DA op-ed: When running is slower: A dangerous trend in American schools

Run, hide, fight. School officials have been advised that these three options will reduce the risk of casualties in an active shooter event. While each of these options has been and can be used to reduce casualties, each of them can also cause death and in the case of running, have caused mass casualty loss of life when misapplied in emergency situations.

While there are other significant concerns about potential dangers created with many current options-based active shooter training approaches, I find the running option to be perhaps the most dangerous as presently taught.

While running can be an excellent option in some emergencies, running has been proven to significantly slow evacuation when the number of people who evacuate is too large in relation to the width of emergency exits, stairwells or gates in fenced outdoor areas.

My experience providing post-incident assistance for 15 planned school shootings, researching more than 2,300 acts of extreme violence globally, combined with the results of more than 8,000 one-on-one video and audio crisis simulations run by our analysts in over 1,200 K12 schools in 45 states, reveal significant risks to common approaches to active shooter training.

The American public has been increasingly conditioned that it is desirable to run in active shooter events regardless of the dangers this can create.

In my opinion, the risk of mass casualty loss of life from large numbers of school occupants running in situations where it will slow or even stop evacuation in an emergency is currently significant.

Blocked exits

Most active assailant training and public awareness approaches make no mention of the fact that running has been proven to slow evacuation. Thousands of Americans have died, proving that running in these situations can be highly lethal. More than 600 people died when emergency exits were blocked due to people attempting to run out of the Iroquois theater in Chicago in a 1903 fire.

As a more recent example, another 100 victims died because panicked evacuees became caught in emergency exit doors in the 2003 fire at the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island. Whether running results from the fear of fire, a firearm or a rattlesnake, large numbers of frightened people attempting to run in or through confined spaces, will get out slower.

As multiple catastrophic tragedies have shown, many people who attempt to run in these situations have died when they could have walked out safety.

The American public has been increasingly conditioned that it is desirable to run in active shooter events regardless of the dangers this can create. This situation is causing significant issues for organizations like K12 school districts because they cannot control what information students and employees see on the news, social media and on the web.

A casual internet search will reveal hundreds of articles, posters training videos, and government advisories that instruct people to run without cautions if an active shooter event occurs.

Walk, don’t run

School and public safety officials should take care in staff development sessions to provide context to help school personnel understand when running will speed evacuation as well as examples of situations where running will be slower.

Read: Active shooter drills: Best practices for K12 school safety

We also advise school officials to work to increase awareness among students in an age and developmentally appropriate manner. As with other information relating to emergency preparedness, information should be provided in a manner that informs rather than frightens staff and students.

Having staff and students practice a brisk and purposeful walk during drills is another important way to help prepare students and staff learn to walk when it is a safer option in an emergency.

The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit K12 school safety center. Michael welcomes reader questions and feedback at www.safehavensinternational.org

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