How to Survive a School Attack
June 6, 2022 From the course Without Mercy
It’s clear that the national debate about how to end and prevent school attacks will not be sorted out any time soon (if ever). I worry that in our drive for long term solutions that we’re ignoring the immediate and personal needs of teachers, students, and parents. After all, any solution that takes longer than a day is too long for those who needed it yesterday.
In this article, I want to share something immediate that every teacher, student, and parent can use to be safer today. This isn’t theory but careful observation and years of study. Not only study of school attackers but more importantly of survivors. We’ve discovered that those who survive a school attack do the same three things.
- Act fast
They move fast and respond quickly. They don’t wait but leap into action. They act fast!
- Space & Distance
They put some space—a door, desk, wall, classroom, anything between them and the attacker therefore gaining distance from the violence.
They do whatever it takes to survive.
So, what does this mean to you, how does it work, and how do you apply it?
- If you’re a teacher and you hear “lockdown” or extreme violence erupts in your school, don’t wait but act fast and immediately run to the classroom door. Don’t walk but run! If the door is not already closed, close it and get out of the way. By closing the door you have put space between you and the attacker and therefore gained distance.
It is common for school attackers to shoot through closed doors but not to fight their way in. By acting fast and immediately gaining space & distance (closing the door), you’ve given yourself and your students a 99% chance to survive.
- Always keep your classroom door locked! Trying to perform a fine motor skill such as locking a door is extremely difficult or even impossible. Never put yourself in that position! You can’t act fast enough to get the space & distance that you need and therefore it becomes harder to survive. Always, always lock your classroom door!
- Space & distance is the key for deciding what to do when it comes to Run, Hide, and Fight.
For example, if you have space & distance (an object between you and the attacker which gives you distance) you can probably hide. If you don’t have or can’t keep space & distance (it appears the attacker will enter your classroom), then that usually means that you should run. If you do run, go out the window. Those who go out the window survive because it gives you space (walls/windows) and distance from the school.
The ’fight’ element of run, hide, fight is very confusing because fighting is almost always explained as going physical with the attacker and most people don’t want to. The truth is that everyone fights in an attack…they just fight the best way they can.
If you run, you’re fighting!
If you hide, you’re fighting!
If you survive, you’re fighting!
Should you not be able to maintain space & distance from the attacker and you are directly confronted, try to go physical with the attacker. Other teachers and students have stopped school attacks by going physical…so can you!
Adopt a survival mindset and do whatever you must to survive!
- If you’re a principal, teacher, or staff member never leave your hide position unless you’re willing to go physical.
This is a hard and fast rule because to do so means you’re closing with the threat and therefore reducing your space & distance. If you leave for any reason you must be prepared to physically attack the threat.
- Most people survive a school attack by hiding in their classrooms. A hide position that gives you cover is the best position. Cover is when bullets cannot hit you such as behind a cinderblock wall. Always look for cover!
Concealment is the next best position (you can’t be seen but you can be hit by bullets). It’s good but not the best.
- If you’re outside during recess, act fast by running away from the building towards a predetermined meeting location. By running away from the building the students are typically spread out and you’re automatically getting space (fields, homes, other structures) and distance. It is almost always a better idea to run from the building than to run back into the building.
Recess worries a lot of teachers but the truth is that it’s better to be outside than inside during an attack. I know of only two attacks that have taken place outside. They are very rare.
Last point—schools have 2 natural benefits—size and strength.
On average, school attackers gain access into 6 classrooms or fewer. That’s because the size of the building makes it impossible to attack every classroom. We forget just how big our schools are and how impossible it is to run to every classroom before action is taken to stop the threat. If we act fast and transition even quicker into a lockdown (less than 7 seconds) then we will make it even harder to get into any classrooms.
The other natural benefit of our schools is our classroom doors and frames which have been strengthened to resist fire. This has been a tremendous help by also making it extremely difficult to break into classrooms. It is not an understatement to say that it has saved an untold number of lives. However, none of it helps if we don’t lock our doors!
Please lock your classroom doors!
Act fast, get space & distance, do whatever you must to survive…and lock your classroom doors!
The Pros and Cons of Arming Teachers
June 1, 2022 From the course Without Mercy
Test everything. Keep what is good. Do no harm.
When it comes to school safety, that should be our motto. Unfortunately, the question of arming or not arming teachers has spiraled away from this success oriented concept and instead has turned into an ugly brawl. For too many it’s become an issue of either you agree with me and that makes you a good person or you don’t agree with me which makes you a bad person. This type of discourse will never make our schools safer. All that truly matters is whether arming or not arming teachers is a good idea or a bad idea.
