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School Shooting Contingency Plans & Considerations

By Dave Grossman

  1. Law enforcement agencies and school districts need to have contingency plans for school shootings in place AND practice them. Although we are thinking primarily about school shootings, these contingency plans also apply to mass murders and active shooters in other large areas (hospitals, malls, workplace shootings, sporting events, churches, etc.). In particular, as we worry about the possibility of terrorist attacks, we have to recognize that one model of terrorist attack is an active shooter! One of the worst Middle East terrorist attacks was a Jewish active shooter in a Mosque. We MUST recognize the fact that if two teenage boys in Littleton or Jonesboro could commit mass murders that stunned a nation, then an organized group of trained terrorists could do MUCH worse. The terrorists we are currently fighting want VERY much to hurt us, and the way they can hurt us the most if by killing our kids.

  2. You may want to do the planning/recon process discreetly. But there CAN be great value in having the SWAT team do a recon during school hours. The kids will see it and many potential killers will be deterred. (Some people think that this will raise the fear level, others say there is already a VERY high fear level.) Probably don't want to go over the top, ie not in tac gear, but in uniform. The school administration might not agree that there is a positive value to doing this and you might have to compromise: just a handful of officers, say 3 teams of 2, in uniform, checking different aspects throughout the day, and then comparing notes the next day.

  3. If you want to prep the kids, your guidance to the kids should be 2 fold:
    • While the shooters are in the school the kids should either get out, asap, or (according to teachers' guidance) lock themselves into rooms possibly even barricading doors. These killers are not out to take hostages. In every single one of these school shooting situations (and the church/daycare/brokerage shootings), so far, there are no hostages. The killers are on a spree, out to kill as many people as possible, and "take no prisoners" could well be their motto.
    • When the SWAT teams or police enter, the guidance to the kids should be to: "Hit the deck and stay down until told otherwise."

  4. Preparing the teachers, and drilling them is at the HEART of the operation. This should be handled like a fire plan (the model of fire planning and prep should at the heart of school shooting planning/prep). Just as the fire department is the lead player in school (and workplace) fire planning, so MUST the police department be the lead planner in school (and workplace!) violence planning. Each classroom needs to be assessed, just like each classroom needs a separate fire plan. In some rooms, you can secure students in the room, locking and/or barricading doors. Other locations may not be securable (like the library in Columbine High!) and the drill must be to move to another room that can be secured. The room does not have to be Ft. Knox! It just has to slow down an intruder/shooter long enough for the police to arrive and respond.

  5. Part of the drill includes the teacher actually dialing the phone number to report emergencies. (Remember, most classroom phones require dialing a number(s) to get an outside line, and THEN dialing 911, this MUST be rehearsed.)

  6. Securing/lockdown in the room is one option, and the other is to evacuate the school. The evacuation plan is already in place (fire/bomb drills) so all we need is to add one new drill/option to the plan, and a clear signal for the execution of that plan. The very WORST thing that can happen is to try to secure your kids in an unsecurable location, like the Columbine High library; may we NEVER forget the lessons learned from THAT tragic mass murder.

  7. Choosing when to lockdown a school is tricky business, like choosing when to evacuate. Periodic fire drills: a must. Evacuate in response to a real fire: a must. Evacuate in response to bomb scare: a judgment call. Any school that does not have an evac plan, and periodically work the plan is morally negligent and legally liable. In the same way, any school that does not have a lockdown drill is equally negligent and liable. Deciding WHEN to execute that lockdown is a judgment call.

  8. According to the US Secret Service, in 1998 alone we had 35 kids MURDERED in acts of school violence, and a QUARTER OF A MILLION were seriously injured. Meanwhile, it has been many years since a single child was killed or injured by school fire. Remember, the likelihood of having your children killed or injured in a school shooting is THOUSANDS of times greater than the probability of them being killed or injured in a school fire. Thus, we have the moral obligation to spend AT LEAST as much time and energy on school violence (the thing that IS killing our kids) as we do on school fires. Every school has sprinklers, alarms, drills, extinguishers, etc, to prep for fires, so why don't we prepare for the thing that IS killing our kids? Now, with the threat of terrorist activity, the risk is even greater. (NOTE: We are NOT saying that fire prep is not important, but that this is AT LEAST as important as school fire prep.)

  9. In every case the killer (or the terrorist) is looking for a "soft" target. They want to make a "statement" by killing as many innocents as possible. They know that they can't get on the news if they don't have a good, or "record," body count. If we can "harden" the target, it can deter a LOT of potential killers. The shooter in the LA Jewish daycare center in 1999 looked at 2 other such sites before he found one without security.

  10. So, one thing that I am encouraging LEOs to do is to recon local schools. Spend a whole day at the school, priority on High School, then Jr. High. Discuss and observe possible approach routes and assembly areas while school is opening (masses of busses and cars dropping off kids, this is what happened in Pearl) and closing (same), and during lunch when kids are packed in the cafeteria (this is what happened in Springfield), also take a look at a school assembly (when the whole student body is together in an auditorium for an event) and discuss how you would handle a shooting during that, and think about kids as snipers on the roof (the University of Texas "black tower" scenario), and possibly a shooting/bombing at a sporting event. (I am very surprised that we have not seen a school sporting event hit yet, especially as much as the profile of the average shooter is such a "jock-hater.")

