Active Shooter Reality Check
by Paul Mendofik / PATC
“Our SWAT Team is the best in the county and will take care of the threat before they can do any substantial harm.”
“We instinctively know what to do during an emergency. People are like that you know.”
Which one of the above is true? The first statement, perhaps the third or all three?
Reality check!! – None.
Where school violence is the issue (particularly lethal threats) there are two opportunities that afford us a chance to successfully thwart the occurrence. One of those opportunities is early identification with intervention. The other is appropriate, quick action when our intervention strategies have not been effective.
Success is synonymous with commitment. That commitment applies to the individual as well as the team. Nothing in the school environment is absent team work. Think about it, whether we are speaking of our children’s arrival at the school or the subject matter presented by faculty. Whether it is the cleanliness of the facility or the meals provided…it’s all team work! That extends to our successes against school violence as well.
There are a variety of stakeholders, parents, teachers, students, law enforcement, medical, fire and so on. We all contribute. The success strategy is like the center hub of a spoked wheel and the stakeholders are the spokes. Take away any spoke and the wheel does not function appropriately. Put excessive stress on any spoke and the wheel may collapse. We need to recognize the true capabilities and limitations of the spokes…of our stakeholders.
Time for a reality check!
When the lethal threat is upon us we must do the one most important thing and that is to survive. The hope is that everyone survives; however there is a significant likelihood that someone other than the attacker will become a fatality.
To defeat a threat, we must understand what it is. Understand the dynamics of the environment (setting), the characteristics of potential victims and the attacker. As we examine each of these three components, we find issues relating to training, physical structure and proper practice. Examining the component relationships we easily imagine overlapping areas. To be successful in minimizing the impact of the threat, it requires a team approach by the stakeholders. Rarely can we draw a line in the sequence of events that allows us to say, “It is your problem now.” Just like our team approach in the development of the Emergency Plan, drawing upon the diversity of the stakeholders we acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be successful.
How long will the lethal rampage last once it has begun in the school? A number of national studies by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service have concluded in the majority of the incidents the elapsed time to be no more than fifteen minutes, many of the lethal events lasted seven minutes or less. There would be little dispute that law enforcement are the most appropriate stakeholder to eliminate a lethal threat. However, think of that timeframe and compare that to the time it may take your law enforcement responders to come from the furthest edge of their jurisdiction. Even if the school has an SRO assigned, he may not be on scene or close to the point of initiation. Will law enforcement have an effective presence on scene in five minutes or will it require twenty-five minutes? How long will it take to mobilize a special weapons and tactics team? These are tough questions with perhaps a distasteful answer.
There are two outcomes for the lethal attackers in our schools. One is they stop their carnage by surrender or apprehension. Two, they become a fatality at their own hand or by the justifiable application of deadly force. When we review the statistical outcome of surrender/apprehension we find the following: twenty-five percent surrender to administrators; five percent surrender to another student; twenty-five percent stop or leave by themselves and eight percent of the time law enforcement utilizes their weapons to stop the attack. That means in those traumatic minutes between the time the threat initiates their attack until professional law enforcement responds, it is up to those right there to maximize their survivability. The same “others” who may have thought such termination would be at the hand of law enforcement.
Even though we are not autonomous in our success strategy, we do find certain stakeholders tasked with particular responsibilities. It is the overlapping areas that we experience a lull in our readiness and may fail to recognize a need to sustain. Think of yourself as being a passenger in a boat holding onto the rope mooring you to the dock so others can get on board. You don’t envision yourself as the boat’s crew, but if you let go the journey flounders.
You are not defeated! In the time from recognition of the lethal threat until the arrival of law enforcement, immediate action steps need to be initiated. There is an axiom that says, “We perform under stress as we have learned in training.” This is a time when adrenaline induced stressors are impacting the effected audience in both physiological and psychological ways. Herein lays the critical significance of proper training, effective drills and honest feedback.
These changes may be significant, but are not insurmountable. Immediate action means just that…right now! The delay in action time equates to increased casualties. These conclusions have been scientifically reported by the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Law enforcement is not there yet, so if you do nothing or your actions are flawed because of improper training you contribute to the harm being experienced by others.
Emergency preparedness and the appropriate successful response are the result of team work. It is the application of planning, obtaining necessary training accompanied by valid testing through drills and exercises that maximizes success. Emergencies can shock our senses and leave some with a distorted understanding of their expectations or required actions. In lethal threats, there is room for little of either. Lives are at stake- perhaps your own.
Paul Mendofik served in a wide variety of assignments with the Pennsylvania State Police in both supervisory and operation capacities. He is a nationally recognized consultant for the development of programs that address and prepare the response to violent and critical events at vulnerable sites like schools, universities, and major corporations.