As with other unspeakable tragedies, security experts have spent much time after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings analyzing where precautions failed and what can be done going forward.
This summer federal emergency response agencies and the U.S. Department of Education published a guide for school safety plans that, in the case of active shooters, urges a more immediate and active response than the shelter-in-place plans schools use for less deadly threats.
The first bit of advice is for staff to be ready to move. Studies found a natural reaction to fear is disbelief and denial, wasting precious seconds to call for help and act.
The choices if someone with a gun is firing, the report summarized as run, hide, fight. “You can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm,” the report says.
But the security expert hired by Modesto City Schools to work on safety plans for its nearly 40 campuses and office sites, said few schools stand ready to fight back.
“That’s actually been used in professional settings. Hospitals use it. Run, hide, fight — that’s what adults do, not what kids should do,” said Rex Osborn of CaliforniaSafeSchools.com.
Teachers of younger kids practice fire drills and other safety exercises, he said, with the point being to train them to follow directions immediately. “Students aren't taught about why they’re having an evacuation drill, they’re taught to do what the teacher tells you,” he said.
In upper grades, conversations can touch on what to do in specific scenarios. “Seventh through 12th grade, we’re not teaching them anything they don’t know. Seventh through 12th get it,” Osborn said.
Still, he said, the district will not be advising anyone to stand and fight. The updated plans for schools will include more efficient drills and uniform procedures between school sites, with updated maps and a focus on getting police help fast.
“The teacher’s responsibility remains the same — protect the child,” he said.