Here's where it starts and must end.
With that in mind, here are my pros and cons to help you decide whether you think it’s a good or bad idea for your school.
- Shortened response time
The national average for police officers to arrive at a school during an attack is 3 minutes. Having an armed person capable of confronting the attacker will reduce that time from minutes to seconds. This is a tremendous pro because we’ve learned that every second saved is a potential life saved. It really has come down to time…to seconds.
We know it and school attackers know it. We read it in their journals and see it in their behaviors. The Sandy Hook murderer deliberately parked his car in such a way so that he could increase his time in the school before officers arrived (I won’t share exactly how he did it so that the same tactic won’t be used against another school).
As we have seen from recent events, a lightning fast response is critical and therefore being able to reduce your response from minutes to seconds is clearly the single greatest pro for arming staff members.
School attackers on average spend 7 months planning and preparing to attack a school. The uncertainty of not knowing who or how many staff members are armed may force the attacker to delay. Almost always any delay is in our favor because it gives us more time to spot an indicator of danger and therefore a greater chance to intervene and prevent the attack from taking place.
A school attacker in South Carolina shared online that he was going to attack the elementary school because the middle school was too far away and it had an SRO. One of the major commonalities among school attackers is that they are not looking for a fight—but victims. It’s the reason why only 7-10% of school attackers first engage the SRO. Having more armed personnel will deter some attackers.
I’ve personally heard from hundreds if not a thousand teachers and parents who want armed officers in the school. I understand that not everyone does but without a doubt, there will be lots of staff members, students, and parents who will enjoy a higher level of confidence knowing there are more armed personnel inside the school.
As a society, we have become very unforgiving. We expect perfection from others but not ourselves. Anyone who chooses to carry in a school must be prepared for the blame that will squarely fall on your shoulders if you do not perform in the exact manner that others expect…regardless of whether they even know what the right thing is to do or if they could even do it themselves. You will be blamed for not being perfect and you will most likely be made to suffer what is known as the second trauma. The first being the violent act you witnessed and the second being the hatred you will be forced to endure.
I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t be armed because of this danger. Law enforcement contends with this daily and they still choose to accept that risk because they value justice over personal safety. It’s just that any staff member who decides to be armed must be prepared to be blamed…even if there was nothing they could have done.
Being a protector carries a heavy obligation. It means that you may have to take a life to save a life. Arming staff members carries a certain level of obligation to protect others which means that teachers may be forced to kill someone. That someone may be one of their students or fellow staff members. The worst case of school violence in America was perpetrated by the school treasurer.
Anyone choosing to arm themselves must fully accept this enormous obligation.
- Weapon retention
Once I was fighting a guy on a porch and he tried to rip my weapon out of my holster. I didn’t see it coming because it was pitch-black and I was hanging on to the top of him. A bolt of lightning raced through me and I mashed down his hands with mine to stop him from pulling out my gun. We were literally fighting over my gun and he was pulling so hard that he spun me sideways. Luckily, my holster had a triple lock which means that to draw my pistol I had to do three things simultaneously. The bad guy couldn’t. This is a purposeful design and it saved my life.
Anyone carrying inside a school, whether it’s a pistol or rifle, must have the absolute means, training, ability, and mindset to retain their weapon. This may be the greatest con—weapon retention. If you cannot retain your weapon you are giving the attacker a weapon. And to prove that this is a very real danger, an SRO told me how he stopped a school attack and while questioning the student whether he had a gun, the kid said that he didn’t but he knew where to get one. When pressed, the student said he was going to take the scissors out of his teacher’s desk (he named the teacher), he was then going to stab the SRO in the neck, take his gun and magazines, and attack the school.
If you cannot retain your weapon, it is better not to have a weapon in school.
Learning how to shoot is relatively easy and you can be proficient in one day. Knowing when and when not to shoot is much more difficult and can take years of experience to perfect. Arming teachers will require extensive and well thought out policies so armed staff armed members know exactly when and when not to engage. It seems like a simple thing to arm a person until you consider the confusing situations that they may find themselves in such as, an attack is taking place and you are in your classroom. Do you unlock your door, leave your kindergarten students alone, and run down the hall to confront the attacker? What if your students panic and run from the room? What if there are two attackers in different parts of the school? Where do you go first? Do you shoot at the attacker if there are students behind him? What if you hit them? Where do you shoot the attacker in the body? If you’re running down the hall how do you clearly identify yourself so that the responding police officers don’t think you’re the attacker and accidently shoot you? This happens to off duty officers trying to help.
I could go on and on but any person arming themselves must have incredibly tight polices to protect themselves and others. It’s not that you can’t do it but that it won’t be easy and it’s going to take great thought and effort.
