By Raiza Giorgi

Even though 11 people were killed by a gunman Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the casualties would have been higher if the worshippers had not trained for “active shooter” situations, said Susie Pierson, president of the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community.

“Fear is rational, but providing the tools to overcome it is helpful in these scenarios. I used to teach at a high school in San Francisco, and now it’s a fortress of security. It’s the sad reality,” Pierson told a group of about 30 people Nov. 13 at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang.

The group discussed the mass killing and heard about how it applies locally from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, the nonprofit organization that is dedicated to stopping the defamation of Jewish people and to securing justice and fair treatment for all.

“The best advice I can give is, ‘See something, say something,” said Lt. Eddie Hsueh, Solvang station commander of the Sheriff’s Department.

“Locally there have been more than a dozen mass casualty situations in the past few years just in Santa Barbara County. Situations like the Isla Vista shooter and the Goleta Post Office happened because people didn’t communicate,” Hsueh added.

The Goleta postal facility shootings were a spree killing by Jennifer San Marco, a former Postal Service employee who shot and killed seven people in Goleta on Jan. 30, 2006, before taking her own life.

The Isla Vista killings happened in May 2014 when Elliot Rodger shot six people and injured 14 others near the UCSB campus before killing himself inside his car.

The most recent local event happened in November at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks when a gunman opened fire at the bar, killing 12 people.

“Unfortunately we can’t predict when these events will happen, but we can educate people on what to do if they find themselves in this situation. With a little training, there is a higher likelihood that people will survive. The most important thing is communication — talking and having a plan,” Hsueh said.

Deputy Charlie Uhrig echoed that advice, and noted that many people are too engrossed in their mobile devices to be aware of their surroundings.

“The other day I flew on an airplane and I think I was the only one paying attention to the flight attendant, and if in a critical situation I would probably be one of the only survivors as I knew where the exits were and what to do,” he said.

The best advice he ever got was “train for the worst and hope for the best,” Uhrig said.

The Sheriff’s Department is sending Deputy Mike Guynn to active-shooter training so that he can teach groups how to prepare.

As the conversation at the museum came back to the synagogue shooting, ADL spokeswoman Cyndi Silverman said that Jews have faced a lot of hatred, and while they can’t control other people there are protective measures and steps they can take.

“The haters really do hate us. I have met with FBI agents that study the psychology of extremist groups and, for whatever reason, they hate other people. We can’t be fearful every time we gather for prayer or host an event. We can be prepared, though,” Silverman said.

More information is available at Groups who want to schedule active-shooter training with Guynn can call the sheriff’s Solvang substation at 805-688-5000.