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Active Shooter Reality Check

Active Shooter Reality Check

by Paul Mendofik / PATC

“We don’t have to worry because emergency responders will be here in no time.”

“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.

Reality check.

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.

Reality check.

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.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Thank you Paul Mendofik! Active Killer Reality Check is an informative article with many good points.

    Our Academy since the year 2000 has specialized in tactically training 1st Responders. Our evolution the last few years has been "Single Officer's Lifesaving Others", (attendees from 6 states). Our database looks at public places such as schools and work places. Your data is close enough.

    Our Post-Columbine Rapid Mass Murder data shows an average of 8 minutes. Law and Order Editor Ed Sanow's findings are that there is a typical DELAY in notifying police of 5 to 7 minutes. Understanding this delay reveals that police have precious few golden minutes of a perishable opportunity to stop the killing.

    The "Posse Theory" of rounding up a formation of trained officers as a countermeasure to the active killer is a faulty belief system. This theory has proven repeatedly, that we can arrive "Too late with too many".

    Of unarmed citizens, armed citizens and police, UNARMED citizens have been the major stoppage of Rapid Mass Murder. Armed citizens and police are about tied for aborts. For citizens, 8 out of 10 stoppages are initiated by a single actor. For police, 7 out of 10 aborts are initiated by a SOLO officer.

    We have good reason to believe that rapid LOCK-DOWNS are an effective tactic to mitigate casualties and slow the active killers timeline, allow the "Cavalry" to arrive. You are right about the critical significance of proper training, effective drills and honest feedback for both schools and law enforcement.

    Strategy for citizens should include their final option: If there is no escape route and nothing between you and the active killer, FIGHT BACK! Attacking the attacker delays him, saves others, and often saves the couragous citizen that makes the attempt.

    SEALE Academy Bedford OH

  • Wings_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Our department trained for this at an actual school. It was an eye-opening experience. Locating the threat in such a big area is challenging. Today's schools are very large and if you are not careful, the threat can elude simply by movement. This is also another reason to stay in shape...the sprinting required to cross open spaces, or to catch up with someone in an area not accessible by vehicle must be accounted for, because seconds cost lives. Good article!

  • 100_0256_max50


    about 6 years ago


    I am a school district police chief and I agree. We do need to plan. My officers have all taken the ALERRT active-shooter course and we train constantly. If you all are fortunate to have your own school district police, it is great, if not, get the local police and sheriff and train together on active-shooter. Also, the administrators and teachers need to be in on this training, so they will know what to do. We practice lockdown drills all over the district and everyone is receptive and have bought in to the training, Keep up the good work and stay safe!!!!

  • Beckham_2012_032_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Do you have a plan implemented at your department? I am just starting out as a SRO and no plan in effect, still working on getting one in place at our department. This article is so right there is no time for anything but to go to the threat.

  • Stand_alone_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Active Shooter training is good for every officer in the department.
    Having to rely on SWAT is a bad idea and unrealistic

  • Usmc-gunnerysergeant_max50


    over 6 years ago


    My Department (Glynn County Scholl Police) took the Active Shoorter course provided by Glynco FLETC. I tell all officer I see to take the class it is a very good class.

  • Img00015-20101105-1530_max50


    over 6 years ago


    I believe our Coleges active shooter training was awesome

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 7 years ago


  • Image_max50


    about 7 years ago



  • Police_max50


    about 7 years ago


    great article

  • Jpd_new_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Unfortunately the next major terrorist (foreign or domestic) attack will be to a school. Imagine a "Beslan type" attack to numerous school thoughout the country. The Country and economy would be crippled, just like the 9-11 attacks, for an unknown period of time. Learn from the past, because it will happen in the future. Check out the writings of Lt. Grossman. Stay prepared and STAY SAFE!!

  • Pig_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Superb article.

  • Cot_max50


    over 7 years ago


    GREAT ARTICLE! should be faxed to every department across the country.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 7 years ago


    Very good article and important piece of advice to remember! You perform the way you train!

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 7 years ago


    Very good article and important piece of advice to remember! You perform the way you train!

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