The Safe and Secure Campus

Training for The Unthinkable

Active Shooter Training 

PHOTO © SIRIPORN PIMPO

While I have heard many horror stories of active shooter trainings gone awry, one call was particularly alarming. A former school employee called to seek assistance in locating an attorney to file a lawsuit against a popular options-based active shooter training program. He related that his arm had been crushed by a police officer who taught the program. He told me that he still cannot use his arm after five surgical procedures, and that while his organization’s workers’ compensation program had covered his medical expenses, he is now permanently disabled.

The caller told me that the training also involved the instructor shooting participants with an Airsoft pistol that had been modified by a police department armorer to fire pellets at much higher velocity. He related that participants were not provided with any protective padding or even protective eye goggles. He further advised that three of the 22 participants in the class had been hospitalized due to injuries received during the training session.

People and organizations that provide or coordinate such reckless training approaches are subject to be named in a civil action they cannot win.

ERM Insurance Company has confirmed payment of more than $1,000,000 in medical bills for Iowa school employees who have been injured in the same training program during a 22-month time frame. They have also confirmed active litigation against Iowa police officials due to these injuries.

As workers’ compensation claims, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations and litigation relating to active shooter training programs proceed around the country, I anticipate that we will see a much clearer picture of what safety procedures courts will be looking for in these types of programs. For now, I thought it might be helpful to describe at least bare-minimum safety requirements to reduce the risk of injuries, death and successful litigation that may help meet the standard of care for options-based active shooter programs.

POINTS TO CONSIDER

  • As with force-on-force training sessions for law enforcement officers, learning activities that involve the throwing of objects at people, hitting them with objects or hitting or kicking with hands and feet require appropriate protective suits, helmets and face shields. Campus employees should not be provided with any less protection than police officers in comparable use-of-force training.
  • Clearly and thoughtfully established safety rules should be communicated to participants and followed rigorously.
  • Participants should be provided adequate cautions that options involving running, throwing objects at an armed aggressor and fighting an armed aggressor can result in serious injury or death if they are misapplied.
  • Participants should be warned that no options-based active shooter training approach has been validated as effective at reducing the chances of serious injury or death in actual active shooter events. They should also be cautioned that students and school officials have been seriously injured and in some instances even killed while trying to disarm people in American schools.
  • Participants should be trained to discern between active shooter incidents and other far more common weapons situations where throwing objects or using force against armed persons could trigger a shooting. For example, participants should be trained that attacking an armed hostage-taker who is not actively harming hostages could increase the chances of serious injury or death. Participants should also be provided with training to handle these situations as well.
  • Training should be in compliance with OSHA requirements that training not place participants in danger of injury.
  • Participants school be required to individually test out on a variety of scenarios with a mix of scenarios where the techniques taught should be used along with other scenarios where the use of force against an individual would be likely to increase danger.

In addition, students should not be taught demonstrably false information, such as:

  • The training program is “best practice.” This sets a very high legal standard that cannot currently be met by any such program.
  • Trainees are protected by Good Samaritan laws if someone is injured or killed when the trainee attempts to use the techniques taught.
  • The majority of people who lock down in school shootings are killed.
  • The training is endorsed by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

VERIFY THE INFORMATION

These false claims have repeatedly been made in advertising, media interviews, conference presentations and in training sessions and they are simply not true. I have provided post-incident assistance for 12 K–12 active shooter incidents and have seen wildly inaccurate information in every one of these cases. Facts should drive campus safety efforts rather than alarming, emotive and inaccurate stories.

Active Shooter Training 

PHOTO © WK1003MIKE

I have also noticed a tendency for many people to focus too much on inaccurate media and Internet accounts for a small number of highly publicized and catastrophic shootings while not adequately considering the overall historical patterns of extreme campus violence.

For example, there were four planned school shootings where the attackers have used a combination of fire and firearms in U.S. K–12 schools from 1974 to 2013. There have also been a number of incidents in the U.S. and abroad where fire itself has been used as a weapon in attacks at K–12 and higher education campuses, including the devastating 1958 school arson attack at the Our Lady of Angels Sacred Hearts School in Chicago that left 95 staff and students dead. While some argue that this type of attack cannot happen in modern times due to improved fire codes, this is not a safe assumption. For example, a killer used a can of gasoline and a lighter to kill 46 people on a commuter bus in the Fujian Province of China in 2014. In another example, an attacker used two milk cartons filled with flammable liquids to murder 192 people and seriously injure another 151 victims in a subway attack in Daegu, South Korea, in 2003. These and other attacks provide ample evidence that we must consider other forms of mass casualty violence.

EDGED-WEAPON AND OTHER ATTACKS

The clear pattern of dozens of mass casualty campus edged-weapons attacks with more than 200 victims who have been seriously injured or killed in the U.S. and abroad over the past 15 years is another example of why it can be dangerous to focus too intently on any one attack methodology. This type of over-emphasis can leave people vulnerable whenever an attacker makes a simple switch in methodology. For example, people using vehicles to attack groups of victims, which have occurred in Israel for more than a decade and, as we have seen, in other countries as well. Active shooter training programs that do not provide options for a variety of mass casualty attack methodologies are myopic and leave institutions that rely on them highly vulnerable to easy-to-carry-out and deadly alternative attack methodologies.

While I believe that some current options-based active shooter training programs could be improved to meet the legal standard of care, there are multiple programs that, in my opinion, will not be able to meet the standard of care if properly challenged by competent legal counsel during litigation. More effective, reliable and reasonably safe training programs can and should be developed to train campus employees how they can increase survivability of staff and students during active shooter incidents and other types of common and uncommon but catastrophic weapons situations.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

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