The images are too familiar: students parading away from their school in single file with hands raised as heavily armed ‘peace’ officers shout orders to keep eyes straight ahead. The process behind these scenes has been taught and practiced so regularly that when one of these horrific events actually occur the officers respond almost autonomously.
So it is that while police departments review their performance after incidents like we saw recently in south Florida, a conflict is widening between the way schools and law enforcement are preparing and training for one of these mass attack events. Seconds are critical. The actions of responding officers are tempered to divide their attention three different ways. Don’t misunderstand. Unlike the students and staff who may find themselves directly in the line of fire and survival is their only immediate focus, officers responding from the outside have time to consider what they will be facing “inside” the situation. These men and women have every right to take a few moments to suit up in protective gear, call for activating special teams and roll in the heavily armed vehicles. Understandably responding officers are trained to prepare for the possibility that any one or more of the people coming toward them may turn out to be an assailant. This is the reason they are trained to approach the outbound crowd with intent to gain and maintain control.
In contrast to the training and practice of the responding officers, students and staff are not afforded the opportunity to suit up in protective armor. They don’t have the luxury of time to gather as a team and discuss their response tactics. Very few staff and virtually none of the students have portable communication systems capable of instantly informing multiple recipients simultaneously. Possibly the only mass signal of value is the sound of gunfire. The students and staff suddenly confronted with a life-threatening situation simply need a different plan than that of responding officers. And more and more school systems are realizing that their plans – born of the obvious – must be designed to reduce the targets of opportunity for the attacker(s).
Students huddling in a classroom simply create a larger target without protection. This is why more and more school districts emphasize and train the system known as “run, hide, fight.” Run is obvious and the first choice – but it very clearly contradicts the orderly evacuation mandated by well-meaning responding officers. Hiding is only effective if the hiding place is not easily discovered. A large group can not hide together and a locked classroom door is very temporary at best against an armed intruder.
And so the last choice becomes the best and possibly only chance to reduce the number of casualties. Fighting back against an armed attacker who is probably nervous, has little or no experience in life or death confrontations, and most probably has some instinct to survive, is not nearly as dangerous as it may initially seem. Something as simple as a book or a chair thrown toward the attacker isn’t going to permanently stop the attack, but it may well buy enough time to escape – run!
Run, hide, fight. If “run” is the first option, “fight” may very possibly the best option to create the opportunity to run. The situation might seem out of control to the incoming responders. Armed responders need to be retrained to be on the same page as those who they currently see as an out of control crowd. Then they can focus on getting out of the way instead of creating an organized line of targets like ducks at a shooting gallery. Of course the very best and most effective way to reduce the number of deaths and casualties by a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It is time to stop these criminal-safe zones and allow teachers and staff to choose to be armed and ready to protect our children.