School Safety: 5 key things parents should know

Another school tragedy today - this time at Ohio State.  Over the coming days we'll learn more about what happened there but there are key things families can ask and do NOW to ensure they understand the safety measures at their schools:

1. Does the school have a crisis response plan customized for their campus?  Over the last decade many states have mandated that schools have crisis response plans.  This sounds like a good idea in theory and yet because they were mandated many schools have simply copied generic plans provided by their state or another school district in order to meet their legal requirements.  Make sure that your school has a crisis response plan that has been specifically designed for its unique characteristics, demographics and personnel.

2. Does your campus regularly practice school safety drills?  If your campus does not regularly practice basic school safety drills such as lock-downs, shelter-in-place and evacuations ask the administrators why not? There is no good reason they can give you for not being prepared.  The old adage “practice makes perfect” not only applies to reading, writing and arithmetic.  

Most school safety experts advise campuses to practice such drills at least once per semester with teachers and school staff also drilling during in-service training days.

3. What should parents do if there is an emergency at the school?  Your school should be providing you with information regarding your role as a parent during a school crisis.  Who do you call?  Where do you go?  What do you when you get there?  What documents do you need to bring, if any?  Many schools require all parents to show proper identification to pick up their child after a “non-traditional release” such as an evacuation.  Make sure you know the school and districts policies for such an incident.

4. Have both staff and students received training on what to do during an active shooter incident?  It is imperative that administrators and teachers know what to do during a school crisis but it is equally as important for students to know what to do to survive an incident.  Demand to know exactly what training is provided to staff and students.  Does the school provide materials so you can discuss the training with your child and provide additional practice if necessary?

5. Has the school partnered with their local law enforcement agency to practice emergency response procedures?  Although many schools have crisis response plans most have not taken time to personally work with their local law enforcement agencies to co-develop plans and practice drills. Real-time practice scenarios are essential to a comprehensive school safety plan.  When school and law enforcement plans are not in sync with each other important procedures that could save lives may be missing.  

Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls

For the second time in two week’s multiple officers were shot responding to a domestic dispute. Last week in Palm Springs, California as officers negotiated with a suspect to exit the residence he opened the door and began firing killing both officers. This week in Boston officers were responding to a “domestic incident” between two roommates when officers were confronted with a suspect with an assault rifle who shot and critically wounded both officers.

As noted in the latest National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund/ COPS Office report, Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls for service even when multiple officers respond. Research shows that even when 3 or more officers respond to this type of call the consequences can be deadly. The report also points out the inherent dangers of a single officer responding to a domestic disturbance call. Standard practice for most law enforcement agencies is to have a least two officers initially respond to a domestic violence call for service. For officers who are responding from different jurisdictions it is imperative for them to wait for back-up before approaching the scene if at all possible.

As noted in the “Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters” report more than 20 percent of the officers in that study were killed by rifles and in both the Palm Springs murders and Boston attack officers were shot with assault rifles. Given the increasing use of assault-style rifles against police, the report recommends that “officers should incorporate the use of patrol rifles, body armor with hard armor plates, and ballistic helmets, which can be deployed during high threat responses”.

Armed with our past information on domestic violence calls and with this latest research data domestic disturbance calls officers must understand that domestic violence calls should never treated as routine; officers must be situation aware at all times, especially with the increased number of rifle attacks and take appropriate measures to protect themselves from these types of potentially deadly assaults. For more information on officer safety resources visit the NLEOMF Destination Zero page.

If you'd like more information on law enforcement agency assessments and de-escalation training visit The Community Safety Institute for more information.

John Matthews is a highly decorated, thirty-year law enforcement veteran, analyst for both CNN and FOX News and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, Police Perspective: Life on the Beat, School Safety 101 and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

How safe are shopping malls?

As cooler temperatures spread across the United States our thoughts turn to fall and for US retailers the upcoming holiday season. But two deadly attacks in six days and the shooting today in Houston have many wondering just how safe are shopping malls?

On September 17th Dahir Ahmed Adan stabbed 10 shoppers at the Crossroads Center in St Cloud, Minnesota. Adan was armed with a knife and injured 20 before being killed by an off duty police officer. Less than a week later an armed gunman killed 5 and injured one other in a shopping mall in Burlington, Washington 35 miles north of Seattle. Three days later 9 people were shot at a Southwest Houston shopping center before police shot and killed the alleged gunman.

The attack on innocent shoppers in Washington is the worst mass shooting at a mall area since the 2007 attack at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska which killed 8 and wounded 5. The worst shopping mall mass shooting in the world occurred in September 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya when 67 people died and over 175 were injured.

Shopping malls have long been recognized as soft targets for both terrorists and others wanting to make a statement based on body count. Large crowds of unsuspecting victims, minimal security and numerous access points for escape combine to form a very vulnerable target area for those determined to wreak havoc on innocent civilians.

So what should you do if you find yourself in the unimaginable situation of a mass shooting at a shopping mall? ESCAPE. Grab your loved ones and exit away from the shooter as quickly as possible and stay away. If you are trapped in an area or pinned down by gunfire seek cover, anything that will protect you from bullets. If cover such as a concrete bench, large table or vending machine is not available then conceal yourself and family behind anything which will keep you out of the shooters vision. If he can’t see you it is unlikely he can shoot you. Stay down, making as small of a target as possible and continue to assess your situation looking for opportunities to safely exit the location. If you have an opportunity remember to run from cover to cover or concealment to concealment making yourself as small of a target as possible by crawling or running low to the ground. Remember, unless you are a trained law enforcement officer engage the shooter only as a last resort!

Shopping malls are traditionally safe havens visited by millions of people each year but as you are out shopping remember to stay alert to your surroundings, learn the ESCAPE Model and be prepared whenever you and your family are in a public place.

 

John Matthews is a highly decorated, thirty-year law enforcement veteran, analyst for both CNN and FOX News and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for SurvivalPolice Perspective: Life on the BeatSchool Safety 101 and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer,a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

Why Munich shooting is different

As horrific as some of the recent mass shootings have been in the United States recently maybe the most terrifying of all is the one that occurred in Munich on Friday, July 22, 2016.  Although the carnage and body count were awful it was the planning and preparation that went into the attack that made it so horrendous.  German investigators have confirmed that the shooter was enamored with school shootings and had studied the tactics of the 2011 Norwegian shooter who killed 77 and wounded over 100 others. 

An even more frightening aspect of this latest international mass shooting is the fact that prior to the murders the assassin intentionally lured potential victims into his killing zone by offering free food at the nearby McDonald’s.  In a post on Facebook the shooter offered the edible enticements in order to draw people into his kill zone and increase his body count.  This proactive tactic of luring victims in and killing them is unprecedented in mass shootings and hopefully not a pre-cursor of things to come.  

Social Media & Terror Attacks

Using Social Media to Stop Terrorist Attacks

By John Matthews

If social media can be used to recruit terrorists, it can also be used to stop them. In testimony before a Senate panel, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIS has over 21,000 English-speaking followers on Twitter and that this form of “crowdsourcing terrorism” is living proof that social media works. 