  11. Have a plan in mind for each such scenario, and then get the plans, routes, and checklist of assignments/tasks set up, and PRIORITIZED, so that as officers and adjacent SWAT teams show up the onsite commander can assign them to the next priority task on your list. I would place a HIGH priority on initial entry, going in FAST, as soon as some of the SWAT team is in place, especially if shots are still going on. (Indeed, the need for rapid, dynamic entry is so critical that many agencies are training and prepping their street officers to go in asap, rather than the usual containment and wait for SWAT scenario.)

  12. Think carefully about where to position your sniper teams to get maximum coverage/supporting fire. (Depending on the school layout, you may want to think about bringing a sniper team in with you, as there may be some very long shots INSIDE some of these large schools.) Other available assets (police/deputies) should be assigned to
    1) perimeter security (so the shooters can't escape while the team goes in) and then to securing fleeing kids (protecting them, AND to be sure the shooters aren't escaping with the evacuees).
    2) checking out potential secondary strike ambush sites.

  13. There is a risk to this rapid entry strategy: the entry team may be vulnerable to bombs or walking into an ambush. The probability of this is low, but real; but I submit that the warrior's job is to move toward the sound of the guns, to go in harm's way. You are placing your life at risk, but that is what we get paid for, and most of us would swap our lives, one-for-one for a kid's life any day. If we go in with adequate body armor, shields, and helmets, the average bomb probably won't represent a life threatening danger, but as long as you hear shots going off, I submit that there is a moral obligation to go in and go in FAST, but PREPARED and fully equipped.

  14. Especially watch for secondary strikes:
    • bomb scare or fire alarm, then
    • the killers shoot at/bomb the packed kids in assembly areas outside. (This is what happened in Jonesboro, and what the kids in Littleton tried to do.) THE FUTURE OF SCHOOLSHOOTINGS (and workplace violence) IS FOR THE PERP TO USE A COMBINATION OF BOMBS AND GUNS. The video games train the kids for this. In the video games, the kids use bombs, and then follow up with guns to get a high score. When the bombs go off, BE ALERT FOR SECONDARY STRIKES, with guns. Establish security ASAP. This means we MUST review assembly procedures with the school administrators, assess the assembly locations outside the school and try to find places that have cover, or cover close by. (DON'T trap them in the middle of a big killing field with nowhere close to run) and perhaps have teachers/SROs check/go directly to ideal sniper positions, AND have them check for possible bombs in the assembly areas and move to an alternative site of there is anything suspicious. Integrate school security and the Jr. ROTC staff into these kind of things (checking out potential ambush sites during fire drills, etc). Be sure that they are especially vigilant in executing such checks/plans if it is an unplanned fire drill or bomb scare or real bomb blast
    (vs planned fire drills when the average kid would not know that it was going to happen).

  15. DO NOT evacuate into parking lots! The easiest most deadly kind of bomb to manufacture and transport is a car bomb: some mini-McVeigh with a propane tank and remote igniter in his car, or (even worse) 400 lbs of primed fertilizer in the trunk of his old beater. If the kids must evacuate into a parking lot, make it the faculty parking lot and RIGIDLY control access to that lot. (Consistently tow all unauthorized cars immediately.) When the teacher evacs the kids to the lawn or faculty parking lot, LOOK for anything that does not belong there (a box, a bag, a pipe, or freshly upturned dirt) and STAY AWAY from those objects.

  16. The kind of plans you come up with: element to evac kids, inner/outer perimeter, sniper overwatch, rapid entry while shots are firing, dealing with bombs, all of these kind of plans will apply to day care centers and churches too, which have, sadly, been increasingly the targets.

  17. All contingency plans should also incorporate the fire department's preplanned response to the school. The fire department already knows where all of the utility panels, ductwork, and conduit are located. They usually have building blueprints in their preplan package (something very important for any SWAT/SRT response. Also find out if there is a video surveillance security system in the school and from where it can be monitored.

  18. Incorporate the SRO in the planning process since he/she already knows the layout of the school. SRO also probably has a good handle on who are potential trouble makers and who are the student leaders/opinion shapers (official & unofficial) within student groups and cliques. Police should already have profiles on students who have had run-ins with the police, particularly in small to midsize towns. This should be included in contingency packages.

  19. When you actually practice this (as opposed to the recon/planning phase), practice for worst case scenarios. Practice with the fire alarms ringing constantly. Simulate the sprinklers going off, if you can. Have a "secondary strike" in the scenario --ie, respond to a bomb, injuries, etc, and then a sniper fires at fleeing kids from the surrounding areas.

  20. All of this is vital if we are going to save lives and deter these tragic crimes. The fire department has plans like this for fires in all major buildings, and now the time has come for us to do the same.

Stay safe!


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