If there’s an active shooter in the school, do you know how to respond? Making crucial decisions when facing an unprecedented, life threatening situation can feel completely paralyzing. Does planning, training and running mock drills in preparation for an active shooter event really make a difference? Due to the fact that this type of danger is a reality for any school, I believe the answer is a resounding yes. While there is little doubt that preparedness plans and training are necessary, the type of plans and training is what sparks some controversy. The bottom line is not about whether training should be provided but more so about what type of training is most effective and how it should be conducted.
Learn all your options and be flexible.
It must be understood that there is absolutely no way to prepare for every scenario where an active shooter is concerned. There are just too many variables involved. However, the appropriate measures can still be implemented to move the school from a place of weakness and susceptibility to a position of strength and alertness. Knowledge is power! Learning as much as you can and knowing all your options is important, but so is being able to think on your feet. The ability to be flexible and make critical decisions in seconds, with often very little information, is absolutely key.
Analyze your risk management plan.
Schools need to analyze their risk management plan carefully to account for several factors such as the following:
Physical age, developmental level and physical limitations of students and staff
Any young and/or special needs children will require more attention and direction than others.
Training regimens may need to be adjusted accordingly.
School building design and physical layout
When evacuating a building, the number of floor levels will have to be considered and evaluated.
Points of interest also include the interior layout and whether there are multiple buildings.
The way the staff and students prepare for and respond to an active shooter is dependent upon these conditions. Plans must be made accordingly so that they are both effectively and efficiently followed when the time calls for it.
Teach awareness and warning signs.
Students and staff need to learn the various signs and behaviors to watch out for that possible trouble exists and must report the concern to proper authorities.
Action must then be taken to investigate the potential threat, and have it addressed as necessary.
An escalation of events may often be stopped by just getting someone the help they need.
Focus on prevention strategies.
By taking the necessary actions for determent, a catastrophe can be avoided. Prevention should be of the utmost priority when managing an active shooter risk.
Enforce a “no tolerance” policy for bullying.
Provide an avenue for students to obtain help and/or counseling. Resources for assistance must be made available.
Perform vulnerability assessments to locate gaps within the building.
Have effective security measures in place. It may be necessary to have security personnel on site.
Ensure exterior doors are locked during school hours.
Lock classroom doors during class times.
Limit access! Maintain control points.
Have active local law enforcement involvement. Promote regular visits and appearances.
Minimize confusion with a clear response plan.
Establishing basic procedures, lines of communication, roles and responsibilities, and having the necessary resources to respond to an active shooter event improves the chances for survival.
Implement the run, hide and fight protocol. Emphasis must be put on “run” as the first option with hiding as a last resort. Fighting must be realized as a possibility.
Establish lockdown requirements for both the building and classrooms. Have equipment in place to assist with locking down.
Install an emergency notification system.
Use clear language when making announcements to distinguish an actual active shooter event from a drill.
Have an external emergency contact list available to key personnel.
Provide key personnel with responsibilities.
Strategically place trauma kits throughout the building.
Determine accountability measures that can be acted upon.
Train students and staff in a scheduled and safe manner.
Routine and scheduled response training will allow for quicker reaction times, educated decision making and improved results during such a crisis.
Provide presentations on awareness and preparedness.
Ensure that everyone is familiar with the emergency notification system.
Provide specific training to key personnel on first aid and how to use a trauma kit.
Provide mock drills and/or table top exercises. It is important that any drills are organized and expected by the students as well as the staff. Everyone, including the parents, must be informed accordingly. Also, local law enforcement should be involved.
Are active shooter mock drills beneficial?
Ultimately, there will always be arguments for and against the many different ways to prepare for and respond to an active shooter. The debate surrounding the effectiveness of mock drills has been in many recent discussions.
Opponents to mock drills believe that there can be a negative psychological and emotional impact made on the participants. Also, if not performed correctly, physical injury can result - as was the case when teachers at an Indiana elementary school were left injured and frightened after being shot "execution style" with plastic pellets during an active-shooter training exercise in January 2019.
On the other hand, proponents feel that mock drills provide an effective demonstration of what might occur and help participants prepare accordingly. If performed properly, mock drills can allow for participants to experience as close to an active shooter event as possible without being hurt. As a result, a lasting impression is felt by the participant. I strongly believe it is through these first-hand mock experiences that people are best able to relate to and respond to this kind of an emergency. But the most important thing about any type of mock drill training is to make sure that it is performed correctly and safely.
Questions to ask before mock drill scenarios or option-based trainings:
How can training be provided with less risk of injury? Can adjustments be made and still have the same effect? Is there a safer way of doing things?
Has the agenda been fully disclosed to all the participants? Have all participants agreed to the type of training that has been disclosed and signed off on consent forms?
Have parents, local communities and law enforcement been informed? Is there anyone else that should be notified?
On-Site Emergency Personnel
Should law enforcement or other emergency services be present?
Consider All Possibilities
Has everything that could possibly go wrong been evaluated and addressed?
It must be remembered that due to the unpredictability of active shooter incidents in schools, and how quickly they can evolve, it is impossible to be completely prepared. However, implementing the necessary framework to create a school that is alert, ready and able to act, establishes a foundation that can be built upon to better adapt to any scenario that might present itself.