Unfortunately, it appears that this type of internet-based recruiting of “Lone Wolf” terrorists has worked yet again at two military facilities in Chattanooga which left four dead and three others injured. One news source reported that prior to the shooting the suspect posted on his blog Islamic rhetoric referring to “separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire.”

Well, if social media can work for ISIS in recruiting these self-radicalized terrorists or individual lone wolf attackers, it can also work against them. As concerned citizens and guardians of our communities we the people can mobilize to report posts from potential lone wolf attackers who seek to injure and kill others. A familiar mantra from law enforcement over the years has been to stay vigilant in our fight against crime.

Today, staying vigilant online is just as important—and, as demonstrated by a recent case
in Canada— can result in saving lives.

This past February, a Geneva, Illinois woman was arrested in Canada for a shooting plot after leaving a trail on social media, including a post prior to her arrest that said “Let’s go commit mass homicide.”

Lindsay Souvannarath posted disturbing pictures advocating race hatred, an allegiance to Hitler and Nazi beliefs, bizarre photos of herself and others, and what appeared to be a fascination with mass killers and their handiwork, especially the Columbine High School shooters and their tools of murder.

Police received a tip about a couple planning a Valentine’s Day massacre at a mall in Halifax, Canada, and she was arrested by Canadian police on charges of conspiracy to commit mass murder. Her partner in this thwarted crime committed suicide before authorities could take him into custody.

As responsible citizens who care about our communities, we need to assist law enforcement in serving as their on-line “eyes and ears” when we see threatening posts. Maybe even more importantly when we see posts and also have personal knowledge of potential offenders securing or practicing with weapons or making threats against specific individuals or groups we can “connect the dots” and provide that information to local, state or federal authorities. If you are online and read a post that includes terrorist- related chatter, threats and postings regarding weapons and mass murder, or information on upcoming or planned attacks, don’t assume that someone else will report it.

Take personal responsibility and call your local police or federal authorities. If terrorist organizations or lone wolf attackers believe social media works for them, let’s show them it can also work against them.

John Matthews is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran and award winning writer. He is a
contributor to numerous public safety publications and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, School Safety 101, Neighborhood Watch 101, Creating A Safer School and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

Surviving a Mass Shooting


How to Survive a Mass Shooting
By John Matthews
Although the chances of being involved in a mass shooting are almost infinitesimal don’t
quote the odds to those who were in Orlando this month Newtown, Virginia Tech or any other of the over seventy locations around the United States during the past thirty years.

The real question should not be will I ever be involved in a mass shooting but if I am how do I survive.

First, if you think you just heard “fireworks” and it’s not the Fourth of July or the stroke
of midnight on New Year’s Eve immediately take action.  Don’t wait for the agonizing screams
of the injured or dying to jolt you back to reality.  

Time and time again research has shown that victims waste valuable seconds trying to rationalize irrational behavior by telling themselves“not to be paranoid”, “it’s just a prank” or “part of some show” all the while being exposed to deadly gunfire because they are not taking life-saving maneuvers.

When under attack, stay calm and think.  Hopefully you have had some training at work
or school and know that your best chance at survival lies in your ability to exit the
scene.  Quickly remove yourself from both the line of fire and from the shooters line of sight.
Get away and stay away because returning to the scene could prove to be a deadly mistake.
Exiting the location and removing yourself from the violent incident is the single most important action for surviving a mass shooting event.

If during a mass shooting or active shooter attack it is impossible to safely exit from the
location the next best course of action is to find protective cover, something that stops
bullets.  Common examples of cover found in public places include: parked cars, cement barriers in parking lots, brick walls, concrete support poles, or structural steel beams.  If these types of structures are not available, look for low places in the ground which might provide protection.

This could be natural indentations in the ground, in drainage ditches, sewer culverts, or even
laying prone on the ground alongside a cement curb in a parking lot.
In an office or workplace, most desks do not provide cover.  However, items such as file
cabinets, large pieces of machinery made of steel, or other metal objects may provide protection from the attack. Structurally, most interior walls will provide a minimum of cover while exterior walls—especially those with either a brick or cinder block construction—will provide a maximum of protection from bullets of nearly any caliber. Structural support beams of either wood or steel will provide cover, as will various types of fencing and even landscape features such as retaining walls and thick trees.

If cover is not available, the next best option is to conceal yourself from the offender.
Mass shootings are dynamic events where the shooter is actively pursuing easy targets. Since the offender often moves quickly from target to target, it is hoped that he will pass by concealed individuals, not bothering to take the time to seek them out.  If faced with a mass shooting situation, find a place to hide and then stay hidden until it is safe to move. Find a closet, bathroom, cabinet or storage room: whatever is available at the time, accessible at the moment, and maybe most important: out of the offender’s line of sight.

If you find yourself in a school or office cafeteria or a food court at the mall, and your
only option is to dive under the table, try to keep moving by rolling on the ground or “army-
crawling” in an effort to hide from the shooter.  

If you are outside and need to find concealment consider hiding behind a row of bushes, under a pile of trash or debris, or even in a drainage ditch; these all are viable options in a life and death situation. Sometimes you may need to hide from the offender just long enough for him to lose track of you as he moves on to another target. 

Under certain conditions, even areas with shadows can provide you some concealment
from the shooter. This is especially true in outdoor situations where the shooter is in the bright
sunlight and moving quickly between locations. Moving into the shadows may provide just
enough concealment to allow you to escape harm.

In examining the actions taken by individuals involved in mass shooting events over the
past 30 years, it is possible to identify some tactics successfully utilized by survivors. Even
though each situation is both unique in its circumstances and dynamic in its development, it is
possible to see that there are reoccurring patterns of behavior that can improve one’s ability to
survive one of these horrific attacks.

Remember, if you are ever involved in a mass shooting incident and you can exit, seek
cover or conceal yourself your chances of survival increase dramatically.

 

In a Mass Shooting, Should You Attack?

Last week at Umqupa Community College, former Army veteran Chris Mintz placed himself between the shooter and others and was shot multiple times. Although he is credited with saving the lives of several people who were able to escape, he ultimately did not stop the shooter or the deadly rampage. After the massacre - which claimed nine lives - Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson was quoted as saying "Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.''

So should you engage the shooter? The answer is definitely not.

Research conducted by the Community Safety Institute on 73 mass shootings occurring over the past 35 years shows that only in rare circumstances do people who are not trained law enforcement officers successfully engage the shooter. In just three cases unarmed civilians swarmed the attacker and disarmed him, including the Gabby Gifford attack, but in all instances the shooter was no longer actively shooting. In the vast majority of incidents when citizens have attempted to engage the shooter, they were injured or killed themselves.

In regard to the second part of Dr. Carson’s comment, “he can’t get us all,” in a majority of the mass shootings in this country the killer is armed with numerous weapons and multiple magazines loaded with dozens of rounds of ammunition. In last week’s attack the killer was armed with three semi-automatic handguns and one rifle. He wore body armor and was carrying five extra magazines loaded with ammunition. If unarmed students engaged the shooter, the body count could have been exponentially higher.

So what should you do?

