School and workplace shootings and other crises have become routine. Bob Otter wants people to be ready.

A gunman storms into a school, workplace or other public area and begins shooting at will. Just minutes separate life and death for the wounded, many of whom could succumb to their injuries before first responders reach the scene.

A longtime Granville Township firefighter and emergency medical technician is working to empower bystanders in such times of crisis. In February 2018, Bob Otter started CitizenAid, a disaster preparedness company that teaches skills that can save lives between the time someone is wounded and when professional assistance arrives. 

“We’ve been raised to believe that when something bad happens, you call 911 and help arrives,” Otter says. “I’ve been fortunate for 25 years to be that help, but we also need to teach people that there are injuries that will kill people in less than four minutes that could be assisted by civilian care.”

CitizenAid consists of a free app that includes guidance adapted from FBI and Homeland Security programs, a $14 one-hour online course and public treatment kit/wall stations with supplies to help the wounded.

More Central Ohio residents will gain access to the program this fall thanks to CitizenAid’s initiative to provide an online course to a teacher for free for every course purchased. Through a partnership between CitizenAid and five Licking County companies that donated a total of $75,000, every school in Licking County will have CitizenAid equipment in every classroom and every teacher will complete the CitizenAid online training program in preparation for the 2019-20 school year. Every school building will also have multiple CitizenAid wall stations. The five-company partnership consisted of Park National Bank, Licking Memorial Health Systems, Boeing Co., Energy Cooperative and Atrium.

The contribution will impact more than 40,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Park National Bank hopes to roll out the program in five to six more counties this year— including Knox and Clark counties— through the matching effort.

“These incidents are devastating, and the reality is that they happen too frequently,” says Park National Bank President Matthew Miller. “We wanted to put this product in place in branches throughout our entire network of banks, but we also thought it would be great to partner with many local companies to bring this to our school systems.”

In addition to Licking County, Franklin County Public Health purchased 800 treatment kits for 15 school districts along with 580 online classes. With the CitizenAid match, more than 1,100 Franklin County public school teachers can take the course at no cost. The program exists in 50 schools in four other states, and kits are in John Glenn International Airport, Rickenbacker International Airport and Solider Field in Chicago.

Otter developed CitizenAid after a work stint in the United Kingdom introduced him to the Combat Lifesaver Program, created to help British soldiers save the lives of their counterparts on the post-9/11 battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. British studies found that teaching basic trauma care to battlefield soldiers lowered preventable death by 25 percent, and a British army medical director crafted the program for civilian use, mostly in response to public acts of terrorism.

Otter saw the program’s potential in the United States, adapted to a sobering reality of American life— school, workplace and public shootings.

It’s a reality that almost cost Lacey Newman her life. In October 2017, Newman left her California home to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival country music concert in Las Vegas. As a gunman fired rounds from his hotel room into the crowd below, Newman was hit twice. A friend applied pressure to her wounds to prevent her from bleeding to death and found a pickup truck to transport them to the hospital.

During her recovery period the following year, Newman began pursuing training options so she could help others in a crisis. She discovered the CitizenAid course and upon completion, took a survey about the course’s effectiveness. She decided to share her story of survival, prompting Otter to contact her personally.

“She’s the perfect advocate for what we’re trying to do,” Otter says, “She never interfaced with EMS that night but survived because of what her friend and strangers were able to do in a crisis.”

Now a CitizenAid ambassador, Newman says she wants to use her experience to help save lives, just as friends and strangers saved hers.

“Finding CitizenAid was so important because I realized I had this voice, and I survived for a reason,” Newman says. “They’re creating a community of first responders by educating everyone to be able to go from bystander to first responder.”