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Responding to an Armed Intruder

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Responding to an Armed Intruder

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Training Staff and Students to Respond to the Armed Intruder 

Recently a school district in Texas hired a company to instruct teachers and students in how to fight back if a gunman invaded a classroom. As the first district in the country known to institute this type of training, media attention was inevitable. While some applauded the effort, others, including local law enforcement, were critical of the tactic. The idea was heatedly debated across the Internet and in the print media. In the end, the school district discontinued the program; however, the dilemma faced by school principals in public and private education related to how to instruct staff and students to respond when confronted by an armed intruder at school is still a question that needs to be answered.

Who are these armed intruders?

Armed intruders generally fit into two basic categories - individuals who are armed and make threatening statements indicating harm, and those actually shooting, referred to in law enforcement as "active shooters", and the line between the two is very fine and fragile.

Armed but Not Shooting

Staff should know that when faced with an armed intruder who is not yet an active shooter, there are few hard and fast rules. While easier said than done, maintaining one’s composure is the best first step. Under stress, rational decision making is difficult, so it will be critically important for staff to stay as calm as possible and look for ways to engage the intruder in conversation and find some area of commonality. If there is a face to face encounter with the intruder, building rapport may buy time for law enforcement to arrive. If students are present, a staff member’s calmness and stability will be reassuring. Speak in a normal but low tone of voice. Maintain eye contact but do not stare.

Staff should be instructed to make all decisions based on the premise that the armed intruder intends to use the weapon. However; attempting to disarm or attack the intruder should be a last resort relegated to when it appears failure to do so will result in someone being injured or killed.

Active Shooters

For the active shooter, staff should be instructed to take whatever action necessary for the protection of self and others in the immediate vicinity. Staff will inevitability ask if this means confronting or attacking the intruder and, if so, how? The answer should be that the decision to physically engage an active shooter is a personal one that must be made on all known facts at the time, and staff should use whatever means are available. While it is not advisable for districts to provide training related to physically engaging armed individuals, interested staff can be referred to groups offering such service.

Training Students

Discussing the same topic with students poses a completely different set of problems. Some parents will object to the training believing that directing a student to physically engage an armed intruder would increase the chances of not coming home from school safely. And, while school shootings do occur, they are still relatively rare and many in a community will believe training students in that manner of response is an over reaction.

Generally speaking, students should be told that during emergencies and crisis situations, they should follow the directions and actions of school personnel. If a teacher or other adult is not present when an armed intruder is nearby, students should either hide by concealment or, if possible, flee.

Parents and Law Enforcement

Parents should be informed related to what children are being told on this topic. In-place sheltering drills, which provide an opportunity for staff and students to practice procedures for when an intruder may be on the campus, will be an opportunity for teachers to have an age appropriate discussion with students on the topic.

District administrators should also have an open and frank discussion with local law enforcement on what staff and students are being told to do in the event of an armed intruder. Their input and expertise will be critically important.

In the end, most will agree on a set of parameters and, in some cases, parents will continue the dialogue at the dinner table.


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