For far too long, schools have put too many eggs in one basket: lock downs. This has been treated as the ultimate in security measures, even as experience was exposing its limitations, specifically in regards to active shooters. This wasn’t the schools’ fault — experts dutifully promoted this as the be all and end all. Unfortunately, this approach has proved insufficient. Lock downs are fine while an active threat is outside the building, and even may be useful while threats are inside the building if students are secure inside adequately barricaded rooms, but if the building’s on fire, or if a threat makes it past locked doors, something else has to happen.
Regardless of setting – school, business or other institution – it has become abundantly clear that passively waiting for police to arrive isn’t enough. Most shootings are over and done with in a manner of minutes, with police response taking 5-7 minutes from the point of dispatch. So everybody needs a very flexible plan B – what if the lock down isn’t enough?
A lot of us have kept working on coming up with models that make sense. One popular approach has been boiled down to the easy to remember “run, hide, fight.”
1. Run Away! We rarely see this portrayed by media heroes, with the notable exception of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man, but this is by far the safest move. Don’t stick around to do battle with a heavily armed, possibly suicidal, clearly violent individual. Encourage and assist students and staff members in familiarizing themselves with area resources – especially neighboring businesses or spaces where they can take refuge and receive assistance.
2. Hide. If running isn’t an option, do your best to hide on site, in closets, crawl spaces or anywhere else you can think of.
3. Fight. If you can’t run and you can’t hide, fighting may be your only option. If it comes down to that, throw everything you’ve got at the offender. There’s strength in numbers, and a classroom full of students tossing everything from chairs to textbooks can overwhelm an armed attacker and provide an opportunity for students to flee.
The run/hide/fight approach requires a much different type of training than schools have applied in the past. Historically, schools promote passivity – go into lock down, be quiet, wait for authorities to tell you what to do. The run-hide-fight model empowers students and staff members in active shooter scenarios, engaging them in a response. For this approach, one training resource that’s gained enormous traction nationwide is the ALICE program – an unfortunately unwieldy acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Counter, Inform, Evacuate. For more information on this resource, check them out at www.alicetraining.com
Like many others in this field, my initial response to both ALICE and run-hide-fight was generally positive. Now I’ve backed off on my enthusiasm. Let me explain:
First, these aren’t the only options – they’re just a few possibilities that work well in very specific, limited circumstances, such as active shooters. Most of the crises schools will experience don’t fit into that category — so other options need to be not only considered, but practiced. If we only practice these responses we will lose track of other possibilities.
Most school conflicts have nothing to do with active shooters. They involve verbal conflicts, hormonal surges, teen angst, depression, bullying and angry parents. For all of these, the most useful tools will likely involve clear response protocols that incorporate counseling, peer mediation, non-violent de-escalation and crisis intervention, humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, diplomacy skills, cooperation or apologies. Most conflicts can be resolved without going to war.
That being said, training and practice are critical, and truly dangerous situations must be prepared for. To that end the Safe Havens “Window of Life” model makes more sense to me: protect yourself, then protect others, then lock down, and then call 911.
Check them out below: