Time for a Better Program to Protect from Active Shooter Scenarios

Over the last several years, we have seen blame spread across the board to fulfill a political narrative.  Many organizations have adopted a check-the-box training model, and I, for one, am confused and disappointed at how we continue to accept the loss of our family members yet make no effective changes for preparing individuals for an active shooter/threat incident.  We must stop letting insurance policies dictate our training standards when it comes to protecting ourselves and others.

Understand that meeting minimum state training standards does not equal preparedness.  We all know that a mass shooting incident can occur, but tend to ignore what needs to be done.  This can be linked to the lack of developing an effective training model and why we place blame on systems that have no basis in stopping the incidents from taking place.  Specific gun regulations are definitely not going to solve our problem.  Incidents such as the disaster in 1927 Bath Township, Michigan and the mass killing in 1949 Camden, New Jersey lacked the use of an assault weapon to cause mass casualties.  We have seen attackers use vehicles; explosives; and just knives, such as the 2014 Franklin Regional High School stabbing to cause mass casualties.

We should investigate and develop real long-term solutions to stop tragic events from occurring.  However, also realize that there is no 100% proven system to prevent all active threats, which is why it's imperative that we be proactively postured if all other preventative measures fail.

A portion of our society criticizes those willing to do something, such as those who oppose the "guardian" program in Florida.  Yet the same individuals act shocked and spread blame when such an incident occurs.  Current civilian training models revolve around seminars and e-learning re-occurring training.  These can be informative and provide a great deal of knowledge but cannot fully prepare someone for an incident, nor does it account for in-the-moment observations or when questions arise from techniques being performed.  We tend to utilize the shortest, most convenient mass training model, which historically has failed to prepare us for this type of incident.  A solution to this problem is to ensure that organizations employ a collective approach to training by providing additional focus on identifying behavioral indicators and establishing an efficient and effective reporting model.  This essentially will create force-multipliers of those positioned to identify these behaviors and develop a culture of shared responsibility.

During the aftermath of an active threat incident, we learn about various behavior indicators and warning signs missed, ignored, or reported that were never thoroughly investigated.  The effectiveness of identifying and reporting can be seen with thwarted incidents like those at Uniontown High school and Etowah High School, where potential attackers were apprehended.  Why are some schools and departments having school resource officers (SROs) act as reactive security guards instead of investigative law enforcement officers?  Having a trained officer on site should be a proactive measure, not purely reactive.  SROs should be proactively conducting threat assessments of the school; scanning social media sites and disciplinary reports; and interacting with staff, students, and the community to identify and investigate potential behavioral indicators and the potential for an attack.  Every day, officers utilize proactive investigative techniques for the purpose of deterring a variety of violent and nonviolent crimes.  Shouldn't SROs be using similar efforts to prevent an active shooter or threat?

When speaking with teachers, students, business-owners, and employees, it is disheartening that we have accepted training models that leave more questions than answers.  Teachers are told to lock down rooms yet have rooms that cannot lock, nor are they shown effective solutions to harden a room.  Stacking chairs in front of an outward-opening door does not prevent an attacker from shooting inside the room, although it may actually hinder those inside the room who may be capable of stopping the attacker.  Hardened rooms and hiding locations are not safe rooms.  It is crucial to realize that a response by law enforcement may take several minutes, and we need to be prepared to proactively engage the attacker.  At no time should innocent lives just be left defenseless.    

Anyone who has ever participated in an e-learning course understands that these courses provide generalized information.  Why do organizations opt to use them?  In most cases, officials need to protect themselves and the organization for liability purposes.  The real question we should ask is, when are we going to start putting more emphasis on the innocent lives and being prepared?  Training courses need to be customized to the location, and participants should actively be involved in drills, practical application labs, and scenarios to understand their actions' specific benefits and vulnerabilities.  The majority of research that discusses training and the psychology and physiological influence on decision-making requires some degree of stress exposure and inoculation when preparing individuals for a chaotic situation.  Training that relies solely on drills that resemble fire drills ultimately does a disservice to their participants, as these types of exercises reinforce only a specific action.

Furthermore, why is proactively fighting a last resort?  Some policies state that students, staff, and employees should lie on the floor or under a table with their heads down.  Obviously, training and actions need to be designed with age groups and capabilities in mind, but this leads to a "hope for the best" type of mentality, allowing the attacker to choose whom he harms or kills.  Let's not ignore our instincts and ability to defend ourselves and others.

Taking the fight to the attacker has been demonstrated to work.  Furthermore, violent evolving situations may not allow for alternate options, meaning that you should not have to exhaust all other options prior to trying an effective one.  Examples of this heroism are shown in incidents like the 1998 Thurston High School attack, 2018 shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and more recently attacks at Parkrose High School and the University of North Carolina.  We should be training to work together, not as individuals, so as to enhance our efforts.  Having multiple trained staff working together increases their ability to effectively implement a response, no matter what that response is.

Finally, why is emergency care not a priority being taught across our nation?  Incidents such as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and Virginia Tech document how victims with life-threatening injuries survived due to the pre-hospital lifesaving care.  Emergency care should be at the core of every active shooter/threat training.    

We need to understand that the preparation for an active threat or tragic event is not merely the preparation of our first responders.  The protection of our children rests in every citizen, school employee, parent, and bystander across our nation.  Yes, effective training takes more time than a 45-minute seminar or e-course.  It includes some degree of stress exposure, and while it may not be convenient the truth of the matter, it beats the alternative.  In fact, we have seen what the alternative is, and so far, it has been extremely ineffective.