- Personal change
When you arm a teacher they will still be a teacher but now they will also become a protector. Many can do it and carry both roles. Some will find it difficult. Everyone will experience some personal change. It doesn’t mean for the worse, just a change.
I would never go back and not have been a Marine or a police officer but without a doubt, it has taken its toll on me. I am a different person because of it. I’m not saying better or worse, just different. Being a protector changes you. It’s inevitable. If teachers carry this dual role it will change them. In one role they educate students in another role they may be obligated to shoot a student. That is a conflict certain to create personal change.
If you’re a parent, teacher, principal, or superintendent, I hope this was beneficial. I’m available if you’d like to discuss any of the points, need help with policies, or just would like some additional clarification. I’m here and happy to help!
I would like to end this post by reminding you of a few things.
We’re never going to arm all teachers. The national discourse is making it sound like every classroom will and must have an armed teacher. That will never happen and neither should it. Whether you decide to arm a few select volunteers is no one’s decision but yours—you and your parents.
If you’re wrestling with whether this is a good idea for your school, try not to be too hard on yourself. Arming teachers is no longer a theory. It’s already happening and some teachers have been doing it since 2018. You just need to decide if you want to join them by allowing a few volunteers to be armed. National pressure is making it sound as if this is the only thing that will prevent school attacks. It’s not. There have been many school attacks where there was an armed, expertly trained and equipped police officer in the building, and the school was still attacked. There was an SRO at Columbine and the school was still attacked.
Last point, a safety layer is a human, mechanical, or procedural feature that a potential attacker must contend with. A safety filter is a feature or procedure to scan for dangerous behaviors. The more safety filters and layers you have the safer your school will be. The less you have the more vulnerable you are to violence.
Without a doubt, arming a few select volunteers has benefits and drawbacks. Should you choose this path, you will be adding one more safety layer. It shouldn’t and can’t be the only layer…just one more.
What we know about school attacks…and how it can help you!
May 31, 2022 From the course Assess & Progress
- Approximately 75% of all school attacks occur between 7:00 and 9:30 am (during morning arrival and first period).
- Most school attackers (approximately 80%) enter the building unchallenged through the open front doors while another 10% enter through another open door.
- Very few school attackers (approximately 10%) fight their way into a building.
- Approximately 96% of attackers are male.
- Every school attacker who has ever attacked a school has traveled down the Path to Violence which consists of four distinct stages. 1) Idea 2) Plan 3) Prepare 4) Act.
- Every school attack (100%) is an act of targeted violence which means the attacker has planned and prepared to be successful. The average time for preparation is 7 months.
- Inside the act of targeted violence there are typically 3 groups of targets:
1) Attacker targets everyone (vast majority).
2) Attacker targets females (second largest group).
3) Attacker targets adults (statistically the least likely).
- Approximately 70% of attacks on high schools are committed by a current or former student.
- Approximately 70% of school attackers commit suicide or are killed.
- Approximately 7-10% of attackers began the attack by first engaging the SRO or armed personnel.
- School attackers typical gain entry into 6 or fewer classrooms.
- Several school attackers have used open and empty classrooms to hide, stage, and prepare to attack the surrounding classrooms.
- Most attacks take place in high schools, then middle schools, and finally elementary schools.
- Most school attacks (approximately 70%) last only a few minutes.
- Most school attackers (approximately 75%) give off public indicators of dangers or tell someone they are going to attack a school. The Secret Service reported that in 75% of the school attacks studied, at least one person knew about the attack but didn’t come forward.
- February, March, April, and May appear to be the worst time for school attacks.
- At least 17 school attackers have named their attack after Columbine.
- At least 79 school attackers have referenced Columbine.
- At least 3 school attackers have visited Columbine prior to attacking a school.
- Police officers typically arrive at the school within 3 minutes.
Here are the big take aways to help you prepare.
90% of school attackers walk in through an unlocked exterior door. Please lock every door! And if you’re a teacher, always close and lock your classroom when you’re not using it. School attackers use empty unlocked classrooms to stage and prepare to attack the school. Deny them this advantage!
If you must open a door for arrival or dismissal, open only what is absolutely necessary. Every door that is opened, keep the handle locked and flood those entry/exit points with adults. Make sure they know how to identify and respond to potential threats.
Because 75% of all attacks occur during morning arrival, every single adult must be 100% engaged during morning arrival. For most schools, morning arrival lasts about 30 minutes or less. Everyone can and must ‘turn’ it on for those brief minutes each morning when the students are streaming in and give it your all!
