Active Shooter Drills with Students – Good Idea or Bad?

While school shootings, unfortunately, are nothing new, we are seeing them occur with greater frequency.  Without getting into my thoughts on firearms, I will say that preparedness, prevention, and mitigation for mass shooting incidents in schools and other soft targets of opportunity, are multi-faceted.  Shooters are just as much of a persistent threat as hurricanes, tornadoes, or flooding; amplified by the will of the shooter(s) to do harm and their ability to reason through paths of deterrence.  While a number of measures can and should continue to be implemented to prevent and protect soft targets, just as we do with natural hazards, we must continue to prepare for an attack that slips past or through our preventative measures.

Readers will know that I’m a huge advocate of exercises in the emergency management/public safety/homeland security space.  While the primary purpose of exercises is to validate plans, policies, and procedures; we also use them to practice and reinforce activities.  Certainly every school, college, shopping mall, office building, and other mass gathering space should hold active shooter drills.  Many of these facilities already conduct regular fire evacuation drills, and shooter drills should also be added to the mix.

Where to start?  First of all, you need a plan.  ALL EXERCISES START WITH A PLAN.  The sheer number of exercises I’ve seen conducted with no plan or a knowingly poor plan in place is staggering.  If people don’t know what to do or how to do it, the value of the exercise is greatly diminished.  If you are a responsible party for any of these spaces, reach out to your local law enforcement and emergency management office for assistance in developing an active shooter protection plan.  If you are a regulated facility, such as a school or hospital, the state offices that provide your oversight are also a resource.  You can find some planning guidance here and here.   While your focus with this activity is an active shooter protection plan, recognize that you will also need to re-visit the public information component of your emergency operations plan (you have one, right?) and your business continuity plan, as I guarantee you will need to reference these in the event of a shooting incident.  A final note on planning… don’t do it in a vacuum!  It should be a collaborative effort with all relevant stakeholders.

As for exercises, consider what you want to accomplish and who needs to be involved.  In a mall, it’s not wise to include shoppers in exercises since they are a transient audience and forcing their involvement will very likely be some bad PR and impact stores financially.  That said, you need to anticipate that mall shoppers won’t know what to do or how to react to a shooter, therefore mall staff need to be very forceful and persistent in how they deal with patrons in such an incident.  Therefore, involving mall staff along with law enforcement and other stakeholders in an off-hours exercise is a great idea.

Schools, however, are a different situation, as their populations are static for an extended period of time.  While school faculty and staff should exercise with law enforcement, there are different thoughts on how and when to involve kids in these exercises.  There are some that advocate their involvement, while there are some who are adamantly opposed.  I reflect back on fire evacuation drills, which occur with regularity in schools. These drills reinforce procedure and behavior with students.  They know they need to line up and proceed calmly and well behaved along a designated path to exit the building, proceeding to a meeting spot where teachers maintain order and accountability.  These are behaviors that stick with many into adulthood if they find themselves in a fire evacuation (drill or otherwise) – so it’s also a learning experience.  The same holds for tornado and earthquake drills, which are held regularly in many areas around the country.  Fundamentally, for a shooter situation, we also need to reinforce procedure and behavior with students.  They need to know what to do in lockdown, lockout, and evacuation.

The prospect of a shooter is a horrible thing for anyone to deal with, much less a child.  I’ve spoken to parents who, themselves, are horrified about the prospect of speaking to their children about a shooter in their school.  In every occasion, I’ve said this: You damn well better talk to them about it.  This is a discussion with perhaps greater importance than talks about strangers, drugs, alcohol, or sex; and it needs to begin with children from kindergarten on up.  Schools need to teach students what to do when the alert occurs for an active shooter – typically this involves getting them safely out of view from someone who might be in the hallway while teachers lock or barricade the door and turn off lights.  Students need to understand the gravity of the situation and remain still and quiet.  Evacuation will generally only occur under someone’s direction.  There will be loud noises and it’s likely the police won’t speak kindly as they are clearing rooms, looking for a shooter and potential devices.  To be certain, it’s scary for adults and I wish our children didn’t have to endure such a thing, but practicing and reinforcing procedures and behavior will save lives.  I’ll offer this article, that discusses some of the potential psychological impacts of shooter drills on kids.  These impacts are a reality we also need to deal with, but I think the benefits of the drills far outweigh the costs.

Mass shootings, like most aspects of public safety, underscore the need for us to do better not only in public safety response, but also as a society.  The answers aren’t easy and there is no magic pill that will provide a solution to it all.  It requires a multifaceted approach on the part of multiple stakeholders, sadly even those as young as four years old, to prepare, prevent, and protect.