As soon as you hear gunfire or explosions, quickly get as far away as possible and call 911. If you can’t safely flee, use trees, vehicles, or even a parking lot curb as cover from the attack and do not return to the location under any circumstance. Exiting the location is the single best survival tactic.

If you are in a confined area such as a classroom, office, or movie theater and cannot safely exit or find cover, get behind anything that will stop bullets such as a large copier, a vending machine, a building support beam, or a heavy desk.

If there is no cover available, find concealment - anything that will keep you out of the shooter's line of sight. Mass shootings occur very quickly and if the shooter can’t see you in a closet, behind a curtain, in a cabinet, or outside behind a bush, your chances for survival go up dramatically.

Finally, playing dead or hiding under a fallen colleague has also worked effectively in many past incidents, including last week. Mass shootings are usually very dynamic and fast moving events and after spraying a room with gunfire, the shooter rarely checks each victim to ensure they are dead.

No one wants to find themselves in a mass shooting event but knowing what to do (exit, cover, concealment), and how to do it (quickly, safety and with resolve), will increase your chances of survival significantly.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

John Matthews is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran and award winning writer. He is a contributor to numerous public safety publications and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, School Safety 101, Neighborhood Watch 101, Creating A Safer School and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

Should We Now Fear Beta Males?

The shooter in this week’s brutal killing of nine and wounding of seven others at Umpqua Community College in Oregon identified himself on social media as a “Beta” male. These Beta males are the men who hide in the shadows, the loners and those who feel they are somehow less than worthy of having close friends or relationships. Beta males often lack the physical presence, charisma, and confidence of their Alpha male counterparts. In the past, we as a society have been afraid of the dominant Alpha males and their aggressive nature; men who are often characterized as bullies and uncaring brutes. Now in the wake of yet another mass shooting, Beta males are finding recognition on the internet and in the 24 hour news cycle. We know this particular deranged individual studied past mass killings and high profile murders and wrote on one blog: “it seems the more people you kill the more you’re in the limelight” and “this is the only time I’m ever going to make the news.”

Like many of the Beta males before him, this murderer fit the typical mass shooter profile: white, male, mid-20s, a loner with low self-esteem, a longing for attention and recognition, and possibly a long history of mental health issues. Similar to his other murderous counterparts, he alerted people of his intentions, either as a way to secure power and control in his life or as a last desperate plea for help.

On this occasion he warned others via social media about his plans, garnering wrath from some but unfortunately gaining perverted encouragement from others.  Armed with this encouragement, a half dozen weapons, body armor, and a cache of ammunition, he set out on his murderous rampage attempting to prove once and for all he was not a Beta male but someone to be reckoned with. Like his mass shooting predecessors, he failed.  Within days his name will not be remembered and his acts will be a footnote in history.

What will be remembered are the innocent lives lost, the pain of family members, and a hero named Chris Mintz, an Army veteran who risked his own life, was shot multiple times, and saved the lives of countless others. And oh, by the way… he is an Alpha male if there ever was one.

John Matthews is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran and award winning writer. He is a contributor to numerous public safety publications and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival,  School Safety 101, Neighborhood Watch 101, Creating A Safer School and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

Using Social Media to Stop Terrorist Attacks

If social media can be used to recruit terrorists, it can also be used to stop them. In testimony before a Senate panel last week, FBI Director James Comey stated that ISIS has over 21,000 English-speaking followers on Twitter and that this form of “crowdsourcing terrorism” is living proof that social media works. Unfortunately, it appears that this type of internet-based recruiting of “Lone Wolf” terrorists has worked yet again as manifested by yesterday’s attack at two military facilities in Chattanooga which left four dead and three others injured.  One news source reported that prior to the shooting the suspect posted on his blog Islamic rhetoric referring to “separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire.” Well, if social media can work for ISIS in recruiting these self-radicalized terrorists or individual lone wolf attackers, it can also work against them. As concerned citizens and guardians of our communities we the people can mobilize to report posts from potential lone wolf attackers who seek to injure and kill others. A familiar mantra from law enforcement over the years has been to stay vigilant in our fight against crime. Today, staying vigilant online is just as important—and, as demonstrated by a recent case in Canada— can result in saving lives.

This past February, a Geneva, Illinois woman was arrested in Canada for a shooting plot after leaving a trail on social media, including a post prior to her arrest that said “Let’s go commit mass homicide.”  Lindsay Souvannarath posted disturbing pictures advocating race hatred, an allegiance to Hitler and Nazi beliefs, bizarre photos of herself and others, and what appeared to be a fascination with mass killers and their handiwork, especially the Columbine High School shooters and their tools of murder. Police received a tip about a couple planning a Valentine’s Day massacre at a mall in Halifax, Canada, and she was arrested by Canadian police on charges of conspiracy to commit mass murder. Her partner in this thwarted crime committed suicide before authorities could take him into custody.

As responsible citizens who care about our communities, we need to assist law enforcement in serving as their on-line “eyes and ears” when we see threatening posts.  Maybe even more importantly when we see posts and also have personal knowledge of potential offenders securing or practicing with weapons or making threats against specific individuals or groups we can “connect the dots” and provide that information to local, state or federal authorities.  If you are online and read a post that includes terrorist-related chatter, threats and postings regarding weapons and mass murder, or information on upcoming or planned attacks, don’t assume that someone else will report it. Take personal responsibility and call your local police or federal authorities. If terrorist organizations or lone wolf attackers believe social media works for them, let’s show them it can also work against them.

John Matthews is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran and award winning writer. He is a contributor to numerous public safety publications and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival,  School Safety 101, Neighborhood Watch 101, Creating A Safer School and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

School Safety 101 Finalist for 2014 USA Best Book Awards

CSI Publishing is proud to announce School Safety 101 by John Matthews has been selected as an award-winning finalist in the Education/Academic category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards. School Safety 101 has been utilized by administrators, educators and staff members in school districts throughout the nation.  Emphasizing the creation of a culture of safety and focusing on comprehensive safe school planning School Safety 101 details proactive measures that can be taken to increase campus safety and security.

School Safety 101 presents in-depth information on all essential elements of school safety including the standard crisis response drills such as shelter-in-place, evacuation and lockdown procedures. Specific emphasis is placed in the book on developing internal capacity in schools through campus safety teams and crisis response teams. Because classroom teachers and substitutes need to know how to respond to a wide variety of incidents in the schools the RAIN Model (Respond, Assess, Isolate and Notify) is presented. For everyone else, including students, parents and volunteers the ESCAPE Model is presented for the first time in this edition of School Safety 101.

Since debuting the RAIN model (Respond, Assess, Isolate and Notify) nearly two decades ago, the Community Safety Institute (CSI) has trained thousands of teachers around the nation to protect themselves and the students under their care.  Today, we continue to conduct innovative research in the area of school and mass shootings, develop school crisis plans and train educators, students and school stakeholders.   Thousands of copies of our school safety books including the latest: School Safety 101 has helped school districts and local law enforcement agencies to properly address a wide variety of school safety issues.

School Safety 101 can be ordered directly from the Community Safety Institute and CSI Publishing at http://communitysafetyinstitute.org/bookstore-mass-shootings-six-steps-to-survival/.

