NORFOLK, Va. — When you walk into your local grocery store, hit up the movie theater for the latest film, or even attend church down the road on a Sunday morning, it can be easy to let your guard down in your everyday places.
"Yeah... but that can change in an instant," said Gary Jimerson, Chairman of the Faith-Based Safety and Security Coalition of Hampton Roads as he sat in the pew of COVA Church in Norfolk.
After working years as a private investigator, Jimerson said he decided to help his local faith-based organizations create better security to allow people to feel safe when attending church.
Jimerson said his coalition communicates with other churches if they notice odd behavior or threats. He even helps churches enhance security by training church officials on how to handle certain situations.
After a gunman killed 10 people at a Buffalo, New York grocery store and local activists say someone opened fire near a vigil in Norfolk Sunday night, Jimerson said it's important now more than ever to keep your guard up.
He said you can't solve gun violence overnight, but you can take simple steps to protect yourself in any situation, starting with situational awareness.
"Being aware of your surroundings, where you are, where you can escape," said Jimerson. "If someone comes in and looks like they're angry or is dressed inappropriately for the weather... if they're dressed in a long trench coat and it's summer outside, yeah that's a red flag."
Jimerson said if you see something like that or anything else that may trigger your "gut feeling," the next step is to tell someone quickly. He said don't be afraid to speak up.
"That's a great feeling to know you stopped something like that or had a hand in stopping something like that. The more people are aware, the more these gun incidents are going to stop," said Jimerson. "When something happens, it's too late to be aware."
Jimerson said these simple steps don't just help you get away from a shooting, but more importantly, possibly prevent one from happening. Jimerson, along with members of the coalition and other public safety professionals, host workshops every few weeks, teaching the latest safety tactics.
The next workshop is called S.T.A.R.T. Triage and leaders of the coalition are holding it at the Kempsville Christian Church in Virginia Beach Thursday, May 19 starting at 7 p.m.
After that is a two-day event happening from June 23 to June 24 at Tidewater Community College. It's titled, "Domestic Extremism and Violent Extremism Awareness." It'll help train people to identify certain scenarios and see if there is a problem.
If you'd like to attend these workshops, you can RSVP at the coalition's email.