Feb 19

Active Shooter Response Training

In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, schools across the nation are scrambling to conduct drills to teach students, teachers and staff what to do in the event of an active shooter incident. That is a good thing; there is no doubt that training is an invaluable tool to prepare against the worst of possible circumstances. However, in this rush to train, care must be taken that the procedures taught and practiced are the correct ones. One of the lessons learned from this tragedy is that most school training is not adequate to respond to emergencies other than smoke and fire. In fact, the training protocol at Marjory Stoneman Douglass was the exact thing exploited by the shooter Nikolas Cruz that enabled him to kill seventeen people. Schools must review their procedures and responses to each emergency and a make a determination as to whether the course of action indicated in their emergency action plan is the correct one.

active shooter response planDo most schools have plans that call for the right responses? The answer is no they do not. In fact, one of my own children attended a school where the response to one particular emergency was the exact action contraindicated by every major law enforcement agency in the country. When I asked school administrative personnel how that manifestly incorrect action was in their plan I was told that the local police department told them to do it. I explained in great detail why the response they were implementing was an incredibly dangerous thing to do, could expose the children to greater and unnecessary danger and provided documentation to support my position. The procedures are now being reviewed but you get my point. How many schools in our country are training to do things that are not only incorrect but may lead to injury or death? How many school emergency response protocols may actually be used by an attacker to provide access to more potential victims?

One lesson learned from the Parkland tragedy is the danger of training occupants of schools, high-rise buildings, hotels or public assembly venues to immediately evacuate upon alarm. This is not done in New York City for example. The Fire and Life safety guidelines promulgated by the FDNY specifically directs against automatic evacuation upon alarm. Tenants in New York City high rise buildings are trained to prepare to leave but to await confirmation and direction provided by the trained building Fire Life Safety Director. In Parkland, students and staff were trained to evacuate once the alarm was sounded. The shooter knew this and he deliberately pulled the alarm so that he could attack students as they left the relative safety of their classrooms and spilled into the common areas.

Every school plan must be examined with a critical eye. Go through the all too long list of school shootings and ask whether these incidents could have been prevented, mitigated or contained with the existing plans your school has in place. Understand that what we can ask of a student in high school is clearly not the same as we can with respect to a class of grade school children; the plans must different based upon their age and in the same school different grade `levels may have to be treated differently. Examine the structure of the building and ask whether the walls, doors, locks and furniture in the building could allow for an effective barricade in the event of a shooting incident. Discuss what to do in the event an attack occurred during lunch or between period movement to other classrooms. And ask whether it is not time to teach our children to fight back in defense of their lives when escape or barricading isn’t an option. Simply having a plan in place is not enough. Schools must be absolutely certain that the procedures in their plans will be effective if, G-d forbid, they must ever be implemented.

David Katz is a former US Federal Agent and the CEO of Global Security Group, Inc. (GSG) a firm that has provided training Active Shooter Response Training to thousands of persons in both the public and private sector. He can be reached at 212-285-2400 or dkatz@globalsecuritygroup.com.