SS101_front-cover web version

How to survive a mass shooting

activeshooter.jpg

Although the chances of any given individual having to survive a mass shooting are almost infinitesimal don’t quote the odds to those who were in Isla Vista near Santa Barbara  or Cedarville Rancheria in Northern California in February or Fort Hood (twice) or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech or any other of the over sixty locations around the United States during the past thirty years. The real question should not be will I ever be involved in a mass shooting but if I am how can I survive?

First, if you think you just heard “fireworks” and it’s not the Fourth of July or the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve immediately take action.  Don’t wait for the agonizing screams of the injured or dying to jolt you back to reality.  Time and time again research has shown that victims waste valuable seconds trying to rationalize irrational behavior by telling themselves “not to be paranoid”, “it’s just a prank” or “part of some show” all the while being exposed to deadly gunfire because they are not taking life-saving maneuvers.

When under attack, stay calm and think.  Hopefully you have had some training at work or school and know that your best chance at survival lies in your ability to exit the scene.  Quickly remove yourself from both the line of fire and from the shooters line of sight. Get away and stay away because returning to the scene could prove to be a deadly mistake. Exiting the location and removing yourself from the violent incident is the single most important action for surviving a mass shooting event.

If during a mass shooting or active shooter attack it is impossible to safely exit from the location the next best course of action is to find protective cover, something that stops bullets.  Common examples of cover found in public places include: parked cars, cement barriers in parking lots, brick walls, concrete support poles, or structural steel beams.  If these types of structures are not available, look for low places in the ground which might provide protection. This could be natural indentations in the ground, in drainage ditches, sewer culverts, or even laying prone on the ground alongside a cement curb in a parking lot.

In an office or workplace, most desks do not provide cover.  However, items such as file cabinets, large pieces of machinery made of steel, or other metal objects may provide protection from the attack. Structurally, most interior walls will provide a minimum of cover while exterior walls—especially those with either a brick or cinder block construction—will provide a maximum of protection from bullets of nearly any caliber. Structural support beams of either wood or steel will provide cover, as will various types of fencing and even landscape features such as retaining walls and thick trees.

If cover is not available the next best option is to conceal yourself from the offender. Mass shootings are dynamic events where the shooter is actively pursuing easy targets. Since the offender often moves quickly from target to target, it is hoped that he will pass by concealed individuals, not bothering to take the time to seek them out.  If faced with a mass shooting situation, find a place to hide and then stay hidden until it is safe to move. Find a closet, bathroom, cabinet or storage room: whatever is available at the time, accessible at the moment, and maybe most important: out of the offender’s line of sight.

If you find yourself in a school or office cafeteria or a food court at the mall, and your only option is to dive under the table, try to keep moving by rolling on the ground or “army-crawling” in an effort to hide from the shooter.  If you are outside and need to find concealment, consider hiding behind a row of bushes, under a pile of trash or debris, or even in a drainage ditch; these all are viable options in a life and death situation. Sometimes you may need to hide from the offender just long enough for him to lose track of you as he moves on to another target. Under certain conditions, even areas with shadows can provide you some concealment from the shooter. This is especially true in outdoor situations where the shooter is in the bright sunlight and moving quickly between locations. Moving into the shadows may provide just enough concealment to allow you to escape harm.

In Mass Shootings:Six Steps to Survival we examined the actions taken by individuals involved in mass shooting events over the past 30 years, and determined that it is possible to identify some tactics successfully utilized by survivors. Even though each situation is both unique in its circumstances and dynamic in its development, it is possible to see that there are reoccurring patterns of behavior that can improve one’s ability to survive one of these horrific attacks.

Remember, if you are ever involved in a mass shooting incident and you can exit, seek cover or conceal yourself your chances of survival increase dramatically.

John Matthews is the executive director of the Community Safety Institute. He is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran, the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival , School Safety 101 and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

 

School Safety Drills Should be Realistic

The final report on the Newtown school massacre issued by the Connecticut State Police (CSP) reconfirms the importance of lockdowns and once again demonstrates that simply having a crisis response plan or conducting generic school safety drills are not enough.  Because of conflicting witness reports the exact actions taken and decisions by those involved in the incident made may never be known but several conclusions can be drawn from the heavily redacted report including the need for lockdowns and realistic school safety drills. One portion of the report which detailed the mass shooting where 20 first graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School noted “that more than a dozen bodies, mostly children, were ‘packed like sardines’ in a bathroom.”  Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele said he and another officer found what appeared to be about 15 bodies, mostly children, packed in a bathroom.  So many people had tried to cram inside the bathroom that the door couldn't be closed, and the shooter gunned them all down, Vanghele surmised.  If this was the case it once again reaffirms the need to have the physical capacity to lockdown the school as well as the ability to secure students and staff.

As we have seen in past mass shootings and specifically school shootings isolating individuals from the offender either through exiting the facility or locking down rooms saves lives. Both this report and the one issued last month by the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice noted that students who exited the killer’s immediate area and secreted themselves in classrooms, offices or other secured areas were saved.  In one of the individual police reports released by the CSP it noted that five teachers were in a meeting and “began to hide then broke out a window to climb out”.  Another report stated that “one teacher hid students behind bookshelves in a locked classroom, and attempted to keep them calm by reading them Christmas stories”.  Even though an official lockdown was never declared at Newtown the quick response by faculty and staff to lock doors and secret students obviously saved additional lives.

Another conclusion which can be drawn from this latest report is that schools must not only have a plan and practice it but practice it under realistic conditions.  Most schools conduct what is known as “Tuesday morning” drills or school safety drills under perfect and very unrealistic conditions such as everyone is in their room, close to a phone or radio and able to secure themselves at a moment’s notice.  Drills almost always go flawlessly because they are practiced under ideal conditions and not everyday situations.

Normal occurrences such as: substitute teachers in the building with little or no crisis response training or understanding of school procedures, students in the bathrooms, walking hallways, out on athletic practice fields and teachers in common areas without access to communications are almost never accounted for in these practice drills.   School safety drills such as lockdowns, evacuations and shelter-in-place should be conducted using realistic, everyday scenarios.  Similar to traditional “obstructed fire drills” where a designated exit point cannot be used and teachers and students are left on their own to figure out the next fastest and safest way out of the building faculty and students must be able to react to changing conditions at a moment’s notice.

Prior to conducting Active Shooter drills schools must conduct an assessment to determine which rooms can be secured and where teachers should direct students to go during and attack, plans need to be modified to meet individual  school design and specific crisis response instruction must be provided to staff.

During drills realistic school day-based scenarios should be practiced.  For example, statistics show that at any given hour during the day one third of the teachers are not in their classrooms so drills should be conducted when students are in the cafeteria, gym class or involved in activities where turning a lock on a door and closing the blinds are not an option.  Additionally, school-based practice drills should be coordinated with local law enforcement officials to ensure that their plans are complementary and not competing.  If tragedies like Newtown are to have any value to us as a society we must learn from them and adapt our law enforcement and school safety practices to meet these contemporary threats.

