Time to Rethink Active Shooter Training?

Best-practice guidance

Those of you who have followed me over the years know that I have always been a strong proponent of preventing school violence, rather than focusing solely on after-the-fact actions and active shooter training. I firmly believe that a great deal of violence can be prevented by knowing what to watch for and having a process in place for reporting and assessing concerning words and behaviors.

Of course, I also believe that we need to be prepared overall, for all possible crises and emergencies. This includes knowing how to respond to fires, intruders, chemical leaks and many other hazards.

So, yes, we should know how to respond to an active shooter. But, we may have to rethink some of our current practices.

Research is beginning to support something many of us have believed all along: simulations of active school attacks can be frightening and traumatic for children and staff members.

The latest guidance on armed assailant drills comes to us from NASP, the National Association of School Psychologists and NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers. According to their joint report, Best Practice Considerations for Armed Assailant Drills in Schools, “schools should not use simulation techniques with students, and exercises should be appropriate to the participants’ development level and physical abilities. If sensorial exercises are conducted with staff, they should consent and be informed of the tactics being used, mental health supports must be available on-site during the exercises and after the exercises, and adult participants must be informed of the use and purpose of props and simulation aids prior to the drill. Drills should never involve props that interject or simulate physical harm (e.g., paintballs or rubber bullets) or physical contact with participants.”

So, what does this mean for your school? Training exercises should follow a progression of steps, beginning with basic activities. Going forward, lockdown drills should still be a critical component of training. Frequent nonsenorial/nonsimulation planning and walking through potential crises should comprise a great deal of your preparedness efforts. Options-based drills can provide alternative strategies for both staff and students to implement during an emergency situation.

For more detailed guidance in planning and implementing your preparedness and drill protocols, click here for the report referenced above.

Why Students Fail to Report Concerns

Why students fail to report concerns

One of the smartest, least costly and most effective things we can do to improve our school’s level of safety is train our students to report concerns to an adult.

There are a number of reasons students fail to report concerns, even those that frighten them. According to a 2008 study, often termed the Bystander Study, here are the reasons:

They do not know how to report

It’s vital that we explain our procedures for reporting so students know how to do so. This might be a conversation with a trusted staff member, a text-line, or a simple suggestion box near the counselor’s office.

They don’t know whom to contact with concerns (this goes for parents as well)

We need to make it clear that students (and parents) can contact any staff member in the building and that their concerns will be relayed to someone who will take them seriously and look into the situation. Of course, this means that we need to cultivate a climate of trust and follow-through in our schools. And, we need to train our staff to be responsive to concerns and follow reporting procedures.

They don’t know what to report

We need to make it clear to students, staff, and parents that it is not their job to decide whether something is serious, dangerous, or feasible. It is their job merely to report concerns and allow the adults to investigate. In addition, we want to teach everyone in our school community to honor their intuitive sense that something might be “off” or “doesn’t seem right”.

They thought they had more time

A number of students who were interviewed following school attacks reported that they saw or heard something of concern, but believed they had more time to consider what to do about it.

They dismissed the concerning words or actions of someone because that person talked about such things often, or over an extended period of time

We know a lot more than we did 15 years ago about the planning involved with school attacks. It is not uncommon for someone to leak their intent for days, weeks, months or even years before they carry out their plans. We need to be sure our students, staff and parents understand this critical point.

They witnessed a concerning behavior or comment in the presence of a staff member

Warning: this one might make you squirm a little. Following several school shootings, students reported that staff members were present when the perpetrator spoke of shooting, killing, violence, bombs, or weapons. In at least one case, the perpetrator gave a speech in class about bomb building. Others submitted papers, art, or video projects with a violent theme. The students said that they assumed the staff member had the situation under control and would act on it. It goes without saying that we need to train our staff to know what to look for and how to act on concerning behavior.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to talk to your students, staff, and parents about their respective roles in school safety. This would be a great place to start.

Resistance to School Intruder Drills

school intruder drillsA few months ago, I was asked by a school staff member about the best way to deal with the fact that her school district is not conducting intruder drills. She reported that many in her district still don’t believe a school attack or intrusion could happen there, and that drills are a waste of valuable instructional time.

My first thought was that it is vital for administration to set a tone of realism and expectation about the possibility that anything can happen there. Administrators would be wise to state unequivocally that evacuation, lockdown and other types of intruder drills are a critical component of school safety preparedness.

Gavin de Becker has said that, “violence finds its way into every institution of our culture, and people not expecting it are also not prepared for it.” I recently provided staff training at a small rural school district and told the staff of my visits to schools in West Paducah, KY and Jonesboro, AR, the sites of two well-known school shooting attacks. The similarities between those districts and the one where I was presenting were striking. Fortunately, the administration in this district does not need convincing. The superintendent is on board with school safety and has made many efforts to create a safe district.

What does your district administration believe?  Are you worried that your school is unprepared and vulnerable? If you would like to discuss ideas for motivating your district staff to address this critical issue, simply click here.