Does Your Options-Based Active Shooter Training Meet the Standard of Care?

Active shooter training programs

Options-based active shooter training programs.

This article was recently published in College Planning and Management Magazine. Though written for a higher education audience, most if not all of the principals I described would be relevant for options-based active shooter training programs for K12 schools as well. Non-public schools should take extra care in implementing options-based active shooter training programs as they lack qualified immunity and are subject to OSHA regulations that prohibit exposing trainees to danger from injury. Safe Havens International analysts have received many complaints from school and police officials regarding injury during options-based active shooter training programs, with at least one school employee who reported being permanently disabled when his arm was crushed during a training session. The individual I spoke to stated that he still has no use of one arm though he has been through a series of five surgical procedures. He also told me that three people in his training session had to be hospitalized for injuries received during the training session.

While options-based active shooter training programs have become fairly popular, they have also been highly controversial. Currently, there are no options-based active shooter training programs that have been validated as effective. Of considerable concern, these programs are often marketed as being “best practice” which could create a significant burden should an organization have to prove that the training program meets this definition during litigation..

Our next book Preventing and Preparing for Active Shooter, Active Killer, Hate Crimes and Terrorist Attacks contains a detailed chapter on the development of effective and court-defensible training concepts for active shooter incidents.

The complete article Training for the Unthinkable – Does Your Options-Based Active Shooter Training Approach Meet Standards of Care? at:


Campus Concealed Carry Laws and Colleges

Campus Concealed Carry & Safe Schools

Several states recently passed legislation related to campus concealed carry. In one form or another, these laws allow students and campus employees with a concealed firearm permit to carry a gun on campus. These laws caused considerable concern among some. There are questions about good Samaritan laws and how those would apply. There are dire predictions about tragic events that would occur, and equally dire predictions about what would happen if we not allow concealed carry on campuses. Quite simply, the predicted chaos and carnage has not occurred.

I generally take a middle-of-the-road stance on this highly emotional topic for some very pragmatic reasons. On one hand, there have been several campus shootings that have been stopped by citizens with guns: a high school dance shooting in Edenborough, Pennsylvania, a potential shooting at a university sorority dance Macon, Georgia, and the high school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi, to name a few. At the same time, I am not convinced that campus concealed carry would impact the overall numbers of shootings and victims that take place each year in educational facilities.

A Shift in Public Thinking on Campus Concealed Carry

The pressure to allow concealed carry will increase significantly if we continue to see mass casualty attacks with firearms and edged weapons by terrorists. This will be even more true if there are any more attacks on K12 and higher education targets. Educators in other countries like Israel, Thailand and Kenya are allowed to carry firearms as a response to school terrorism. We may see this evolve into a bigger discussion in the United States as well.

Focusing on active shooter incidents can leave us unprepared for everyday events, particularly when it comes to campus concealed carry as a preparedness tactic.

Focusing on active shooter incidents can leave us unprepared for everyday events, particularly when it comes to campus concealed carry as a preparedness tactic.

My primary concern a bit different than those often highlighted in media stories. I am concerned about the focus on extremely rare events like active shooter and active killer incidents. These types of risks are easy to focus on because they are so tragic when they do occur. I worry that people who carry a gun will train with a focus on neutralizing an active shooter. Their mental space is thus focused on an event that is statistically unlikely.

The More Likely Scenario

In reality, school staff will probably face a split-second use of force decision for a more mundane event. An intoxicated person waving a knife or an act of interpersonal violence will happen much more frequently. In schools, an active shooter situation is statistically less likely than many other situations that might prompt a use of force. Anyone who carries a gun for self-defense should be fully prepared to make the decision to take a human life – and not just in extreme situations.

Additional information on Campus Concealed Carry:

Orlando Attack Indicates Increased Risk for School Terrorism

Government warnings of increased terrorism risk have proven to be accurate

For more than a year, we have received clear warnings from senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials that the threat of terrorist attacks in America has increased.  Terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States exacerbate these concerns.  When combined with the Boston Marathon bombing, a workplace beheading in Moore, Oklahoma, the San Bernardino massacre and other horrific attacks in Pakistan, Israel and Africa, the devastating shooting in Orlando drives home the point that our current risk exposure to acts of terrorism is substantial.  While K12 schools are not selected by terrorists as often as other types of targets, the fact that there have been more than 1,000 terrorist attacks on K12 schools and school buses worldwide should not be ignored.

Data developed by our 58 analysts indicates that schools are now less prepared for terrorism than they were prior to the Newtown school shooting

As I have written repeatedly over the past 24 months, I am concerned that the recent over-emphasis on certain aspects of active shooter events leaves our schools even more vulnerable to mass casualty losses from acts of terrorism.  We have noted a definite trend for school staff to score lower in controlled real-time simulations when we have conducted school crisis simulations since the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack.  While school officials missed an average of one critical action step per scenario prior to the Sandy Hook attack, they now average 1.7 missed action steps.  In school districts that have used training that focuses heavily on active shooters, such as the Run, Hide, Fight video or “options-based” active shooter training programs, the performance of school staff is even worse.  Schools that have adopted simplistic approaches to school crisis planning have also scored poorly.  For example, school employees who have been trained in the “lockout-lockdown” approach are more likely to fumble on lockdowns during situations that do not fit a specific scenario of either an active shooter outside the building or an active shooter in the school hallway. In our assessments, staff using these methods forget about, or don’t realize the appropriateness of, calling a lockdown in more than nine out of every ten scenarios where a lockdown is clearly the best option.   Just as bloodletting was a rage with doctors until it was tested, our schools have increasingly adopted emotionally-based and theoretical approaches that have never been validated as effective to the detriment of tried and true practices that work well when applied correctly.  This is of special concern when it comes to the risks of terrorism and schools.

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For more on preparing for school terrorism, download the November 2015 issue of School Safety Monthly

The need for all-hazards planning, training, and practice to counter the threat of terrorism

The attacks in San Bernardino, Chattanooga, Boston, Moore, and Orlando combined with warnings by intelligence and homeland security officials that terrorists are deeply interested in the use of chemicals for attacks are a special cause for concern.  We have found that less than 1% of the 1,000+ K12 schools we have assessed in recent years do not include hazardous materials event protocols nor the drills to practice them.  When we published our book Innocent Targets – When Terrorism Comes to School in 2005, we specifically wanted to counter the alarmist and wild predictions of specific types of school attacks that have all since proven to be inaccurate.  We feel that it is counter-productive to provide predictions regarding specific types of terrorist attacks on schools and school buses withour reliable intelligence information.  However, our experience, research and intuition lead us to the conclusion that there has never been a time where proper all-hazards school crisis planning is more important. While terrorism is still only one of a number of potential threats for schools, it is currently at an elevated level of concern.  While we offer no predictions of specific attack methodologies, timing or regions of the nation for school terrorism, our experience in the field indicates that any approach focused heavily on any one attack methodology is unreliable. Many major terrorist attacks use multiple weapon types & tactics, as evidenced by the Paris attacked that used coordinated attackers with bombs and firearms, as well as the Beslan school hostage crisis.

When it comes to planning for school terrorism, the key is to focus on the basics. The skills needed to respond to an incident of school terrorism are the same toolkit you would need to respond to other mass casualty events. The emergency functions – lockdown, evacuate, shelter in place, etc. – are the same whether the incident is caused by an industrial accident that could take thousands of lives in minutes or a terrorist release of hazardous materials. Providing staff with the tools, the empowerment and the drills to practice all of this is critical.