Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Citizen Active Shooter Response: Which Approach is Best?

Citizen Active Shooter Response: Which Approach is Best?

As cited in the blog article from February 5, 2017, I have some background in active shooter response and tactical training for law enforcement and the military.  Recently, I read (yet another) article about another response model for citizens in an active shooter event.  Indeed, it seems like everyone wants to get their slice of the active shooter response pie these days.  Some programs are good, some are not so good.  I’m writing this article today to point out why one is better than the others.

First, the others.  Probably the most popular model is the “Run, Hide, Fight” model, which has been widely circulated by the Department of Homeland Security. Cops all over the country are telling their citizenry that this is the way to go.  I can’t blame them.  The program is served up on a platter for them and it’s free.  It’s not the worst plan in the world.  At the very least, it gives citizens who may find themselves in an environment where an active shooting is taking place something to fall back on.  Essentially, the program instructs innocent citizens to run from the incident or danger area as a first option.  If that option isn’t available, hide underneath a desk, in a closet or some other reasonable hiding place. Finally, if that doesn’t work, the program tells citizens to fight the attacker, ostensibly with whatever they can find to defend themselves and neutralize the bad guy.  All in all, it sounds reasonable, right? 

Another model that put forth that the Run, Hide, Fight plan was erroneous in an article last year is the “Move, Escape, Attack” model published on Police One by Mike Wood. Lt. Col. Wood’s article puts forth that “potential victims” should move “off the X” as a first line of response.  If you don’t already know, moving off the “X” is a commonplace theme in law enforcement and military training.  The “X” is the last known location the shooter had for his target, so moving off the “X” is definitely a good idea, but I put forth that calling anyone a “potential victim” is bad language and there is no difference in principle behind this and the “run” part of the Run, Hide, Fight model he takes on in his article. 

Next. Lt. Col. Wood proposes that if they can’t “move” as a first option, then “escape” is the next option.  I ask you, what’s the difference?  If you read the above-linked article, it also states that

Escape may be accomplished by finding temporary concealment (good), finding temporary cover (better), or fleeing the scene entirely (best), as the situation permits. It essentially combines the "run" and "hide" options of the old model into one, because a victim can entirely escape from the threat area, or merely escape the notice of the killer, within it.”

Again, I see no difference in this tactic from the “run” or “hide” advice that DHS is putting forth and indeed, Lt. Col. Wood points this out in the article.  What I don’t understand is, what is the difference in principle between “Move”, “Escape” or “Run”?  Don’t they all mean the same thing?  Furthermore, telling innocent citizens to find concealment or cover is tantamount to “hiding”, which I’ll pick on later.  It is no different.  And as I teach cops all the time, cover is relative to what is being shot at you.

Finally, Lt. Col. Wood writes that “attacking” a gunman as the third option is a better term to use because it “conjures a different emotional response than ‘fight.’"  He further goes onto say that to attack is to be proactive and aggressive as where “fight” doesn’t bear as many psychological teeth.  Is he right?  I don’t know.  But this notion of proactive and aggressive is something that I personally feel is lacking from both of these models, despite their protestations of same.

Avoid, Deny, Defend

The Avoid, Deny, Defend model (ADD) was created by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) group, which is associated with Texas State University.  ALERRT has a long history of training law enforcement and military first responders to effectively isolate, distract and neutralize an active shooter and does so using research and real world application of their tactics.  Several years ago, they came out with the ADD model for citizen response to active shooter events and it makes more sense than anything I’ve read so far.  There are similarities, but there’s one big difference.

Step by step, the Avoid, Deny, Defend model flows like this:  If you can, avoid the danger area. Get out of there.  This is tantamount to the “run” or “move” from the other two models.  There’s not much difference in principle here.  However, in the second part of the model is where the differences from the other two become stark. 

Deny means if you can’t avoid the danger area, barricade your current position.  Deny entry to the shooter by using desks, tables, large items, feet, door jams… whatever you need to use to ensure the shooter cannot enter the area in which you are located without great effort.  Why is this so drastically different?  Because unlike changing a word here or there, it empowers innocent citizens to take their survival into their own hands.  It’s not a passive action, like hiding.  I like empowering people under stress.  It puts them in the mindset that they will get through it and they will survive.  It can also foster teamwork and unity of force against the shooter. 

Why this drastic change from the other two plans?  Research.  The ALERRT group does a ton of research about what works and what doesn’t.  Where did this research come from?  The April, 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.  The below graphic and excerpt from the ADD presentation illustrates what actions (or inactions) took place in which rooms and what their effectiveness level was:


Source: The ALERRT Center at Texas State University

As you can see, the rooms in Norris Hall where there was no action resulted in the highest percentage of fatality and injury.  Where denial was attempted but unfortunately failed, fatalities decreased dramatically.  Where denial succeeded, there was 100% survival rate and no one was shot.  This is what happens when people are empowered to take survival into their own hands.  I wonder how many of the people in room 206 of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech were hiding or attempted to hide while 92% of the people in the room were shot?

It bears noting what motivates an active shooter.  They want notoriety.  They want high numbers.  They want easy kills.  They want to prey on sheep, because they are wolves.  What they don’t bargain for is a group of citizens who are willing to defend themselves to the point of hardening the target area through denial of entry.  That’s too much work for them and with every second they’re trying to gain entry into a hardened area, they are losing some of those numbers they so desperately want to jack up.  Also, the police are on the way, so time is crucial.  Denial is key to survival.

Beyond denial, the ALERRT model tells citizens to defend themselves, again using whatever means are available.  Fire extinguishers, staplers, hands to the eyes… whatever you can do.  If the bad guy does make entry, defend yourself at all costs.  And there’s no such thing as a fair fight.  A few swift kicks to the groin will stop even the most dedicated gunman.

As a staunch pro-gun and pro-self defense advocate, I will add, there is no better time to be armed than in an active shooter event.  If the denial doesn’t work, the last thing the gunman wants to face is another gunman (or woman).  However, if you are going to carry a gun, make sure you know how to use it.  Not just the basics, but know how your body will react under stress and how to deal with it.  Know how to effectively defend yourself, not just how to aim and pull a trigger.  Also, make sure you’re well-informed as to the law of wherever you may be carrying.

There’s a lot of nonsense out there with regard to active shooter preparedness, some of which is unfortunately being taught to and by law enforcement.  But just because someone offers you a free meal doesn’t mean you should eat it.  It could taste like garbage and leave you hungry and malnourished.  The first two civilian active shooter models cited here are good.  They’re fine.  But when seconds count and survival is on the line, I want better than just fine. I want the best.  The Avoid, Deny, Defend model from ALERRT is the best.  It’s backed by real research and facts, not theory.  If my life should ever be on the line, I would prefer to go with what has been proven to work!

Oh, and by the way… This program is also served up on a platter and free for law enforcement agencies to teach their citizens.  What could be better?

-O’Hanrahan

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