Is Active Shooter Training Worth It? Use Common Sense When Training Non-Security Employees

There are a lot of good campus safety and security training programs available, but which ones are worth your non-security staff members’ time and effort?

Is Active Shooter Training Worth It? Use Common Sense When Training Non-Security Employees

Organizations are focusing way too much attention on non-security employee active shooter response at the expense of other training, drills, exercises and solutions that will save many more lives. Photo: iStock

Prompted by our nation’s highly-publicized active shooter tragedies, campuses are training a much wider range of their employees (teachers, administrators, clinicians, etc.) on how to respond to campus shootings. Although lockdown drills are important, organizations are focusing way too much attention on active shooter response at the expense of other training, drills, exercises and solutions that will save many more lives.

It’s time for us to adjust our perspective on the active shooter threat. The chances of anyone being killed by a gun at a school, university or hospital are extremely remote, and the chances of them being killed by an active shooter anywhere are even lower. A student is much more likely to die on his or her way to or from school or suffer a life-threatening injury while playing interscholastic sports.

For a campus to truly improve safety and security, the topics that non-public safety employee training should cover include:

  1. Mental health: Staff must learn how to identify and respond to students, patients, parents, visitors and other employees who are struggling with depression, suicide ideation, addiction and more. Since most active shooters struggle with mental health issues themselves (they are a very small subset of the much larger number of individuals who experience mental illness), mental health training will also help to address campus shootings.
  2. Medical emergencies: Bystanders should know how to administer medical treatment to individuals experiencing health crises in the critical minutes after an incident and before first responders arrive on scene. Common medical risks include cardiac arrest, choking, drowning, opioid overdose, anaphylaxis, and major trauma and bleeding.
  3. Workplace violence: Staff should learn how to recognize, respond to and report these incidents, which happen frequently in hospitals, but also occur on college and K-12 campuses. Domestic/dating violence should be included in any workplace violence program.
  4. General and specific student supervision: Appropriate student supervision addresses student behavior and can help reduce bullying, harassment and intimidation, as well as non-custodial parent issues. Supervision training can also address lab, shop and locker room safety issues, as well as students crossing a busy street or even students with individualized education plans who are experiencing challenges.
  5. Verbal de-escalation: Employees who receive this type of training learn how to de-escalate a situation before it becomes physically violent. Such training includes developing empathy for the individual acting out, avoiding exhibiting non-verbal cues that could be threatening, setting and enforcing reasonable limits and more.
  6. Sexual violence: There is an extremely high rate of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, stalking and domestic/dating violence on campuses. Employees should be trained how to identify this type of violence, receive a report of an incident and pass that information on to the proper administrators and/or authorities.
  7. All-hazards incident response: There are a wide variety risks a campus could face — a tornado, earthquake, fire, lightning, Hazmat issues, someone carrying a knife or hammer who is making threats, a crime that happens off-campus that comes onto campus, etc. Staff members should learn how to think on their feet to effectively address safety and security issues that often fly under the radar.

Another point to consider when developing training programs is for them to focus on health and happiness rather than use scare tactics that could create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Truth be told, schools, universities and hospitals are very safe places. All training programs — but particularly ones that deal with mental health, workplace violence, student supervision, verbal de-escalation and sexual violence — should create a campus climate and culture that encourages mutual respect and a healthy environment for everyone.

Organizations that focus on these seven types of training (which, by the way, can also help them prevent and respond to active shooter situations) will be better prepared to address the safety and security problems they are most likely to face. This is not to say that active shooter/lockdown drills shouldn’t be a component (and we’ll be providing lockdown/active lethal threat training at all three of our Campus Safety Conferences this summer), but they should in no way dominate campus safety training efforts.

Additionally, trainers need to use common sense and minimize the potential for trauma that training exercise participants might experience. For example, teachers from an Indiana elementary school who were participating in active shooter drill in January say that sheriff’s officers made them kneel down against a classroom wall before shooting them in their backs with plastic airsoft pellets without warning.

There is no reason why this drill needed to include a mock execution. What were the officers thinking?

With the horrific details of active shooter attacks bombarding the headlines, it’s understandable why so many people believe these attacks are happening all the time. The danger with this erroneous perception is that it could lead us to abandon our common sense and invest in unnecessary training and dangerous “solutions,” such as arming non-law enforcement staff or purchasing non-code-compliant classroom barricade devices.

Instead of freaking out, making bad decisions and wearing out our non-security employees, let’s leverage the awareness that active shooter tragedies provide to really improve campus safety. Let’s keep our heads on straight, do our homework and adopt the training, drills, exercises and solutions that will have the greatest impact and save the most lives.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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3 responses to “Is Active Shooter Training Worth It? Use Common Sense When Training Non-Security Employees”

  1. Don says:

    Thank you for such a sober and straight-forward article on the entire current active shooter safety and threat picture. We are in the 4th year of providing a more successful approach for active shooter and general preparedness training.

    Many safety and security professionals today are looking “Beyond Run Hide Fight”, to a less traumatic and more process-driven training and assessment approach. It’s good to see in so many different areas and industries that there is a quickly-evolving, active and curious audience for alternative active shooter and all hazards methods.

  2. like it says:

    Hi to evedry , since Iam actually keen of reading this weblog’s post to be updated on a regular basis.
    It contains good stuff.

  3. Greg Walker says:

    I agree that the training process needs developing as regards to active shooter but have you ever been involved in one of these incidents? Its not friendly and Its scary as hell.
    Maybe I’m misreading the article and I don’t think you mean harm but run hide fight is not a bad process. Its a way. Not the way. But if you’ve ever been in a shooting this actually happens.
    What the sheriffs office did in training may not have been the wisest approach but this happens in real time.
    Columbine is a great example on how “Murphy” effects any situation.
    There is nothing about “Active Shooter” training that is pleasant. And what we need is more talk about how to truly deal with these situations with real dialogue. And then put it in action. Even if its not comfortable.
    Statistically most people won’t experience this type of event however training is a necessity. Real time stuff.
    We can learn from the recent Wal-Mart incidents and other horrible active shooter events to know what to do and how to train better and more effectively. Especially in the area of medical aid.
    Did you know that Fire Departments won’t always go into a hot or warm zone? They can’t. That means that you or your loved one may have to help wounded. Or yourself before aid ever gets there.
    We need to discuss these things and train.
    Better to have a skill and not use it than to need it in a time of crisis and not have it.
    Thank you for your article and dialogue.

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