If you’re a teacher, stand in the hall and greet the students. If you’re a principal, be outside in the bus or parent drop of zones. If you’re a staff member post yourself where you can see the furthest and help the most. No one is in a meeting, no one is sitting, no one is alone in a room, no one isn’t giving it their all for those short, but critical minutes during morning arrival.
If you do this you will change your entire day as well as school culture!
As far as making it into classrooms, school attackers can only gain entrance into approximately 6 or fewer classrooms. That’s because our lockdowns are getting faster and we’re getting better. Believe in your procedures because they work but do everything that you can to perfect your lockdown. Perfect your lockdown! The more perfect the lockdown the fewer classrooms the attacker will be able to enter!
The person attacking the school is probably a current or previous student. Which means that most likely we know them and they know us. We know their name, we’ve probably had lunch with them, talked to them, attended sporting events with them, and shared the same space with them. This is a scary and yet encouraging thought because it means that right now we have an opportunity, if we take it, to influence 70% of future school attackers to choose a different path other than violence but only if we’re willing to act.
With that in mind, here’s my last point. Good intentions do not prevent violence, change lives, or create great schools. It’s important because it orients you towards the good…but it takes acting on those good intentions to make the necessary difference. It takes engagement. Not perfect engagement but consistent, energetic, and positive engagement with students especially since 75% of all school attackers give off public indicators of danger. If you’re not fully engaged with your students you may miss these or you may not be there for the student who has seen, heard, or felt something and wants to tell an adult but can’t find one.
Engagement is everything. It’s that simple. If you do it, you’ll have a safer school. If you don’t do it, you’ll have a less safe school. There is nothing more important than engaging so commit to making your engagements more frequent, positive, and energetic.
The Perfect Lockdown!
May 27, 2022 From the course The 7 Second Lockdown
The 7 Second Lockdown will help you speed up your lockdowns by helping the hero of the story—the teachers—be more successful. It doesn’t use fear to help the teachers go faster but a series of progression drills. It also encourages the teacher to play a more active role by self-evaluating their current skill set and success.
If I were a principal or superintendent, I’d review these materials, decide if I like the premise, and then I’d let my teachers and parents know that we’re implementing new procedures and drills that will speed up our response during a lockdown from 38 seconds to 7 seconds! My hope would be to not only make my school(s) safer but also to reduce their fear and anxiety by giving them something very concrete and helpful that they can focus on. Give them a very real and reassuring… “We’re always trying to make it better. We’re going to make it better. Here’s how we’re going to do.”
Here's the link to the webpage where you can learn more about the program.
If you've attended one of my trainings or I've presented to your teachers, the program is yours to use. Email or call and I'll send you the link for the materials.
If I haven't had the privilege of getting to know you or your school, please call (540-577-7200) and together we'll make sure that The 7 Second Lockdown is a good fit for you. There is a MAJOR change (improvement) in how to conduct lockdown drills and if you 1) don’t agree with it or 2) are not fully prepared to explain why it’s so important that we must make this change…you may cause more harm than good.
The 7 Second Lockdown program is very common sense but it will require people to put aside long standing and established practices in order to make big improvements.
May 26, 2022 From the course Safe & Loved
Anxiety is understandably very high right now and as more information continues to be shared about the attack in Uvalde, I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse. Not only was the attack horrific, but some of the actions and/or lack of actions are hurting parents and teachers’ confidence in established procedures. I think it’s best in these circumstances to be understanding, open, and very proactive.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer some helpful resources.
Zoom calls/onsite assistance…
If you’re struggling to figure out next steps or you just want some help in clarifying or focusing your efforts, I’m willing to help any way that I can. I can come onsite or I’d be happy to set up some zoom calls. Here are some of the ways I think I can help.
School board. In the last year, I’ve witnessed a slew of school board meetings and they have not gone very well. If your school board is trying to develop a plan for school safety, I’d be happy to help them one-on-one to better understand the needs and nuances of school safety, the threat we’re truly facing, as well as give them concrete steps and goals that will help them to move forward in a positive direction.
Leadership meetings. I’d be happy to help problem solve issues, formulate responses, and focus procedures at a leadership level. This can include school safety teams, district policy teams, or local law enforcement units and leadership. Anyone making decisions or trying to improve safety.
Just to talk…This is a tough time for everyone. I’d be happy to just talk with teachers, staff members, parents, or other critical leaders. This can be individually or grouped together. I’ve been in several extreme events and these informal but open discussions are absolutely invaluable for helping people to feel better and move forward. They’ve changed my life…for the better.
Zoom calls are free. If I come onsite I have to charge a fee.
If you want to utilize any of these resources, just let me know and we can coordinate the time but I’m willing to help in any way that I can!