John Matthews is the executive director of the Community Safety Institute. He is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran, the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival , School Safety 101 and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.

 

Planning and Practice Needed for Schools and Police

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After nearly one year the State of Connecticut, Division of Criminal Justice (CDCJ) finally issued its report on the Sandy Hook massacre and just last week, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) issued its version of the law enforcement response at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  While both reports offered some insight into the event, neither document addressed the real issues that we have seen at Pearl, Paducah, Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook… the lack of interagency urgency to plan for and prepare for an active shooter or mass shooting incident. The elephant in the room is not our lack of response.  Since Columbine, law enforcement agencies nationwide have adopted Active Shooter policies to immediately enter facilities and neutralize the threat- instead of waiting for tactical teams to arrive on scene long after the attack has ended.  Schools have done a reasonable job in their response, implementing standardized procedures such as lockdowns, shelter-in-place and evacuation.  But in our post-9/11 world of interoperability communications and interagency cooperation, the missing elements remain the lack of planning and practice between law enforcement agencies and school districts.

Having worked as a public safety consultant for both law enforcement and schools, I have seen it time and time again.  The police or sheriffs have their plans and schools have their plans.  Both were usually developed in isolation and without the consultation or consent of the other party.

It is no wonder we are still struggling with our response to school shootings if from the very beginning our plans are not in sync and our people do not know what to expect from the other individuals involved.   School safety is not just a law enforcement response or a school responsibility.  The lives of our precious children and their educational caretakers are at stake and they deserve the time and resources necessary for our schools and police to properly plan and practice together.

From a planning perspective, both school and law enforcement officials need to sit down together in the same room and compare policies and procedures, frankly discussing specific protocols concerning active shooter events in order to ensure law enforcement accessibility, the proper resources and quick response.  In one school plan I reviewed it stated, “The police will secure all campus building exits and street ingress and egress throughout the incident.”  A quick call to the local Sheriff instantly made the plan obsolete when he advised me that he did not have enough deputies on duty in the entire county to fulfill that single request, let alone perform his legal duties such as stopping the attack, securing the scene, and collecting and processing evidence.  Because of the lack of communication and coordination between the schools and law enforcement, the school safety plan was designed to fail from the beginning.

While proper planning may be an issue, an equally important element of school safety is practice.  Many law enforcement agencies receive and routinely practice their active shooter protocols, some even using school facilities on nights and weekends to increase the realism of the training- but rarely do schools and public safety officials practice together.  Seldom do they take the time to sit down face to face and conduct important tabletop exercises ensuring that each party has the proper resources necessary to respond to an incident.  In still fewer cases do school employees and law enforcement officers conduct practice drills together, guaranteeing the type of coordination necessary to respond to one of these horrific mass shooting incidents.

 

While the CDCJ and CPCA reports serve a purpose in enlightening the public to the underlying conditions of the attacker and the response at Sandy Hook, neither report addresses nor provides guidance on the areas where we can improve our school safety efforts- planning and practice.  Until school administrators and law enforcement officials can commit the time, personnel, and resources necessary for proper interagency planning and training, our after-action reports will continue to focus on lives lost and not lives saved.

 

Sandy Hook Report Confirms Lesson Learned on School Safety and Surviving a Mass Shooting

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A report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting issued by the State of Connecticut, Division of Criminal Justice, confirms lessons learned with regard to both school safety and surviving a mass shooting.  The report released a few weeks before the first anniversary of the massacre detailed Adam Lanza’s homicidal attack which left 20 children and two adults dead in the second worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The 44-page report cited multiple instances where school safety procedures--and specifically, actions taken during the lockdown--saved numerous lives.  The report stated that on either side of the classrooms which were breached by the shooter, “Staff and students hid in the class restrooms, locking the doors from the inside.” Lockdown drills have been practiced by districts across the nation since Columbine and successfully utilized to reduce the victimization in multiple school shootings.  Further evidence of successful lockdown procedures used at Sandy Hook were also cited, noting “The staff used various ways to keep the children calm, from reading to having them color or draw pictures.”

In addition to acknowledging the success of tested school safety practices, the report confirmed evidence of how to survive a mass shooting.  Exiting from the scene is always the preferred method of survival, and state officials noted several instances when this tactic was utilized by survivors of the horrific incident.  The reported stated that, in a manner strikingly similar to the events at Columbine High School, “Some people were able to escape out of the building prior to the police arrival and went to Sandy Hook center, nearby residences, or received rides from parents going to the school or passersby.”  In classroom #10 where two teachers and five students died, “nine children had run out of the room and survived.”

In the book Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival the ESCAPE model is presented:

Exit, when possible without presenting a target

Seek cover to protect yourself from harm

Conceal yourself from the offenders

Assess all alternatives

Present a small target and

Engage, only as a last resort

The Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice’s report on the Sandy Hook shooting not only affirmed the need to exit quickly and remain a safe distance from the building, but also the need to seek cover and concealment.  During the shooting spree one teacher who was injured in the attack sought cover by “retreating into a classroom,” while other student protected themselves by hiding in restrooms. As the report noted, “A police officer found two uninjured children in the class restroom.”

Others involved in the tragedy sought concealment and survived.  “Several staff members had taken shelter in the office” the report noted, and remained hidden out of the shooter’s line of sight as he walked into the office and then out again.  There are not exact figures on the number of individuals who survived using concealment as a tactic, but the report did say that “Throughout the rest of the school, staff and students hid themselves wherever they happened to be at the time they became aware of the gunfire.”

While exiting, finding cover, and seeking concealment were the primary responses to the shooting at the school, at least one teacher assessed their alternatives and then decided to play dead until the shooter passed; she was able to crawl away undetected.  The Sandy Hook report detailed the response in the following manner, “The staff member felt a gunshot hit the staff member’s leg.  Once down, the staff member was struck again by additional gunfire, but laid still in the hallway.  Not seeing anyone in the hallway, the staff member crawled back into room 9 and held the door shut.”  On numerous occasions during past mass shooting events, individuals played dead and survived the attacks.

It is not clear in the report if anyone actively engaged the shooter during the attack or simply presented themselves and were gunned down.  It is clear, however, that at least three people heard “loud banging,” and went to investigate, and two were killed and one injured.  In an act of serendipity the injured party called 911 and at some point during the call inadvertently activated the school-wide intercom system, effectively notifying the rest of the building and commencing the lockdown.

While some may question the need for such an extensive and expensive investigation into a case which was “closed” on the day of the event, the information presented in the report confirms important lessons learned.  They are lessons with vital survival techniques which--if embraced by the general population--should help to mitigate the damage done by this uniquely American phenomenon, the mass shooter.

 

 

 

Best tactic to survive a mass shooting

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The following excerpt is based on the ESCAPE Model developed by the Community Safety Institute and presented in Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival. The single best tactic to survive a mass shooting is to EXIT when possible without presenting a target. When confronted with a mass shooting you must take immediate action.  You cannot “freeze up” or “freak out,” as survivors have described their responses.  You must try to remain calm, keep your wits about you, and immediately take action by exiting the location as soon as possible. Exiting the location and removing yourself from the violent incident is the single most important action for surviving a mass shooting event.