© 2018 – Timothy M. Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

States Rushing to Limit the Use of Drones by Law Enforcement

Tim RieckerInspired by this Washington Times article.  I must say I don’t understand why people are protesting the use of drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) domestically.  Yes, they fly; and they have cameras with telephoto lenses.  Their use, however, from a law enforcement perspective is largely no different from that of helicopters or small fixed-wing aircraft – except at a much lower cost and no danger of physical harm to individuals, such as pilots or crew, which occur far too often – mostly with helicopters.  I think portions of the public have greatly overreacted to what they have seen of the military versions of these drones by way of mass media.  They certainly do have great capability in that theater, but use domestically is vastly different – especially being that they aren’t armed with hellfire missiles and the like.  Now with politicians weighing in, the over-reaction continues, and at a detriment to public safety.

I truly hope that a compromise can be found with people realizing that the use of drones, within all current standards of surveillance, warrants, etc., is not a threat to their privacy.  It is, in fact, a demonstration of smart government, leveraging technology to enhance capabilities at a lower cost and increased safety.  In aerial surveillance, drones can be used for nearly anything a helicopter or small fixed-wing aircraft could be used for; including rapid deployment after a shooting or robbery to look for a subject, or to find an Alzheimer’s patient gone missing.  These are noble and proper efforts that I hope won’t be impeded by knee jerk reactions based upon misinformation.

What are your thoughts?  Am I missing something here?

Reblog – School Security

Excellent guidance, not only for schools but for other facilities as well.

Diamond Security

School EntranceAlthough the facts remain unclear as to how Adam Lanza, 20, was able to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School and kill 26 children and adults on Friday, news reports indicate he forced his way into the front entrance, possibly by shooting out or somehow breaking glass in the office’s door or window. It has also been reported that the front entrance was equipped with an intercom/camera system designed to screen visitors. Additionally, all of the other entrances/exits to the school were locked by the time Lanza entered the school.

What the official investigation will reveal remains to be seen. That said, considering the attack began at the school’s front door, it would behoove K-5 officials to review the security of their campuses’ entrances.

If anything good can come from Sandy Hook, it’s the knowledge that the security upgrades recently implemented at the school, as well as the heroic actions of…

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NYPD Active Shooter Recommendations and Analysis – December 2012

Timothy Riecker

NYPD Logo

This document, updated by NYPD last month in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, was brought to my attention through LLIS.  It’s also posted on the NYPD’s website here.  This document is a good compilation of practitioner research; official recommendations suitable for schools, businesses, and public buildings; and reflects on the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ recommendations we’ve seen (NYPD’s version is a little more of a mouth-full – Evacuate, Hide, Take Action).  I like that they provide some information relative to attackers including gender, age, number of attackers (98% of active shooter incidents are carried out by a single attacker), planning tactics, targets, number of casualties, location of attack, weapons used, attack resolution, and other statistics – with this data provided for over 300 case studies (all included in the document).

The real value of this document is that the information which is provided to the reader allows for better informed (instead of emotional or ‘trendy’) decisions on facility security and planning relative to active shooter scenarios.

Thanks to the fine folks at NYPD for doing this work and sharing it with the public safety community.

Active Shooter Info from DHS

Good active shooter info from DHS.

The Security Takeaway

The tragedy in Newtown, Conn.  raised awareness of the Active Shooter threat. Listed below please find links to a number of reference and training resources which highlight response to the Active Shooter threat.

DHS Reference Materials:

DHS, Active Shooter – Booklet:   How to Respond www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf

 FEMA Online Courses:

Active Shooter:  What You Can Do http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS907.asp

 

 

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10 Myths About Mass Shootings

Last night I came across a blog by James Alan Fox, a Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University.  The blog was posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education and provides some interesting information relative to mass shootings.  Sadly, it doesn’t provide us with any conclusions or solutions, but does dispel some of the concepts and information that are out there about mass shootings.  Information like this will hopefully prevent us from diving into knee-jerk reactions.

The worst part of all this is that there is often times not actionable intelligence that law enforcement can follow-up on to prevent these types of incidents.  It’s not anything like an organized terrorist effort that involves a great deal of communication between conspirators.  The result is that mass shootings can occur literally anywhere and at any time.  Schools, movie theaters, community centers, malls, restaurants, and post offices are all among the places we go and expect to be safe.  We all wish we had an answer.

Here’s Professor Fox’s blog…

Top 10 Myths About Mass Shootings

December 18, 2012, 2:42 pm

By James Alan Fox

Even before the death toll in last Friday’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn., was determined, politicians, pundits, and professors of varied disciplines were all over the news, pushing their proposals for change. Some talked about the role of guns, others about mental-health services, and still more about the need for better security in schools and other public places. Whatever their agenda and the passion behind it, those advocates made certain explicit or implied assumptions about patterns in mass murder and the profile of the assailants. Unfortunately, those assumptions do not always align with the facts.

