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OPINION

How to survive a school shooting

The senseless shooting at Chardon High School is another stark reminder that violence can happen at any given time and place. Most schools have crisis plans which include lockdowns in response to shooters inside school buildings. 

But beyond locking the school building down, students, teachers and staff receive little to no instruction on what to do when coming face-to-face with a shooter. 

The philosophy for school districts should be simple: when gunshots are heard, schools need to turn to a plan that details lockdown procedures as well as behavioral expectations for students, staff and teachers.

School personnel have good plans in response to fire alarm activation. 

They have excellent protocols for responding to a tornado siren. Not only are the plans well documented but they are practiced at certain times of the year. They practice their plan to enhance learning.

At a recent FBI training session that I attended, the agent commented that more people are killed by gunfire in our schools than by fires or tornados. Given that sobering news, we should do a better job of preparing our children, teachers and administrators on what to do when faced with a shooter. But what’s the plan?

School districts around the United States typically review lockdown procedures but often fail to cover strategies for what to do when a shooter enters a room and starts killing kids and teachers.

A lockdown is a sound safety tool which is very appropriate given specific shooter situations. However, school districts and administrators need to provide a survival plan of what to do when students and teachers encounter a shooter face-to-face.

The survival concepts we teach at Otterbein University where I serve as chief of police are very simple but dynamic.

There are three basic survival responses to a shooter on campus: run, hide and barricade. Then, as a last resort, attack the shooter. 

We emphasize that students should run to safety and get away from the danger. If the situation is so dangerous that it’s deemed unsafe to run, then hide and barricade yourself in a room and work your plan.

The third survival tactic is the most difficult but none-the-less necessary. A shooter enters the classroom and starts shooting at people. Remember, there is nowhere to run or hide. 

The strategy begins with the first person who notices the shooter and yells “GUN!” Everyone in the room then throws whatever is available, as hard as they can, at the shooter’s face causing him to flinch, and preventing him from taking aim. Then what’s known as the “throw and go” tactic is implemented.

Upon throwing items at the shooter, the occupants rush to and swarm the shooter. The first few people are taught to attack and move the shooter’s gun hand and gun toward the ground.

At the same time or shortly after, the other swarmer’s attack and take the shooter to the ground. Students, faculty and staff are taught to strategically lay on the shooter’s extremities as well as their core area to maximize the amount of weight on the shooter.

In addition, they are taught to place ready-at-hand objects such as belts, T-shirts, etc., onto the shooter’s throat, nose and eyes to disrupt breathing and sight.

Once it is determined the shooter is no longer a threat, people are instructed to release pressure to allow breathing but maintain control on top of the shooter until the police arrive.

Critics of this survival tactic argue that you can’t teach people to attack a shooter. But when they are questioned about other options, they become silent.

We can expect that when applying “throw and go” that some may be injured and possibly killed by the shooter.

However, we can also expect that if people in that classroom do nothing and; lie in frozen fear, afraid to fight to live, that the shooter will probably kill everyone in the classroom until stopped. That’s not acceptable!

People need to be taught tactics to live no matter how ugly. What’s the alternative?

The last thing we want at Otterbein University is for our students, faculty and staff not to do anything and thus be executed.

We began researching survival options to school shooters after the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007. One learning point was that some school shooters, like the young men at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, seem to desire a large body count for media attention.

This is critical information when forming strategies such as barricading and attacking the shooter as a last resort.

It is hoped that when a school shooter encounters a barricaded room, he/she won’t take the time to attempt to break into it because they know the police are coming to take care of the threat.

They will probably move to easier, less protected targets to improve their body count.

The three survival concepts previous discussed (run, hide and barricade, Attack) can be utilized anywhere and are obviously not limited for use in schools.

Search the Internet for active shootings and you’ll find that shootings are happening everywhere, including in churches, at restaurants and, malls, and countless other locations.

Education and training are the keys to being prepared for this kind of crisis. The greatest obstacle to survival training is thinking that, “It will never happen here.”

Big mistake.

It’s said in the survival world that the mind is the greatest weapon and that’s true. So let’s put this in proper perspective.

Responding to school shooters is simply another crisis to prepare for much like fires, tornados, bomb threats, etc. Schools are very safe for the most part. This dialog is not intended to motivate an action plan based on scare tactics. Rather, much like Virginia Tech in 2007, maybe it can be a wake-up call where appropriate.

Larry Banaszak is the Chief of Police at Otterbein University. In the past five years, the Otterbein Police Department has hosted numerous active shooters training sessions for university students, staff and faculty, as well as going to other school districts, businesses and governmental agencies.