic Hansen, director of operations at Funway Entertainment Center in Batavia, said the seminar got him thinking about carrying a first-aid kit.

“I think he (Sarra) gave us some tools to use to make decisions,” Hansen said. “There’s a lot more to it than Run, Hide, Fight. You have to make your own personal assessment.”

Sue Novy of Batavia is retired, so unlike some of the others was not focused on the workplace so much as everyday life in public spaces.

“I’m here for me,” Novy said. “These skills are not just for the workplace.”

Batavia Chamber Executive Director Margaret Perreault said Controlled FORCE is a community resource offering “the tools to keep us safe.”

The information Sarra gave to the seminar participants was both highly detailed and also as simple as what to expect when speaking with a 911 operator.

He explained strategies for carrying a wounded person, applying a tourniquet, positioning a victim and when to simply get out of the way.

“Know your limits,” Sarra said.

With offices in the historic Challenge Building, Controlled FORCE not only trains police and soldiers, but has developed security plans for federal facilities and nuclear sites.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Controlled FORCE provided pre-deployment training for military police before being sent overseas.

The firm has a staff of about a dozen at its Batavia offices and roughly 75 training experts working across the nation.

The company provides supplemental training to personnel with all branches of the military, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the FBI and other federal agencies. Mobile training teams are deployed worldwide.

The company also employs its own team of guards directly handling security at numerous federal buildings in Virginia, Alabama and Colorado.

Controlled FORCE has recently expanded its security blanket to the private, corporate arena, as workplace violence becomes an increasing concern.

The FORCE acronym, for First Official Response in a Critical Environment, points to the firm’s law enforcement and military core competencies, including firearms, K9 and personal security detail training.

Controlled FORCE is located at 335 N. River Street, Suite 200 in Batavia. The telephone is 630-365-1700.  The website is

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