Could more children have been saved during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting? Possibly, yes. In a Jan. 8 Hartford Courant article, attorneys representing two families of children that were victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting argued that “some victims could have been saved if officials had followed the school’s lockdown guidelines.”
What the administrators did during the deadly attack was heroic, the attorneys say, showing that their actions were well intentioned. However, those actions were neither the prescribed protocol nor procedure during an active shooting incident. The legal team even claims that one administrator hid under a table instead of calling for a lockdown.
In one corner of the school, a substitute teacher who reported to work that morning did not have necessary training or a key to lock the door which also resulted in loss of life. She did have the forethought to attempt to move those kids out of an unsecured room and into a secured bathroom where she may have been able to fortify the door from the assailant; however, the substitute teacher unfortunately did not survive her attempt to save those precious lives.
It would stand to reason that these attorneys are trying to show that there were procedures in place at Sandy Hook Elementary related to an active shooter. And had those procedures been acted on by Sandy Hook elementary administrators and staff, there would have been fewer victims of a shooting that claimed the lives of 20 students and six staff members.
Those procedures, however, were not followed, resulting in a massive loss of life.
I truly grieve for the loss that occurred on that day, but there is not one person that can guarantee that any child would be safe from harm, anywhere. One father — Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse, was among those shot and killed that day — felt that his son’s life should have been safe because he was at school, and his son was placed in the school’s trust to protect his child. If you can truly look any parent in the face and guarantee each parent that their child will come home safe to them each day while in your custody, you are wrong. If that were true people would be suing their local police departments on a daily basis for allowing anyone to become a victim of crime — or for allowing the crime to occur in the first place. It’s just not realistic.
There was already a very large burden on our teachers and administrators, to whom we entrust the safety and care of our children five days a week. We have now placed upon these faculty and staff the even larger burden of expecting them to die for our kids. Teachers I have met and with whom I’ve discussed emergency response training have told me many times that they love their students as their own, and would gladly sacrifice their lives for them. These are the kind of individuals we have teaching our children; this is truly a calling, not a profession. But they still aren’t prepared for such violence being unleashed upon them. Can anyone truly be?
While working at a local school district I met many, many gifted teachers and administrators. Every one of those individuals attended college to obtain degrees to be able to teach and mentor children, providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary for their growth academically. Over the past several years, law enforcement practitioners and trainers are now expected to train these gifted people on how to avoid physical confrontations with students, how to address domestic or sexual violence, how to deal with bullying issues, hunger, gangs — the list goes on and on, in eight-hour courses whenever time is available between the teaching curriculum and does not interfere with other mandated in-service curriculum training. And now, ever since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in which 15 people died, we have thrown even more at them: active shooter training, bomb threats, terroristic threats, and other violence-related issues we had never had to deal with in years past.
Most of these faculty and staff have no police background or training, and come straight out of college wanting to teach. Many are parents, who gladly go to work each day to try to help a child feel successful in life. We expect our teaching staff and administrators to be ready to respond as if they have already been exposed to dangerous situations and have a base of knowledge that can help determine what their reactions should be. We expect them to address hostile situations with just a pencil in their hand — to deal with panic and fear without consideration of their own safety, not understanding the “fight or flight” sensations each trained officer must overcome. Even as a trained law enforcement officer, I could not tell you how I would react to an active shooter situation despite many years of constant exposure to dangerous situations.
In the January 2018 issue of Security Management, an article titled “Run, Hide, Don’t Fight” points out that several school districts across the U.S. that have adopted the Run, Hide, Fight, training module. Yet several bad decisions were being made that undercut this program’s effectiveness. Some individuals were attacking those who initially had no intention of hurting others (i.e., a suicide attempt or hostage situation), quickly and tragically escalating a situation because of the “Fight” mentality in their training.
I agree that these individuals should have used alternative methods in dealing with the problem presented. They should have been able to understand that this was not an active shooter situation but one that required a different approach to the situation. The Active Shooter training may not be the problem as much as teachers or administrators not having other alternatives or procedures in place to use for the situation at hand.
Most training I have been involved in addresses an all-hazards approach to emergency management. It addresses various approaches to different problems, including suicide attempts, hostage situations, rape scenes, pistol on campus reports, and many others. You wouldn’t necessarily evacuate a school exposing other students to possible harm when you have a reported gun on campus. There should be procedures and protocols in place that address these types of situations that teachers and administrators may deal with in their daily interaction with students and parents.
One of my colleagues was quick to point out that the article in Security Management may lead those that were taught the Run, Hide, Fight, protocols, may interpret it to mean that the “Fight” portion of the training was wrong and you should adopt the “Not fight” protocol on all occasions. It must be made clear that during an active shooter scenario, the circumstances are different in that the suspect is not there to take hostages or take a stand and threaten his own personal safety; instead, he enters the area shooting, with the intention to kill and maim as many individuals that he can before ending his own life (or having it ended by others).
That, my friend, is a very different circumstance, and your immediate response to this threat is what determines whether you live or die that day.
I can’t say what was running through the minds of those administrators and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary that day. Had they ever heard “real” gunfire before to be able to recognize it instantly? Were they trying to determine what was going on before activating any emergency response? Like most people do, they ran out to where the noise originated and then made a decision on what to do next.
Did the Sandy Hook perpetrator begin shooting so quickly upon entering that the first response was to get to cover, collect your senses and then act? When you’re collecting your senses at a time like this, how long does it take to understand that this is really happening, that it’s not a “joke,” and that all of this is horribly real?
In those situations, you’ll want to remember the following steps:
- Observe the actions around us
- Orient ourselves to the sounds and the visuals happening around us
- Decide at that point how we are going to respond
- Act on our decision.
For some of us it takes seconds, others more time, because of the reality of what is actually going on often takes time to fully comprehend. But extra time spent without acting means lives lost or saved in an active shooter situation.
I don’t know about you, but thinking about these situations causes me to say a prayer for all the hard-working teachers that care for our kids, as well as all the lives that were lost at Sandy Hook and Columbine and every other school shooting — all because of the actions of some crazed individual who feels that today is the day he is going to take out perceived injustices on innocent lives. We must continue to train using any means available, whether table tops, scenario based, or actual training scenarios, to stay prepared all the time.
If I can be of any service to you or your organization, church, school district, or business, please do not hesitate to contact me via my email or website; www.rgonzalesconsulting.com
Be Safe. God Bless.