Former Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary speaks Thursday at the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast in Oakland. Greg Levinsky/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — Shawn O’Leary, a former police chief in Winslow, addressed active shooter threats and how to prepare for and respond to them, during the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast on Thursday morning.

O’Leary, now executive vice president of Auburn-based Dirigo Safety, which provides law enforcement and workplace safety training, said the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be keeping active shooter threats to a minimum this year, but some experts think such incidents could increase in 2021.

“Unfortunately, we believe it’s going to get worse,” said O’Leary, who was police chief in Winslow from 2014 until his retirement in July. “With the election and pandemic, excuse my language, everybody is pissed off.”

Speaking at Waterville Country Club in Oakland, O’Leary said as of October, there have been 538 mass shootings in the United States that have caused 433 deaths and 2,262 injuries. He defined mass shootings as those affecting at least four people.

O’Leary said during an active shooter incident, the most-immediate threats are carried out within 10 to 15 minutes. In making a plan to deal with an active shooter, O’Leary said it is essential to know local law enforcement’s response times.

“Being mentally and physically prepared, that’s really important,” O’Leary said. “What I’m telling you is not that it needs to encompass your life, but what I’m telling you is you need to be prepared.”

O’Leary oversees a variety of Dirigo Safety’s programs and services, including policy development, online training for Maine law enforcement agencies and executive selection and recruitment.

O’Leary reminded his audience that companies victimized by active shooters can face legal liabilities. MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, for example, was hit with lawsuits after the 2017 shootings.

Business costs to replace or fix property and recover from interruptions can be severe. Workers compensation is an option for individual employees, but O’Leary said the human toll is most important.

“The trauma from an active shooter situation continues for life,” O’Leary said. “If you can prepare (employees) to deal with an active shooter, it makes good business sense.”

O’Leary said the first step in an active shooter situation is for law enforcement to deal with the threat. Then, police and others must look to help victims who are injured or need assistance.

O’Leary said it is important for businesses to train employees. Emergency response plans are critical for businesses, schools and other organizations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires agencies and businesses to provide safe workplaces.

According to a 2018 study by the FBI, a majority of active shooters come from the 20-to-29 age bracket. However, people of many ages have been active shooters. O’Leary said the majority of guns involved in active or mass shootings are obtained legally.

O’Leary said employers must know cues that indicate dangerous behavior. He also encouraged providing resources for those who need help.

O’Leary said he often hears Mainers do not think “it” can happen here — especially in their backyards. He cited a September lockdown at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston as an example of how the threat of an active shooters exists in Maine.

“It does happen,” O’Leary said. “It can happen here. For people who say it can’t happen, we never thought there was going to be a COVID-19, we never thought there was going to be a 9/11. We’re not frightening (people). We’re preparing for something that might take place.”

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