It happened this same week in late August back in 2006. Paul Llanez was an undercover cop in Merced when he was involved in a shootout with a suspect that left one officer injured. Afterward, Llanez realized a crucial truth about his job: In a high-stress situation, a person always defaults to their lowest level of training, which could mean the difference between life and death.
That’s the mentality he’s bringing to his current job as president of Knowledge Saves Lives, a Merced-based company that offers crisis training to help civilians save their own lives and the lives of others.
Founded in 2010, the company originally offered help to juveniles with disciplinary problems. They had developed a plan for “lockdowns” – before the term became a household word – but it wasn’t their main focus. And then, two years later, Sandy Hook happened. A shooter killed 26 people, including 20 children, at an elementary school in Connecticut. Llanez sensed there was a need for high-quality crisis training and emergency preparedness at schools, businesses and other public places. So he started putting together a team of experienced professionals in public safety and law enforcement.
“That tragedy happened, and then schools actually started to call and say, ‘Hey, we’ve heard bits and pieces about this program. What is it and what do you guys actually do?,” said Llanez. “We started looking into it and building a curriculum. It wasn’t really an active shooter curriculum. It was more overall emergency preparedness. But as that kind of grew and morphed, our staff that was putting this together started to grow.”
Their first training was in 2013 at Charleston Elementary School in Los Banos. Six months after the training, Llanez said, a person showed up at the school with a gunshot wound from a drug deal gone bad. Within 40 seconds the campus was fully locked down, thanks to the training.
“We realized, OK, what we’re teaching people actually works,” he said. “So we’ve just expanded upon that over the last 10 years.”
The company now has around 40 employees in both Merced, Sacramento and Southern California, with 750 years of combined experience in public safety. Llanez himself has 20 years worth of law enforcement experience. The Fresno native worked in the Los Banos Police Department as well as the Merced Narcotics Task Force. His team has worked with major insurance companies, businesses and over 200 school districts around the state in providing detailed plans on what to do in an emergency. Last year they trained over 50,000 people, according to Llanez.
“We teach them how to physically lock doors, how to find the best routes to evacuate if needed. And we teach them basic situational awareness skills,” he said.
They offer a list of services, from site-specific lockdown training to risk assessments for schools and expert advice on installing security systems like surveillance cameras. They even sell a patented door-lock mechanism called the STEP1 device. It’s the result of several years of work by a staff engineer, who designed it to meet California building and retrofitting codes. Llanez said in-house research of active shooter events in schools has shown that nobody who was able to make it behind a locked door has ever been injured or killed.
“We seek out the best professional speakers and instructors who can share those life experiences, because that’s what I think is really important. It’s not necessarily the ins and outs of what we’re gonna give you in your workspace, but how much confidence we can build in somebody to say, ‘Hey, if something does happen, I know I know what I’m gonna do. I know what my options are,’” he said. “That’s really what we’ve taken pride in doing.”