AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some downtown Austin bar employees want better access to emergency information so they can keep customers safe when danger strikes.
When Austin Police officers shot and killed a suspected gunman on West Sixth Street Sunday night, Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the area was packed.
“Honestly it was shocking. It was shocking that there wasn’t more information given out at the time especially because it was a shooting incident,” said Joseph, who works at a bar downtown. “Wanting to know what was going on and if we were safe, could still let people in… if we should close doors, if we should try and shelter in place.”
Joseph said officers on the scene would not tell him what happened, and he did not learn any details until the chief provided a briefing around 2:45 a.m. Police took the alleged gunman down around 11:45 p.m. the night before.
We took those concerns to the City and APD.
APD could not provide specific information on what officers were instructed to tell the public as the street was blocked off, but in a statement said “in any critical incident, the first priority is the preservation of human life. We do our best to notify the public of any imminent threat as soon as practical.”
APD does have the ability to send emergency alerts to the phones of those signed up to receive them.
“It is not the primary system for every incident, but can be utilized to support communications during a critical incident,” the department said via email.
APD said the most reliable source for quick information is its social media accounts and encouraged anyone with concerns about a specific incident to call 911 or 311.
“A lot of public safety agencies rely on having you sign up for their alerts,” said Dimitrios Mastoras, executive vice president of Safe Night, LLC, a public safety consulting group that works with downtown districts across the country. “But again you have to be paying attention. You have to be signed up and you have to be paying attention when information is disseminated by these public safety agencies.”
One such alert option is the Capital Area Council of Governments’ Warn Central Texas alert system. You can subscribe as an individual or a business, and select which types of alerts you wish to receive — ranging from police emergencies to weather and public health information.
APD said it did not send out an alert during Sunday’s shooting, and noted that the “incident occurred very quickly.”
There are also options for businesses to sign up for alerts through private companies, like Alert Media, which use 24/7 intelligence analysts to identify emergency situations and communicate with employees.
Zo Qadri, the new council member representing the downtown area, said he was on a walk while police had streets blocked off after Sunday’s shooting.
“It’s important that there is some kind of communication so that folks are informed when something happens,” he said. “Whether that be as serious as a shooting, or as a minor as a small traffic collision.”
Emergency training for businesses
The Austin Police Department Counter Assault Strike Team (CAST) “frequently” trains businesses on what to do during shooting emergencies.
That training, according to APD, includes the “Avoid. Deny. Defend,” strategy.
Police said businesses should first evacuate people away from any danger. But if evacuation would put people in further danger, the strategy would shift to locking the door and barricading inside.