But exiting is not as simple as just jumping up from your chair and running away from the scene.  You must make intelligent choices concerning escape.  The autonomic response of “flight” sounds simple, but to survive an attack by an active shooter is significantly more complex. Simply getting up and fleeing could be the worst action to take if you then present a target to the offender or draw his attention toward you.  Based on the specific circumstances presented, you may have to crawl on your knees or belly, or hide until the shooter’s attention is diverted away from you and then crawl or run to safety.  In open spaces you may have to zigzag or vary your running pattern; when indoors, moving in short bursts from one position of cover or concealment to another may be your best option. If you are sitting or standing by an exit and the gunman is not immediately in front of you or staring at you, exit as quickly as possible and run as far from the scene as possible. DO NOT wait and see what the gunman is going to do next or what is going to happen to others. Leave the scene immediately and do not attempt to move wounded individuals.

If you have small children try to pick them up and run with them; drop everything else—purses, handbags, computers—in order to be as mobile as possible.  If practical, shed high heels or long coats which may impede your ability to quickly escape from the scene.  Remember, your life is at stake and any item that slows you down makes you more susceptible to becoming a victim. While exiting, keep your hands in plain sight or over your head if ordered to do so by responding officers.

Once you have cleared the scene, call 911 to ensure that assistance is coming.  Never assume that someone else has called 911. What to Report when Calling 911:

  • Your specific location, with building name and office or classroom number if applicable.
  • Number of people at your specific location
  • Injuries, with number of people injured and types of injuries

Note:  If possible and when safe to do so, the dispatcher may provide instructions on how to care for injured until medical assistance can be provided.  You may be asked to describe: the shooter(s) specific location; the number of shooters; race and gender; physical features (height, weight, facial hair, glasses); clothing color and style; whether he has a backpack or other type of bag; the type of weapons (rifle/shotgun, handgun) if known; if you recognize the shooter; if you know his/her name; if you have heard explosions separate from gunshots, and so on.

If you can’t speak, leave the line open so the dispatcher can listen to what is taking place.  This is an effective technique which has been utilized in schools to alert both students and teachers, and one that has been used for years by police officers who find themselves in dangerous situations and need to alert other officers of their need for assistance. Remember: the single best response to an active shooter situation is to exit the location as quickly and safely as possible.

Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival

Examining nearly 60 mass shootings that have occurred in the United States since 1982, this book focuses on the actions taken and decisions made by those who survived these horrific attacks. Armed with this new information, the old axiom “fight or flight” is dispelled or at least modified for this new breed of killer. Fight by yourself and you are almost assuredly going to join the ranks of the victims (if not the overall body count); flee and present a target for the killer or draw his attention, and chances are you will not make it out alive. This book is comprised of vital information gleaned from survivors who have successfully endured some of the most tragic and violent incidents in US history over the past 40 years. Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival presents an easy-to-understand model for every citizen of nearly any age. Armed with this vital information, citizens will be able to learn from the actual experiences of mass shooting survivors and understand both successful and unsuccessful tactics which have been utilized by these individuals.

How would I respond to a heavily-armed gunman who is determined to kill as many people as possible? What would I do if I were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: in a crowded movie theater, at a popular concert, out celebrating at a city festival, or simply eating lunch with my child at school?

What do I do?  Do I have the knowledge and skills necessary to survive an attack? How do I save myself and help others?

All of these questions and more are answered in Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival -

Mass Shootings is John Matthews' most recent book and focuses on the information and techniques one needs to know in case they find themselves in a mass shooting scenario.

a book written specifically to provide the information and tools necessary to survive a mass shooting or active shooter assault.

Beginning with the basics of escape and how to properly exit a public facility, through the need to find cover, conceal oneself from the offender, and finally to the last resort effort of engagement, the average citizen will learn the six-step ESCAPE Model designed to be utilized in a mass shooting or violent incident.

EXIT

  • AS SOON AS POSSIBLE WHEN SAFE TO DO SO
  • WITHOUT PRESENTING A TARGET FOR THE SHOOTER
  • WITHOUT DRAWING ATTENTION TO YOURSELF

SEEK COVER

  • TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM HARM

CONCEAL Yourself

  • HIDE FROM THE OFFENDER(S)
    • HIDING IN AN OPEN AREA UNDER TABLES AND CHAIRS IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
    • BE CREATIVE IN FINDING PLACES TO HIDE
    • REMAIN HIDDEN UNTIL RESCUED BY POLICE

ASSESS all alternatives;

  • OFFENDER
  • VICTIM
  • ENVIRONMENT

PRESENT a small target;

  • STAY LOW
  • CRAWL OR RUN IN A CROUCHED POSITION

ENGAGE, only as a last resort.

  • ENGAGE ONLY AS A LAST RESORT
  • ENGAGE WITH MULTIPLE INDIVIDUALS IF POSSIBLE

 

No one ever expects to be involved in a mass shooting. This book illustrates that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival is designed to keep you and your family safe if you find yourself in this all-too-common American occurrence.

 

Campus Safety Teams

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In every school district throughout the nation both district and campus safety teams should be utilized to ensure the highest level of campus safety and security. In School Safety 101 the 4 P’s of campus safety teams describe the primary roles and responsibilities of these important groups.

Four Ps of Campus Safety Teams

Often when school officials are asked about Campus Safety Teams, they respond that they ‘have one but really don’t know how to best utilize it.’ Campus Safety Teams are an excellent resource and can be utilized in a variety of ways.  One method, called the Four P’s of Campus Safety, focuses on the areas of policies and procedures, programs, partnerships, and physical security. Let’s look more closely at each of these four areas.

  • Policies and Procedures

One of the most important roles for a Campus Safety Team is to review campus policies and procedures regarding school safety.  CST members should ensure that the policies address the concerns that they were intended to address. Members should review procedures to determine if they are practical and can be realistically implemented.  Often both policies and procedures are in place, but because of lack of training or lack of enforcement they are not properly adhered to by school staff or students. For example, a ‘closed campus’ policy is designed to restrict movement and ensure access control, but common practices such as placing rocks in doors to keep them open while teachers step outside will void the entire policy.

When policies and procedures are not in sync, an implementation gap develops. For example, school policy might state that “all visitors to campus must check in at the office,” but because office personnel are busy with other duties, the procedure in the office is to simply have visitors sign in without verifying their identification or what they will be doing on campus. It is the responsibility of Campus Safety Team members to identify the issues and take corrective action when implementation gaps such as this occur.  A solution for this common problem might be to route the visitors to a designated area where their identification can be checked and they can be issued a proper visitor badge before going about their activities.

In some school districts, CSTs have recommended “disappearing” VISITOR badges, where the words fade after a designated time, to further strengthen campus security and visitor requirements.  Another suggestion which came from a progressive Campus Safety Team was to require ID cards at all times for all visitors.  Of course, measures such as this are only effective when schools implement and enforce them 100% of the time!

  • Programs

The second area of responsibility for Campus Safety Team members is to review the programs that focus on improving school safety and are currently in place at the school. Some programs that CST members may want to review include Character Ed, peer mediation, safety centers, safety publications, hotlines, anger management, and conflict resolution.

