Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)

Active Shooter Response Training

Suggested reactions can have unintended consequences.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security have recently endorsed the video “Run. Hide. Fight.” for schools as the only response to school weapons incidents. Many campus safety experts and law enforcement officials are deeply concerned about this video. We were so concerned about this approach that we added an entire chapter on it in our upcoming book Staying Alive–How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, which is due out from Barron’s in the spring. We have already seen some very dramatic and disturbing unintended consequences from the use of this video.

Running Can Be Counterintuitive

There is considerable evidence that the video can result in outcomes that are far different than those intended. These outcomes are in stark contrast and and dramatically counter to the verbatim narrative in the video. For example, decades of fire service research demonstrate that it is dangerous to teach people to run in interior spaces to escape life and death situations.

While it might make sense to run from an armed aggressor if you are being attacked in an open area such as a parking lot, many people have died when they attempted to run to escape danger inside buildings. For example, in the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago in 1903, approximately 600 died when people who tried to run from the theater jammed doorways, causing severe blockage of these exits. As former assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department Gregory Thomas points out, whether the danger is from fire or a firearm, when people are afraid and they run to escape a building, they are more likely to die. This means that the first and most recommended option of “Run. Hide. Fight.” is in direct opposition to an extensive body of research showing that the approach can result in loss of human life. This in turns means that any organization using this video must be prepared to counter that body of research during litigation if individuals are killed or injured due to delays in evacuation because they trip or become jammed in a doorway, hallway or stairwell. However, controlled simulations have demonstrated another serious concern with this approach.

Responding to Active Shooters

Controlled simulations reveal that some people who have seen this training video opt to apply the concept of attacking a gunman even though the narrative of the video clearly instructs them to use this approach as a last resort when an active shooter traps them. Our experience has been that some campus employees who have completed one particular two-day live training program that teaches similar concepts have been prone to attack people in scenarios where the instructions from the program have not taught them to do so. For example, one instructor for this program recently emphatically stated that anyone trained in the program could and should try to disarm a student threatening suicide with a gun. In the scenario, the student is 10 to 12 feet from the staff member, is surrounded by other students and has the muzzle of a semi-automatic handgun pressed to his temple with his finger on the trigger. The student has not threatened anyone else, has not fired the weapon and is threatening to shoot only himself. The man who provided this response was a security director for an institution of higher learning. If a security director who is also an instructor for a 16-hour live training program can so dangerously misapply this concept, how easy could it be for a faculty member or a student to do the same thing?

Do the Right Thing

When I completed the police academy, I received 80 hours of intensive training on techniques to disarm aggressors with knives, handguns, rifles and shotguns. After 20 years of law enforcement experience and having survived more than a dozen incidents where someone tried to attack me with firearms, knives and a bayonet, I feel that attempting to disarm the student as depicted in this specific scenario would be beyond reckless.

Though many people reading this may lock into how different these descriptions are from the verbatim content of the “Run. Hide. Fight.” video and live training programs teaching similar approaches, the results in field testing and in one actual incident in a school thus far demonstrate that the reactions of people often do not match the intended messages. I know that many intelligent, highly experienced and well-intended people espouse these approaches. I also have seen with my own eyes that people frequently try to apply the concepts taught in dramatically different ways from those intended.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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