If a shooter is able to circumvent security by whatever means and enters the school, we transition to the third and last ring of defense: response. There’s no solution at this point that will result in zero casualties every time; you have a motivated individual with a firearm facing an unarmed and defenseless school population. However, it’s clearly evident that current active shooter procedures in schools are not working.
The central issue is that we have deviated from the best-practice model taught worldwide to adults, which is “run, hide, fight”. It’s been the policy of most school districts since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 to attempt to hide in classrooms. This is ineffective, for many reasons:
- The Secret Service trains agents to “run away” from problems. We always first seek to move the President from a vulnerable area to an area that is less vulnerable, rather than stay and fight. We call this “moving off the X”, where “X” marks the spot chosen by the attacker which gives them the greatest advantages. We start to lessen those advantages by moving out of the ambush zone.
- Moving targets are much, much harder to hit, especially by an untrained shooter. The first time I shot a pistol I was 22 years old, in the military. Overly confident and eager to show my classmates my skills, I lined up with the paper target — about twenty feet away — squinted down the sights and pulled the trigger. I missed the thing entirely. There’s a reason why soldiers, hunters, and police practice for hundreds of hours shooting at targets — it’s hard. Your average school shooter is not going to have that practice, and that day might even be the first time they’ve fired a weapon. Add in extreme stress, fear, and moving targets, and hitting anything becomes incredibly difficult.
- The idea of hiding was predicated on the assumption that a shooter would encounter a locked door or a dark classroom, and decide that the classroom was empty. How realistic is this? How many empty classrooms does a typical school have on a given day? And haven’t we been training students — i.e., the school shooters — for the last 23 years that a dark classroom is actually full of kids hiding under desks?
The counter-argument to running away is that kids are incapable of running — which is not true — or that some kids are incapable of running (they’re too young, impaired, etc), which is true. Realize that the “run, hide, fight” procedure still lists hiding as an option. It should just not be your first option, and used only if a teacher or students cannot run, for whatever reason. Hiding is also much more effective if only one or two classrooms are hiding, rather than the entire school.
We need to run as our first and best option. During Hawkeye S3’s campus survey, we identify the most expedient route for every classroom to multiple exterior rally points. Maps are provided to each classroom showing this unique route. Often the route will be out a window. If windows in the classroom don’t open, a pry bar tool needs to be available to smash the window and sweep off the glass fragments. Such a pry bar tool also can be used as a last-ditch defensive weapon. If the route is down a hallway, cameras in those hallways (viewable by authorized school staff on their computers or phones) can help the teacher know whether the shooter is on their path before they attempt to evacuate.
Obviously, these routes will often vary wildly from the established fire evacuation routes, which are conducted with students walking calmly out one or two main doors in single file. An active shooter situation is a deadly crisis situation! GET OUT OF THE BUILDING NOW by whatever means necessary and run to a safe distance.
We do not advocate conducting active shooter drills with students, as not only is this training future shooters on what we’re going to do, it’s also impossible to realistically simulate, is unnecessarily stressful for kids, and provides no meaningful benefit. We do recommend teachers become intimately familiar with their particular evacuation route, as well as the location and use of their keys, pry bar, phone, first aid trauma kit, etc. They should physically walk their entire route at least once.
Some examples (and results) of school shootings where teachers and students hid:
- Sandy Hook. One classroom with two teachers and sixteen students hid in a classroom bathroom. All but one were killed. In a second classroom, two teachers and five students were killed. Two other students successfully hid in the bathroom and survived.
- Parkland. Six victims were killed, and twelve more shot and injured, hiding in classrooms; the attacker fired through the door windows. Five more students were killed trying to re-enter locked classroom doors. Two students were killed hiding in hallway bathrooms.
- Santa Fe. A teacher and fourteen students hid in two storage closets when the back door to their classroom wouldn’t open. Six were killed when the attacker shot through the doors.
- Uvalde. Nineteen students and two teachers killed hiding in two classrooms.
Examples where people evacuated:
- Sandy Hook. In the second classroom mentioned above, nine students were able to run past the gunman and escape. Between one and three students attempting to flee were shot and killed.
- Parkland. Ten students and a teacher were surprised in a hallway by the shooter. They ran; two were killed and three wounded. The attacker later stated the only reason he stopped his rampage was because he believed there were no more people in the school.
- Santa Fe. Between 15 and 20 students successfully opened the back door of one of the targeted classrooms and escaped. Of those who fled, several were wounded but only one (a teacher) was killed, hit as she exited the school down a hallway from the gunman.
- St. Louis. While tragic, only two victims were killed by the gunman; one in a hallway and one in a classroom. The majority of the school attempted to evacuate, some out windows and some by jumping from the second or third floor, causing injuries but no deaths. Evacuation was apparently not the policy at the school, but instinct overruled training.
Unfortunately, even though a growing mountain of evidence shows that hiding in schools is ineffective, most districts’ policies remain unchanged. This problem is only compounded by so-called “experts” in law enforcement, government, and private industry, who continue to perpetuate the myths of active shooter situations. Like most things, change can only come about via pressure on decision makers from those who have a vested interest in a better outcome — which, I’d like to believe, is all of us.