Protection Professionals Debate Campus Active Shooter Response

Experts explain the pros and cons of the various methods of response currently available for civilians, including Run, Hide, Fight; ALICE; and Window of Life.

<p>Schools and universities are also adopting Run, Hide, Fight or other approaches to civilian active shooter response. Photo by Rachel Wilson/Safe Havens International</p>What About Non-Active Shooter Incidents?

One of the greatest challenges with the Fight component to active shooters is knowing when to apply it. What if the situation isn’t an active shooter, but a violent attack on one person? Should a teacher or other administrator step in to stop the attack? According to Spicer, no.

“We recommend that everyone else run away from the area, or if you are in an area where you aren’t close to them, to hide and implement a lockdown,” he says.

Related Article: 9 Tips for More Effective Lockdowns

Without adequate training, it is extremely difficult to quickly recognize what is happening during the first minute of a violent incident. All types — whether they involve an active shooter, a person with a gun or an edged weapon — usually are over in less than five minutes. Often teachers, hospital staff and other administrators don’t identify what they are dealing with until it’s too late.

“If you can recognize disturbing or concerning behavior early, you have more options,” Spicer advises. “If you are in a classroom and you identify a threat outside, that does allow the hide or lockdown to work. If no one recognizes the threat until they are in the hallway or room, your options are extremely limited.”

Teaching staff to identify the verbal and non-verbal indicators of violence (such as the use of profanity) can help them recognize a risk early. Threat assessment teams for K-12 and college campuses, as well as for hospital employee issues, can also help prevent violence.

That being said, sometimes there aren’t any warnings.

“I don’t think a lot of the incidents in hospitals have pre-incident indicators when someone is unhappy with their quality of care and they shoot a particular practitioner or when someone is estranged from their spouse,” says Universal Protection Service Director of Healthcare Services Rick Ward.

Assume the Worst, Hope for the Best

Most of the individuals interviewed for this article believe it is wise to assume the worst when a campus is dealing with an incident or suspicious activity. They can then scale back the response if appropriate.

“We don’t teach overreaction; we teach caution,” says Satterly. “It’s OK to call for a level of response that is not necessary and then back it down, as opposed to the other way.”

View the photo gallery of the campus protection professionals we interviewed for this story.

For example, if a school staff member sees a man sitting in a van outside of school, the campus can call for a preventive lockdown and contact police to check on the driver. If the man’s business is legitimate (e.g. He’s waiting to drop off music for his child who is in the choir), police can ask the man to check in with the front office. If the driver has ill intent, the staff member’s actions just might prevent the abduction of a child or some other crime.

To encourage this cautious and proactive approach, staff, faculty, medical personnel, visitors, patients, students and parents should not be punished for reporting suspicious activity. Additionally, because the first 30 seconds of an incident are most critical, campus line staff should not rely on top administrators for directions on how to respond.

“If you hear gunshots, don’t question it,” says Joe Bellino, who is Memorial Hermann Health Systems’ system executive for security and law enforcement. “It’s a gunshot, and move to the next level. Most people don’t know what gunshots sound like. If you see a person walking down the hallway (who isn’t a plain-clothes police officer wearing a badge), accept it. That’s a behavioral concern.”

<p>Participants in the active shooter exercises hosted by the HASC were provided with the options to run, hide or fight in response to the active shooter. Here, the participants ran, with one helping another flee the ED.</p>Evacuation Removes the Target

A significant portion of campus officials embrace evacuation as the preferred response to an active shooter or other type of gunman or person brandishing any kind weapon for that matter.

“The thing we want to see the most from people is evacuation,” says Hendry. “That’s regardless of the facility or how tall the people are. Evacuation removes the targets, which lowers the body count. [Students, faculty and staff] are already trained in evacuation for fire. The training remains the same.”

Four years ago, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) experienced an active shooter incident, and NOVA Police Chief Daniel Dusseau believes many lives were saved as a result of students quickly evacuating.

“During our 2009 shooting, the student came in with a rifle, and the teacher told everyone in the room to get out,” he says. “When [the gunman] fired the round, there was no one in the room except the teacher.”

As a result of this incident and other developments, last year NOVA embraced Run, Hide, Fight.

“The gazelle doesn’t stay in place when chased by the lion,” Dusseau says. “If you can get out, get out, but we are much more detailed in the explanation.”

In the healthcare setting, some embrace the Run component as the first option despite the fact that it means some patients might be left behind.

“We can all understand why staff would feel torn,” says Ward. “But if you stay in a room with the patients, the potential for both of you to be killed is greater. If you get out and are able to call the authorities, the fact that you are a witness — was there only one shooter? Which direction was he travelling? What does he look like? — that is vital information that needs to be reported. You could potentially save many people, but that’s a personal decision for the caregiver.”

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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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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