Monday, September 22, 2008

Sit and Dwell or Run Like Hell

Sit and Dwell or Run Like Hell: Operations & Tactics at "Sit and Dwell or Run Like Hell
Rethinking School Active Shooter Procedures

Posted: Monday, September 22, 2008
Updated: September 21st, 2008 07:04 PM EDT

Security Strategies Contributor

At the start of each school year students enter their new classrooms with seemingly high aspirations, full of energy and look forward to meeting their new teachers and classmates. Traditionally, the focus of education has been delivering up to date curriculum so that our kids leave the classroom with knowledge, skills and abilities that make them marketable. We want them to be productive, law-abiding citizens. That's the way it used to be; it was the central focus. Today, there are competing influences within our local school districts other than offering a good education. Safety has become a paramount concern given the ever growing incidents of active shooters in our academic environments.

As a former law enforcement officer, police/security professional trainer, and current educator, I have a unique perspective on school violence. I know of other teachers whose number one concern isn't developing the young minds in their midst, but rather keeping their kids safe (and themselves too) for the 7 hours they have them. I've seen the trend and the resulting changes not only from an officer trained to respond to an incident in "Quad" fashion, but as a teacher performing lock downs. However, when evaluating the typical school lock-down procedure (as a teacher with the mindset of a cop) in response to an armed aggressor inside of the building, something just doesn't make sense.

The notion that students, staff and faculty should immediately take cover and hunker down when a gunman enters the school is based on the conventional physical security supposition, better known as the 4 Ds. Basically, Delay, Deter, Detect, and Deny, with great emphasis placed on Delaying the gunman from entering rooms packed with kids, via a locked door, and blasting away. As we all know, the strategy is to stall for time so that 3 - 4 officers can arrive on scene, form up, tactically enter, find and neutralize the shooter. My issue is not taking fault with the 4 Ds in general, because the concept is useful and well established, but I argue that lock-down procedures are inherently flawed, because we focus on the wrong D first.

Any basic police academy rookie will attest that shooting range qualification is rather easy when your target is standing still. Later in my career, when I went through the SWAT Qualification Course I found that my shooting skills were really put to the test when firing on the move in confined spaces. This simply highlights what common sense denotes to be true: If you are the shooter then you want your target to be standing still; if you are the target then you want to be moving.

Academia is filled with complex learning theories. Genetic Epistemology is one of them. To an educator it means there are studies that centralize the accumulation of knowledge and its limitations. Further deduced for the working cop, that same theory means that just because someone is smart doesn't mean they know everything. Instead of always being the instructor, educational administrators should be the student once in a while and learn from those who earn a-living dodging bullets, notably law enforcement and the military. Police Officers are trained to seek cover and concealment as they move. Small unit infantry tactics taught in the U.S. Army stress "Shoot, Move, and Communicate". The underlying principle: a moving target is hard to hit. Since this is true then why are we conditioning our kids through lock-down drills to stay still? Are school lock-down procedures leading them to the slaughter?

We need to focus on using the right D in its appropriate order, which begins with Detecting a threat before it arrives at your front door. What have we learned after enduring mass killings in our schools over the last decade? Someone always knew that someday it would come, because the killers told people. The victims chose to think the threat would never materialize. We need to develop situational awareness training for teachers, staff and faculty that serve as a means to cultivate, vet, process and disseminate information, much like debriefing confidential informants in the drug enforcement world.

Deterring a potential gunman begins with appearance. If the facility looks unprotected or is determined to be easily infiltrated (entering without being immediately challenged) then your location becomes the target rather than someone else. When the mass killing of our children is the goal of a murderer, regardless of age, then the physical security appearance of our schools better look robust. Recently, I attended a review of a new high school that was scheduled to be open this fall semester. No expense was spared by the school board to make the school look as if it were an ivy-league college campus. Of course, planning for physical security was an after-thought; kept to a minimum.

When the gunman arrives we need to invoke mass movement so that the shooter will be Denied the aid of a static target. Police Officers are trained in a technique called "Shot Avoidance", which helps them negate the chance they will be hit by the first rounds fired. This technique could very easily be added into any gym class and applied to sports or fitness. The students would have fun learning the mechanics of the movement, while not knowing that they are actually learning how to avoid gunfire. It's a skill hopefully they will never need, but if they need it they have it.

If a shooter enters the north side of the building, and a PA announcement clearly states "gunman North side of the building" then everyone situated in the East, West and South sides of the facility needs to get out of the building, not lock-themselves down. If you can see the shooter in this environment, then he/she can see you. That is when you use cover and concealment (a.k.a. lock-down), Delaying the lethal encounter. Notice that delaying anything does not guarantee it will not occur, it only slows time down. Hopefully, reinforcements arrives faster than repeated trigger pulls.

As a nation founded on the principals of Christianity, and filled with many good, God fearing, men and women we would like to say that there is no such thing as "acceptable casualties" when it comes to our children. However, that statement is not true, is it? If it were, then the funding of school security would always be a priority and huge, sweeping, changes to active shooter protocols would have been mandated across the country the first time students were killed by a gunman. That hasn't happened has it? What I have suggested above is A way to better our response to such catastrophes, but not the only way. Each district faces unique challenges, special circumstances and their security plan must be looked at individually. If students are expected to treat a serial killer entering their school the same way they would a tornado then perhaps the true killer isn't the gunman; it's us.

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching secondary education and having taught law enforcement, criminal justice and security courses at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career for over 17 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, and to stay current in the field, works part-time as a patrol officer in Northeastern Ohio. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.

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