Many schools have programs such as these, but how often are they evaluated and how effective are they at actually making the campus a safer place to learn?  For example, having a student “hotline” to report crime, gang or gun activity may be great, but are students using it?  What are some alternatives?  Would an Internet-based system be more effective? What about a reporting system tied to age-appropriate rewards? CST members will work to make those determinations and to suggest other innovative initiatives that increase school safety and security.

CST members will also want to determine if there are other school-based or community-based programs that are available to staff or students.  Often community groups and social service agencies can be utilized to multiply the number of programs offered on campus.

Examples might be after-school programs that offer physical activities and educational opportunities for children who would otherwise be left alone at home, or mentoring programs offered by local business groups so that young adults can improve their social skills. Often schools will find that there are numerous civic, social and service programs that are available to students in the community. Campus Safety Team members need only identify those opportunities and direct students to those services.

  • Partnerships

CST members should continually work to develop positive and proactive safety partnerships that will add to the quality of life on campus and ensure a beneficial educational environment. Partner-ships with various civic, social and service groups can yield tremendous benefits for the school and its population.  Some groups may be able to donate their time or financial resources, while others may provide advice or other educational opportunities.

In many communities, schools partner with civic groups to leverage resources or with the business and financial community to bolster funding for specialized projects. Often educational foundations are established or booster clubs formed to raise money that can be dedicated to non-budgeted school activities.  Each year golf tour-naments, art shows and a plethora of other activities are conducted by schools and their community partners to benefit students and student programs.

Campus Safety Teams with their diverse membership should actively seek out partnership opportunities for their district and its schools. In the past, CSTs have identified the National Guard for drug awareness efforts; police, fire and EMS groups for public safety fairs; and service organizations that fund specialized projects such as ‘back to school’ supplies for low income families.

Enlightened educators are aware that schools have limited resources and that partnering with civic, social and service groups can create a win/win situation for schools and community groups alike.

  • Physical Security

A CST should continually review the physical security needs on campus by allowing various assessment teams and safety groups to evaluate internal and external safety.  While a full-scale assessment may be needed only once a year, regular checks of the campus by CST members using a short checklist can result in valuable information that increases student and staff safety.  For example, if once a month CST members walk the various areas in and around the campus, they may discover fencing that has been knocked down, gates that are not properly secured, or playground equipment that is in disrepair and needs maintenance.

 

School Crisis Response Plan

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The School Crisis Response Plan is a detailed guide that: defines the terminology used with regard to crisis response (Shelter-in-Place, Lockdown, Evacuation, and Reunion Site); sets forth the chain of command with the duties associated with each position; explains what a command post is; sets forth the duties of on-site Crisis Response Team Members; gives types of drills and evacuations; provides for the naming of evacuation sites; explains the necessity for accounting for all students and staff during a crisis; discusses a media staging area; provides for listing of students or staff who require special assistance; names school staff trained to render first aid and CPR; discusses joint occupancy (if applicable); covers a timetable for debriefing; and explains the Parent-Child Reunification Process. The Crisis Response Plan details how critical incidents will be addressed; by whom and under what conditions specific actions will be taken (such as ordering a shelter-in-place or evacuating a facility). This plan is usually supported by even more detailed campus- or facility-specific procedures that provide step-by-step instructions to faculty and staff. The Community Safety Institute recommends that Crisis Response Plans should be specifically tailored to meet the needs and conditions of individual campuses and school districts.

Because each district and campus is unique with distinct demographics, physical design and personnel characteristics, it is incumbent upon school officials to ensure that each plan is specifically developed or adapted for each individual campus.

Since Crisis Response Plans detail specific information such as escape routes, muster or assembly locations, and evacuation procedures, they should never be “cut and pasted” from another district or facility. Once developed, each plan should be tested to ensure that the plan is realistic and can indeed be implemented if and when needed.

One school district’s plan specified that their on-site evacuation location was in an old elementary school on an unused portion of campus. That would have been fine except no one had keys to get into the building in an emergency and, when inspected during a school safety audit, it was discovered that the entire building was being used for storage by another group; there was no room inside to even temporarily house students and staff in an emergency. Crisis Response Plans must be practical and useful documents that can be realistically implemented during a critical incident or emergency.

Throughout the nation, schools are developing, enhancing or modifying their Crisis Response Plans to include a variety of possible incidents that districts may face during the course of the school year. As these plans are provided to staff, administrators must be cognizant of the terms that are being used.

In some districts the terms “shelter-in-place” and “lockdown” are often used interchangeably, when in fact these terms have separate and distinct meanings.  In fact, schools can ‘shelter-in-place’ in the event of bad weather, effectively ‘locking down’ their students inside while keeping their doors open and accessible for others on the outside seeking shelter from the storm. On the other hand, a “lockdown” denotes that the building is secured and that no one enters or leaves the premises until the “All Clear” is given or when directed to do so by school or emergency personnel.

Some other common elements included in school crisis response plans and detailed in School Safety 101 are:

Command Post

Access to computers, phones, fax and printer is recommended for any location chosen as the Command Post. Both primary and alternate locations should be chosen. A command post might sometimes be outdoors, such as on a parking lot or an athletic field or stadium.

Media Staging Area

The media staging area should be separate from any multi-hazard evacuation location or parent/child reunion area. It might be located on a nearby street, or in a park, open area, or commercial area.

Parent-Child Reunification Process (PCR)

The school’s Parent/Child Reunification Process (PCR) is an integral part of a Crisis Response Plan and Communications Plan, and should include the details of reuniting children with their parents or guardians.  The crisis plan should include the methods of communicating the PCR process to parents or guardians (e.g., principal’s newsletter, school web page).

Crisis response planning is crucial for each and every district in the nation. Although your chances of being victimized by a school shooter or other violent episode remain small, the possibility of your school being used as a shelter during a severe weather event, or evacuated because of a fire or hazardous materials spill, is a distinct possibility. Schools must be prepared for all-hazard incidents, and developing a Crisis Response Plan is a step in the right direction.

This plan will provide not only guidance and direction in an emergency but provide specific policies and procedures to follow. It will outline duties and responsibilities, and list partnerships and districts or organizations that can assist during a traumatic event or natural disaster.

A Crisis Response Plan needs to be a living document that is updated often, practiced regularly by all school personnel in order to be effective and properly utilized during an emergency.

 

Organizing Your Neighborhood Watch

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The following information of excerpted from the book Neighborhood watch 101. There is no single right way to organize a NW group. Depending on the requirements of local law enforcement, there might not be a lot of choice. No matter how your NW is set up, the organizational structure must take into account the needs of the community and law enforcement.

A traditional NW group will include a law enforcement officer or liaison to the group, an area coordinator who lives in the community, block captains spread throughout the community, and watch members. One of the final steps in forming and organizing a Neighborhood Watch is the desig-nation of leadership. These individuals will be responsible for the planning and coordinating activities. Watch leaders may be formal leaders elected by their peers or informal leaders who are simply the first to volunteer! As a Watch becomes more advanced, the members may form an advisory or executive board to make decisions for a larger area. It doesn’t matter how your Watch group is set up, as long as your community members are excited and effectively addressing the identified problems.

