Schools Train for Fires – Why Not Train for Shootings?

By William J. Smith

Anyone who attended grade school within the last fifty years will certainly recall time spent on the school lawn or in the parking lot waiting for the fire alarm to be reset. Semester after semester, year after year, fire drills were simply another aspect of our lives as students. While we all remember fire drills, how many of us could cite the number of casualties caused by fires at U.S. educational institutions for any year?

Active shooter training for schools and colleges.

Between the years of 2007 and 2011, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) reports only one civilian death resulting from a school fire, and approximately 82 injuries. These statistics include nursery, elementary, middle and high schools as well as daycare properties, college classroom buildings and adult education centers.

As Stephen C. Satterly, Jr. states in his Report of Relative Risks of Death in U.S. K-12 Schools (2014), “The U.S. Fire Administration data shows no fatalities for the years of 1992-1998, 2002, and 2003-2005 … School-related fatalities by fire are rare, and no documented instances have been found from 1998-2012.” One might think that such uplifting fire casualty data would inspire schools to address other lethal risk factors encountered on school properties.

When comparing fire-related casualties to firearm-related casualties in educational settings, the latter have far outnumbered the former. Between 2010 and 2015, there were 101 fatalities and 145 injuries recorded as the result of school shootings. That’s 246 physically-affected individuals, and thousands more who have been deeply traumatized and emotionally scarred. Mass school shootings like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College — among many others — evidence the necessity of a shift in risk-factor focus.

Yes, generally schools are becoming more attuned to the real threat of active shooter incidents, but few are actually adopting related policies and procedures, or allocating greater resources toward addressing this pressing safety risk. In any case, neither the quality nor quantity of new emergency strategies will help to improve mortality rates if the procedures are not well practiced. The only way for any new safety plan to become fully effective is to train under its conditions. Just as schools fine-tune fire emergency practices through frequent fire drills, so too must they train students and faculty in the execution of safety strategies under simulated shooting scenarios.

Consider the following baseball analogy. One could study every book ever written on throwing a curve ball, but does that mean that the reader would be able to step onto a pitching mound and throw a curveball? Of course not. Having knowledge of how to do something rarely translates directly into the ability to perform the action on cue. Further, if the pressure of winning or losing the game is introduced, it is almost certain that the individual would be unable to produce the desired pitch when it is most required.

As exemplified in the above analogy, knowing what to do during an active shooter emergency is not nearly the same as the ability to execute the plan with certain proficiency — especially under life-threatening circumstances.

Further, a lack of resources should not be blamed for the dangerous neglect of situational response training in our schools and colleges. Schools and colleges spend billions annually on security products and services. While these purchases certainly play a role in the prevention of certain safety and security issues, it is the lack of situational response training that creates a potentially dangerous environment for students and staff. Devoting adequate time to both instruction and practice is crucial for any plan to be successful.

While some might argue that such training could traumatize younger students — this need not be the case. Experienced school safety professionals understand that situational response drills must be made sensitive to the potential anxiety that can occur in students, especially in elementary grade classes. Using sound instructional techniques such as the ‘Stranger Danger’ model to explain the process for ‘keeping us all safe’ in advance of the training drills is recommended.

Below you will find a list of recommended action steps to implement — and most importantly — practice in your school or college.

Action Plan for Active Shooter Training at Schools and Colleges
  1. First and foremost, schools and colleges must promulgate and adopt policies and procedures for active shooter incidents and incorporate them within their district’s “All Hazard Safety, Security and Emergency Plan.”
  2. Once adopted, districts and their schools — working in coordination with law enforcement and emergency responders — should simulate active shooter scenarios and practice the adopted procedures at least once per year.
  3. Every active shooter drill should be overseen by trained and credentialed monitors who would observe first-hand and report on the effectiveness of the drill.
  4. Schools should consider providing administrators, faculty, and staff with CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) training, or similar instructional programs. Such training could prove highly beneficial in the development of response protocols for your district.

Finally, know that the adoption of an active shooter plan at your school or college is a largely futile enterprise unless the procedures are practiced until they become second nature to students, faculty, administrators, and staff.

About the Author

Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/or by calling 866-531-6560.

What You Can Do

If you believe that schools in your district would benefit from active shooter plans, procedures and drills:

  1. Share this article with school staff members, faculty, administrators, and superintendents.
  2. Link to this article from your correspondence, newsletter, blog, website, or any social media site.
  3. Send this article to your state and local elected representatives.

Please note that this article may be re-posted provided that it presented in its entirety and it includes the author information and contact details.

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