Myth: Mass shootings are on the rise. Reality: Over the past three decades, there has been an average of 20 mass shootings a year in the United States, each with at least four victims killed by gunfire. Occasionally, and mostly by sheer coincidence, several episodes have been clustered closely in time. Over all, however, there has not been an upward trajectory. To the contrary, the real growth has been in the style and pervasiveness of news-media coverage, thanks in large part to technological advances in reporting.

Myth: Mass murderers snap and kill indiscriminately. Reality: Mass murderers typically plan their assaults for days, weeks, or months. They are deliberate in preparing their missions and determined to follow through, no matter what impediments are placed in their path.

Myth: Enhanced background checks will keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of these madmen. Reality: Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weapons legally. Certainly, people cannot be denied their Second Amendment rights just because they look strange or act in an odd manner. Besides, mass killers could always find an alternative way of securing the needed weaponry, even if they had to steal from family members or friends.

Myth: Restoring the federal ban on assault weapons will prevent these horrible crimes. Reality: The overwhelming majority of mass murderers use firearms that would not be restricted by an assault-weapons ban. In fact, semiautomatic handguns are far more prevalent in mass shootings. Of course, limiting the size of ammunition clips would at least force a gunman to pause to reload or switch weapons.

Myth: Greater attention and response to the telltale warning signs will allow us to identify would-be mass killers before they act. Reality: While there are some common features in the profile of a mass murderer (depression, resentment, social isolation, tendency to blame others for their misfortunes, fascination with violence, and interest in weaponry), those characteristics are all fairly prevalent in the general population. Any attempt to predict would produce many false positives. Actually, the telltale warning signs come into clear focus only after the deadly deed.

Myth: Widening the availability of mental-health services and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness will allow unstable individuals to get the treatment they need. Reality: With their tendency to externalize blame and see themselves as victims of mistreatment, mass murderers perceive the problem to be in others, not themselves. They would generally resist attempts to encourage them to seek help. And, besides, our constant references to mass murderers as “wackos” or “sickos” don’t do much to destigmatize the mentally ill.

Myth: Increasing security in schools and other places will deter mass murder. Reality: Most security measures will serve only as a minor inconvenience for those who are dead set on mass murder. If anything, excessive security and a fortress-like environment serve as a constant reminder of danger and vulnerability.

Myth: Students need to be prepared for the worst by participating in lockdown drills. Reality: Lockdown drills can be very traumatizing, especially for young children. Also, it is questionable whether they would recall those lessons amid the hysteria associated with an actual shooting. The faculty and staff need to be adequately trained, and the kids just advised to listen to instructions. Schools should take the same low-key approach to the unlikely event of a shooting as the airlines do to the unlikely event of a crash. Passengers aren’t drilled in evacuation procedures but can assume the crew is sufficiently trained.

Myth: Expanding “right to carry” provisions will deter mass killers or at least stop them in their tracks and reduce the body counts. Reality: Mass killers are often described by surviving witnesses as being relaxed and calm during their rampages, owing to their level of planning. In contrast, the rest of us are taken by surprise and respond frantically. A sudden and wild shootout involving the assailant and citizens armed with concealed weapons would potentially catch countless innocent victims in the crossfire.

Myth: We just need to enforce existing gun laws as well as increase the threat of the death penalty. Reality: Mass killers typically expect to die, usually by their own hand or else by first responders. Nothing in the way of prosecution or punishment would divert them from their missions. They are ready to leave their miserable existence, but want some payback first.

In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown school shootings, there seems to be great momentum to establish policies and procedures designed to make us all safer. Sensible gun laws, affordable mental-health care, and reasonable security measures are all worthwhile, and would enhance the well-being of millions of Americans. We shouldn’t, however, expect such efforts to take a big bite out of mass murder. Of course, a nibble or two would be reason enough.

Mass Shooting Information – reblog

There are a handful of bloggers in the public safety field who are posting about active shooters, obviously as a follow up to the horrific incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Dr. Sheila Sund (The Disaster Doc) not only provides the current industry guidance in her post, but also provides some information on mass shootings.

disasterdoc

After the events of the last week, there is nothing else I can write about for my scary topic. My normal writing style won’t fit this serious topic, so let’s get right to important information we should know, balanced with pictures to remind us how it should be!

First Some Facts

There is so much posted on this topic – be careful believing what you read! I checked original sources as much as possible, looking for strict definitions and statistical analysis, but I encourage you to do your own research.

Mother Jones tracked mass murder active shooting events from 1982 on. According to their Guide to Mass Shootings in America, there were at least 62 mass murder events in the United States in the last 30 years. They use a FBI definition for mass murder as someone who kills at least 4 people in a single incident, primarily in a single place…

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