A dangerous message has been repeated numerous times since the Sandy Hook School shooting occurred last year. In story after story, it has been reported that the school did “everything right” but 26 people died at the school anyway. Our analysts have noticed a dangerous pattern with some school employees that likely derive from this narrative. While conducting controlled school crisis simulations with school employees in a one-on-one setting, we have had a number of test subjects make comments along the lines of – “it is my job to die, the Sandy Hook shooting taught me that even if we do everything right, a lot of people will die if an attacker picks our school.”
Law enforcement administrators, fire commanders, and military leaders would be quite alarmed to hear their personnel make these types of statements. Professionals in all of these fields are taught that while some personnel in their field will surely be killed in their service to others, there are numerous things that can be done to dramatically reduce the risks of death in these high stakes arenas. When we interviewed former Delta Force Special Operator Tom Satterly for Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, he emphasized that he survived many long hours of intensive combat as part of Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu by believing that he would survive if he did his part and that his fellow soldiers would do their part. Having earned six Bronze Stars in service to the United States Army, Tom speaks with authority when he tells us that an important point to survival in desperate situations is confidence. Satterly carefully points out that while arrogance can kill, confidence is instrumental in surviving tough situations.
I am distressed that a sometimes pervasive message is sometimes being disseminated in the media, at professional conferences, in school safety training programs, drills and exercises, and in school security assessments where physical features are purported to be the primary means to protect people from violence. While dangers must be identified and addressed, preaching gloom is in direct conflict with what considerable research teaches us about preparing people and organizations to survive deadly encounters.