Most schools have settled on the “lockdown” as the centerpiece of their strategy for responding to a shooting:
Lockdowns are generally helpful if the school is located in an area with a rapidly responding police force. They provide temporary marginal protection for students and teachers and deny some areas to potential shooters. They also allow rapidly responding police officers to find and neutralize the threat in the school. Lockdowns can also be used to protect students from a threat that has not yet entered the school. They are often triggered to deny entry to an armed criminal who is fleeing from police in the vicinity of a school.
The problem with lockdowns is not with the concept, but with the execution. Most schools do not train for any exigency except the lockdown. They lock students down in poorly defensible positions and don’t tell students and teachers what to do if the lockdown fails or is breached. In essence, there is no “Plan B.” If the students can’t quickly lock themselves down or a police response is delayed, there is no other plan. Students and teachers must just cower in fear and hope that they will be rescued. That’s unacceptable.
Lockdowns have failed in the past. The shooter in Red Lake, Minnesota killed an unarmed security guard purposely to trigger a lockdown. He wanted the lockdown so that he could easily find and target the victims he most wanted to kill. After the lockdown was triggered, he went to the classroom where he knew his victims would be hiding, shot a hole in the glass window of the door and entered the locked down room. He then killed the teacher and five students before he was shot by police.
Students at Virginia Tech attempted unsuccessfully to lock down individual classrooms once they knew a shooter was prowling the halls. Only one classroom out of the three that attempted this tactic was able to deny entry to the shooter.
Some other issues that come into play (but are rarely considered by school administrators) are the following:
- What if the classroom door cannot be locked from the inside?
- What happens if the shooter pulls the fire alarm during a lockdown?
- What should teachers do if the shooter has a hostage and is threatening to kill him or her unless the lockdown is breached?
- How should severe medical emergencies be handled in a locked down classroom?
- Is there any plan to evacuate gunshot victims safely?
- What should the teachers and students do if the door to the locked down room is breached by the shooter?
- What are teachers instructed to do if the shooter kills a staff member and takes a master key or ID card that gives him access to the entire school?
- How would a school administrator respond if an armed student orders the administrator to give the “all clear” signal to end the lockdown?
- Some school shooters have utilized explosives to augment their primary weapons. What should locked down students do if the school becomes structurally unstable due to the effects of any bombs that the shooter has placed?
As a parent, you should confer with school officials to verify that they have plans to address any such contingencies. If they don’t, your child isn’t likely to be safe in the event a shooter enters the school!
In studying every school shooting that has occurred in the United States, as well as many that have happened in other parts of the world, I have come to the conclusion that escaping the school is the best option for individual students in a school shooting situation. Virtually all students who get out of the school (even if they have already been shot) survive.
In the Virginia Tech shooting, the students who did not get shot were those who jumped out of a window or ran to another part of the building. Most of the students who attempted to lock down the room, hide, or play dead were shot. There are many other examples of fleeing students surviving while their counterparts who locked down in a room were shot.
You must also teach your children to avoid denial. In Virginia Tech, students rationalized the sounds of gunfire as construction noises. Students in Columbine initially thought the gunfire was caused by firecrackers being lit as a student prank. The students at Beslan, Russia, thought balloons were popping. Students and teachers in shooting events universally express the thought that “I couldn’t believe it was happening.” This denial and rationalization leads to a paralysis. The waiting for verification of actual gunfire takes time that can better be used to escape.
Instruct your children that if they are in a school and think they hear gunfire, they shouldn’t await instructions. They can’t delay while trying to figure out what’s happening. If they think it’s gunfire, empower them to ACT! Immediately escape! The people in active shooter events who wait around to be sure that the noises they are hearing are actually gunfire typically delay so long that they no longer have any viable options except locking down.
I’m pretty sure I heard firecrackers going off and balloons popping any number of times in my childhood, and streaking toward cover was (thankfully) never the correct response.