Over the last several years, we have seen blame spread across the board to fulfill a political narrative.  Many organizations have adopted a check-the-box training model, and I, for one, am confused and disappointed at how we continue to accept the loss of our family members yet make no effective changes for preparing individuals for an active shooter/threat incident.  We must stop letting insurance policies dictate our training standards when it comes to protecting ourselves and others.

Understand that meeting minimum state training standards does not equal preparedness.  We all know that a mass shooting incident can occur, but tend to ignore what needs to be done.  This can be linked to the lack of developing an effective training model and why we place blame on systems that have no basis in stopping the incidents from taking place.  Specific gun regulations are definitely not going to solve our problem.  Incidents such as the disaster in 1927 Bath Township, Michigan and the mass killing in 1949 Camden, New Jersey lacked the use of an assault weapon to cause mass casualties.  We have seen attackers use vehicles; explosives; and just knives, such as the 2014 Franklin Regional High School stabbing to cause mass casualties.

We should investigate and develop real long-term solutions to stop tragic events from occurring.  However, also realize that there is no 100% proven system to prevent all active threats, which is why it's imperative that we be proactively postured if all other preventative measures fail.

A portion of our society criticizes those willing to do something, such as those who oppose the "guardian" program in Florida.  Yet the same individuals act shocked and spread blame when such an incident occurs.  Current civilian training models revolve around seminars and e-learning re-occurring training.  These can be informative and provide a great deal of knowledge but cannot fully prepare someone for an incident, nor does it account for in-the-moment observations or when questions arise from techniques being performed.  We tend to utilize the shortest, most convenient mass training model, which historically has failed to prepare us for this type of incident.  A solution to this problem is to ensure that organizations employ a collective approach to training by providing additional focus on identifying behavioral indicators and establishing an efficient and effective reporting model.  This essentially will create force-multipliers of those positioned to identify these behaviors and develop a culture of shared responsibility.

During the aftermath of an active threat incident, we learn about various behavior indicators and warning signs missed, ignored, or reported that were never thoroughly investigated.  The effectiveness of identifying and reporting can be seen with thwarted incidents like those at Uniontown High school and Etowah High School, where potential attackers were apprehended.  Why are some schools and departments having school resource officers (SROs) act as reactive security guards instead of investigative law enforcement officers?  Having a trained officer on site should be a proactive measure, not purely reactive.  SROs should be proactively conducting threat assessments of the school; scanning social media sites and disciplinary reports; and interacting with staff, students, and the community to identify and investigate potential behavioral indicators and the potential for an attack.  Every day, officers utilize proactive investigative techniques for the purpose of deterring a variety of violent and nonviolent crimes.  Shouldn't SROs be using similar efforts to prevent an active shooter or threat?

When speaking with teachers, students, business-owners, and employees, it is disheartening that we have accepted training models that leave more questions than answers.  Teachers are told to lock down rooms yet have rooms that cannot lock, nor are they shown effective solutions to harden a room.  Stacking chairs in front of an outward-opening door does not prevent an attacker from shooting inside the room, although it may actually hinder those inside the room who may be capable of stopping the attacker.  Hardened rooms and hiding locations are not safe rooms.  It is crucial to realize that a response by law enforcement may take several minutes, and we need to be prepared to proactively engage the attacker.  At no time should innocent lives just be left defenseless.    

Anyone who has ever participated in an e-learning course understands that these courses provide generalized information.  Why do organizations opt to use them?  In most cases, officials need to protect themselves and the organization for liability purposes.  The real question we should ask is, when are we going to start putting more emphasis on the innocent lives and being prepared?  Training courses need to be customized to the location, and participants should actively be involved in drills, practical application labs, and scenarios to understand their actions' specific benefits and vulnerabilities.  The majority of research that discusses training and the psychology and physiological influence on decision-making requires some degree of stress exposure and inoculation when preparing individuals for a chaotic situation.  Training that relies solely on drills that resemble fire drills ultimately does a disservice to their participants, as these types of exercises reinforce only a specific action.

Furthermore, why is proactively fighting a last resort?  Some policies state that students, staff, and employees should lie on the floor or under a table with their heads down.  Obviously, training and actions need to be designed with age groups and capabilities in mind, but this leads to a "hope for the best" type of mentality, allowing the attacker to choose whom he harms or kills.  Let's not ignore our instincts and ability to defend ourselves and others.

Taking the fight to the attacker has been demonstrated to work.  Furthermore, violent evolving situations may not allow for alternate options, meaning that you should not have to exhaust all other options prior to trying an effective one.  Examples of this heroism are shown in incidents like the 1998 Thurston High School attack, 2018 shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and more recently attacks at Parkrose High School and the University of North Carolina.  We should be training to work together, not as individuals, so as to enhance our efforts.  Having multiple trained staff working together increases their ability to effectively implement a response, no matter what that response is.

Finally, why is emergency care not a priority being taught across our nation?  Incidents such as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and Virginia Tech document how victims with life-threatening injuries survived due to the pre-hospital lifesaving care.  Emergency care should be at the core of every active shooter/threat training.    

We need to understand that the preparation for an active threat or tragic event is not merely the preparation of our first responders.  The protection of our children rests in every citizen, school employee, parent, and bystander across our nation.  Yes, effective training takes more time than a 45-minute seminar or e-course.  It includes some degree of stress exposure, and while it may not be convenient the truth of the matter, it beats the alternative.  In fact, we have seen what the alternative is, and so far, it has been extremely ineffective.