There has not been a death as a result of a fire in any of our schools across the nation since the 1950’s. That is not to say that there haven’t been any fires at our schools; it is only to say that there have not been any deaths as a result of those fires. I think it safe to say that we have fire drills down fairly well. In some schools the fire drills include blocking some passageways recognizing the fact that fires can be unpredictable.
As with almost anything, the “times they are a changin'”. The threats we faced in years past are not the same threats we face today. How we adapt to those changing threats often is the difference between life and death.
Just a few short years ago some high school students at a high school in Jonesboro, Arkansas decided to “take out” some of their classmates along with some of their teachers. After pulling the fire alarm at the school they patiently waited on the berm facing the front entrance of the school and began firing at the crowd as they exited the building.
As horrific as this event is, also disturbing is the fact that the immediate response of most those who had exited the building was to reenter from whence they came. This, of course, allowed the shooters more time to shoot into the crowd.
A similar reaction occurred during the Aurora movie theater shootings when the bulk of the moviegoers ran en masse to the front entrance to escape the gunfire only to be met by the shooter.
A few years ago I participated in conducting an exercise at a high school in Bentonville, Arkansas, coincidentally the home of Wal-Mart. Students, teachers and local police all participated in the active shooter exercise. Some of the police officers served as the active shooters. The students congregated in front of the main entrance to the school and the active shooter approached guns firing. Of particular interest was the initial reaction of the students; they moved as a group into the school to escape the shooter. Realizing that staying together as a group gave the shooter a much larger target, the second time we conducted the exercise with the same students they realized the need to disperse and, thereby, provide the shooter with smaller targets.
Yes, there would still be deaths, but fewer.
So, what, you may be thinking, is the purpose of this column. Well first, I wanted a change of pace from writing about the insanity of a Trump nomination. More importantly, however, I wanted to make the point that we, all of us, must always be aware of our surroundings whether we be at a movie theater as in Aurora, a school as in Newtown, a shopping center as in Aspen Hill, a mall as in Columbia, a parking lot as in The Montgomery Mall, an airport, a Metro station, or even your work location as in the Navy Yard.
The most important thing to understand when thrown into a life-threatening situation is to understand your options. There are almost always options to consider, some better than others, but always there to consider.
During the Virginia Tech shooting a few years back an heroic teacher gave his life preventing the shooter from gaining access to his classroom of students. Rather than spend any more time attempting to gain entrance, the shooter moved on the next room filled with students who gave no resistance. Those students were executed one by one. Expecting to reason with a crazed gunman is rarely an effective response.
It needs to be remembered that when a bank robber enters a bank his primary goal is to get money and not necessarily to shoot people. When a gunman enters a movie theater or a school and begins shooting, his main goal is most likely notoriety and negotiation is unlikely to be effective.
The Department of Homeland Security endorses a concept known as Run-Hide-Fight. The concept is fairly straightforward and is not intended to be taken in order. It all depends on the specific set of circumstances you face during the event. If you are not in direct contact with the shooter, you seek concealment and wait. Concealment differs from cover; hiding under a desk rarely provides long term protection.
Running is the best option but only if you have a clear path of escape. The last resort is fighting when there is no place to run and no place to hide and you are facing the shooter. Securing the location you are in to make it as difficult as possible for the shooter to achieve entry buys you time and every second counts when you are awaiting a law enforcement response.
There is no plan to cover every scenario, but the important thing to understand is that the decisions you make when confronted with an active shooter situation may be the difference between surviving or not.
There is something called the OODA Loop which was designed to help individuals analyze an event to determine the best course of action. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act. First you observe and become aware of the danger, then you orient yourself and consider your options, next you must make a decision, and finally you must execute that that decision by acting.
This is not intended to be a long, drawn-out process since, in any emergency situation, time is of the essence. That is why the best place to begin is, as said before, always be aware of your surroundings no matter where you are so that you are not beginning from scratch when presented with a life-threatening situation.
With all of this said, I shudder to think what went on in that cramped nightclub in Orlando, a packed place with a military assault rifle being fired into the crowd. Limiting easy access to military assault weapons might be a good place to begin.