The Law Enforcement Liaison.  Traditionally, designated sworn officers or their non-sworn public service counterparts are assigned as liaisons or coordinators for Neighborhood Watch. Often these individuals are selected because of their previous crime prevention experience or training.

The Block Captain. Block captains are recommended for every 10-15 houses, and they should be directly involved with their immediate neighbors. The block captain’s responsibilities may include:

  • Acting as liaison between block residents and the coordinator
  • Compiling and distributing a current list of names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of block participants
  • Visiting and inviting new residents to join; notifying them of meetings and training sessions
  • Establishing an “Operation Identification” program. This is a nationwide program in which personal property is marked legibly with a unique identifying number to permit positive identification if valuables are lost or stolen.
  • Contacting each neighbor as often as possible to discuss possible crime problems, needs for assistance, and suggestions for program improvement.

The Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. The Coordinator’s job is crucial to the success of your program. This may be just the right job for a retiree or other individual who has extra time at home. This person’s responsibilities may include:

  • Expanding the program and maintaining a current list of participants and neighborhood residents, including names, addresses, home and work telephone numbers, email addresses, and vehicle descriptions
  • Acting as liaison between Watch members, officers, civic groups, and block captains
  • Arranging neighborhood crime prevention training programs
  • Obtaining and distributing crime prevention materials such as stickers and signs
  • Involving others to develop specific crime prevention projects
  • Encouraging participation in “Operation Identification”

Citizens’ Advisory Board. Some law enforcement agencies and cities running large NW groups have arranged for a group of citizens to oversee the NW groups in a certain area. This is a good idea if the NW plans on fundraising, or if the number of groups is too overwhelming for the law enforcement liaison. The Board’s responsibilities include:

  • Neighborhood Watch group start-up assistance in other areas
  • Information, processing, training and recruiting of groups in non-represented areas
  • Maintaining communications between the Neighborhood Watch groups and the Board
  • Organizing advisory committees as needed
  • Supporting and organizing fundraising efforts in the community
  • Maintaining a relationship with law enforcement
  • Bringing emerging issues in the community to the attention of law enforcement and other government officials

Neighborhood Watch Members. In some neighborhoods, the need for a proactive Neighborhood Watch program will be evident because of the well-documented crimes or the acknowledged disorder that occurs in the community. In these neighborhoods, residents are usually ready and willing to mobilize and participate in the NW program. They often need little external motivation. The focus in these areas is usually more on leadership and organization.

However, in other neighborhoods the incidents or offenses may be less well known and the level of awareness among the residents may need to be increased. Under these circumstances the responsibility for raising the level of awareness falls upon the law enforcement liaison as well as the area coordinator.

The responsibility for the recruitment of volunteers usually falls to the Block Captains or Area Coordinators, but in some instances the officer may have to instruct these leaders on how to recruit new members.

 

Neighborhood Watch Titles and Positions

Once a core group of Neighborhood Watch volunteers has been identified, specific members may volunteer to take on leadership positions. In some instances, certain individuals may be reluctant to take on specialized roles within the group. The law enforcement officer may wish to interview and select certain key individuals to lead specific efforts.

 

Preparing Schools for Active Shooter Attacks

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In Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival  the author uses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) definition of mass shooting, which is “four or more killed in a single event.”  Using that definition, a USA Today analysis of 146 mass shootings indicated that more than 900 people died in mass shootings during the past seven years. If one utilizes the statistics provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the numbers increase even more dramatically.  Based on their definition (three or more people killed/injured in a single incident), between the Columbine shooting in April 1999 and September of 2012, nearly 200 people were shot to death in mass killings.  In the first nine months of September 2012, there were 80 deaths resulting from mass murders.  These numbers do not include those who were injured.  The Brady Campaign reports that by their definition, there is an average of 20 mass shootings per year in the United States.

Schools should prepare for active shooter incidents by providing training to their entire staff and having a crisis response plan that is studied and practices by all employees.  It is recommended that active shooter drills and their corresponding lockdown and/or evacuation plans are practiced at least twice per year.   Below is some additional information on preparing schools for active shooter attacks and how districts should develop policies and provide training for these unlikely but often deadly incidents.

ACTIVE SHOOTER DEFINED

An Active Shooter may be defined as one or more persons who participate in a random or systematic shooting spree demonstrating their intent to continuously harm or kill others.

There is no apparent pattern or method to their selection of victims. The activity is not contained, and there is immediate risk of death and injury to victims.

These situations are dynamic and evolve rapidly, demanding immediate deployment of law enforcement to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to innocent victims.

In most cases, active shooters use firearms, and may continue to shoot even in the presence of police. They are often willing to fire upon unarmed citizens.

SERIOUS THREAT

Active shooters are considered a serious threat to campuses throughout the United States.  Nationally accepted law enforcement response plans have been developed to address active shooter incidents.

All schools staff, not just security officers or campus police  need to be informed of law enforcement’s response plans, need to know their own corporate policies and procedures and be able to take protective measures in an active shooter event.  Training of staff is imperative and a core element of preparedness.   The research-based ESCAPE Model presented in Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival has been developed to train staff and students how survive an active shooter attack.

ACTIVE SHOOTER THREATS

It is impossible to predict from where an active shooter threat may appear. As we saw from previous slides, assailants are not always teachers, students, or people with any connection to the schools.

In many instances, there are no obvious specific targets, and the victims were unaware that they were targeted until the attack occurred.

ACTIVE SHOOTER MENTALITY

With an active shooter:

•             The desire is to kill and seriously injure without concern for his safety or threat of capture

•             He normally has intended victims and will search them out. However, as we pointed out previously, there may be no obvious or apparent method to the selection of victims.

•             He accepts targets of opportunity while searching for, or after finding, intended victims

•             He will continue to move throughout building/area until stopped by law enforcement, suicide, or other intervention

ACTIVE SHOOTERS: COMMON CHARACTERISTICS

There are common characteristics of active shooters in schools:

•             The suspect has likely planned the operation

•             The situation is ongoing and aggressive

•             Mass casualties are likely

•             They are heavily armed

•             They control the situation

•             Their actions result in mass confusion

•             The rescue/evacuation of innocents is necessary

SCHOOLS PRIORITIES DURING “ACTIVE SHOOTER” SITUATION

In an Active Shooter situation, the priorities of corporate personnel are to:

•             Protect the lives of students, staff and visitors

•             Implement Crisis Plan “Armed Intruder” procedure

•             Notify police

•             Provide follow-up counseling to staff

•             Restore the learning environment

All schools should prepare for active shooter scenarios just as they plan for weather and other all-hazards incidents.  Campuses should develop crisis response and contingency plans for active shooter incidents as well as provide staff with both training and practice.  Active shooter attacks are often deadly and school districts are obligated to provide a safe learning environment.  Practicing security procedures such as lockdowns and evacuations and providing training in the ESCAPE Model could mitigate the incident and reduce district liability if an attack occurs.