Safety & Security

Active Shooter Training

While I have heard many horror stories of active shooter trainings gone awry, this call was particularly alarming. A former school employee called to see if I could help him locate an attorney to file a lawsuit regarding a popular options-based active shooter training program. He told me that his arm had been crushed by a police officer during the training program and that he still could not use his arm after five separate surgical procedures. He told me that though his district’s worker’s compensation program had covered his medical expenses, he was now disabled mid-career and his quality of life had been devastated.

As the caller described how the instructor taught the program, it sounded as if a variety of very basic safety precautions had been ignored. For example, the caller told me that the training involved the instructor shooting participants with an Airsoft pistol that had been modified by a police department armorer to fire pellets at much greater velocity. He related that participants were not provided with any protective padding, and even more seriously, that they were not provided with face shields to protect their eyes. He told me that three of the 22 participants in the class had been hospitalized as a result of injuries received during the training. Though not typical, we have had one report of seven participants being injured in a single class with this program taught in Alaska.

We have verified that one insurance carrier in Iowa has already paid more than $1 million in medical bills for school employees who have been injured during training sessions for the same training program, and that there is active litigation regarding injuries received during the training.

As worker’s compensation claims and litigation relating to active shooter training programs continue to proceed through the legal system, we will see a clearer picture of what courts will be looking for in safety procedures for these types of training programs. For now, I thought it might be helpful to describe at least minimum standard of care safety requirements for any options-based active shooter program.

1. As with force-on-force training sessions for law enforcement officers, learning activities that involve throwing of objects at people, hitting people with objects, or hitting or kicking with hands and feet, require appropriate protective suits, helmets and face shields. These are commonly utilized by law enforcement agencies when police personnel participate in similar types of force-on-force training.

2. Clearly and thoughtfully established safety rules should be communicated to participants and followed rigorously.

3. Participants should be provided adequate cautions that options involving running, throwing objects at an armed aggressor, and fighting an armed aggressor can result in serious injury and death if misapplied.

4. Participants should be warned that no options-based active shooter training approach has been validated as effective at reducing the chances of serious injury and death in an actual active shooter event. They should also be notified that students and school officials have been seriously injured, and in some instances even killed, while trying to disarm people in American schools.

5. Participants should be trained how to discern between active shooter incidents and other, far more common, situations involving weapons on school property where throwing objects or using force against armed persons could trigger a shooting. For example, participants should be trained that attacking an armed hostage-taker who is not actively harming hostages could increase the chances of serious injury and death.

6. Participants should be required to individually test out on a variety of scenarios, with some scenarios involving instances where the techniques taught should be used along with an array of the more common weapons situations, where the use of force against an individual would be likely to increase danger.

While some current options-based active shooter training programs could be improved to meet the standard of care, most programs presently offered will not be able to meet the standard of care if challenged in litigation. More effective, reliable and reasonably safe training programs can and should be developed to train school employees about how to increase survivability of staff and students during active shooter and other more common weapons situations in schools.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive ā€“ How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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