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Managing Uncertainty


Dec 2, 2019

In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser, along with Consultant Bray Wheeler, revisit the topic of Active Shooter Preparedness & Exercises.

Topics discussed include the current active shooter threat, preparedness efforts, active shooter exercises, planning for an active shooter incident, and more.

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Episode Transcript

Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath.

Bray Wheeler: I'm Bray Wheeler. I'm a Consultant here at Bryghtpath.

Bryan Strawser: And today, we want to talk a little bit about kind of rethinking active shooter preparedness and exercises. And I would say there's a couple things that kind of stirred this conversation, and I know we've done a couple previous episodes on active shooter preparedness and maybe even exercises, and I certainly know we have an episode about leading through an active shooter incident that recorded with Jennifer Otremba and Lindsay Bradford who both used to work here at Bryghtpath, both of whom were with Bray and I on the day that we had a active shooter situation at our former employer, across the street from our offices, that we kind of manage through, and we'll link that episode in the show notes, it's worth listening to.

Bryan Strawser: But what prompted this are really two things. There's been a number of articles recently about after shooter drills or exercises that I thought were not well done and garnered a lot of negative press, and this is where we've got police running an exercise where they're shooting people with airsoft guns and they're firing off blanks and some other things, and so we want to talk a little bit about that and what makes a good active shooter exercise, particularly for students in the K-12 environment and workers in your organization's facilities. But the other thing we want to just touch on is just some other thoughts on active shooter preparedness that have come out of the incidents that have happened in the last few months, the Santa Clarita school shooting that happened last week, Walmart's mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, the Dayton, Ohio bar entertainment area shooting incidents. There's been some lessons learned out of this that I think are worth talking about in terms of preparedness. So that brings us to bringing this episode together.

Bray Wheeler: Yeah. One. And that's, I think to your point, kind of the distinction here is a little bit around, we have talked about exercises on previous podcasts, but really, this one is around, I think more so, who the audience is, the kind of the intended audience of exercises and/or drills and kind of the impact that, that you want to have on those distinct audiences that the airsoft, the Nerf guns, the blanks, the blue pistols, the red rubber pistols, things like that, have audiences but may not fit every audience. And it's important to create the distinction around what your intended objective and purpose of the exercise or drill is for that audience because it these situations, it matters in terms of how they act and how they behave and what you're really trying to prepare them for.

Bryan Strawser: I think most of the articles we've seen recently about active shooter exercises that have frustrated us have been in the K-12 education environment where you usually have some kind of statutory requirement that the schools conduct some type of drill on a regular basis. For example, here in Minnesota, school districts have to do five lockdown drills. That's literally what they're called in the state statute, five lockdown drills, in the course of a school year. So if you think, a school year is about 180 days, on average, 180 student days, then you're going to run a lockdown drill five times, that's pretty frequent in there. And so I think this is a good example of what Bray was just speaking to. What's the audience, what is the audience of this drill? And I should point out too, since these are lockdown drills, not active shooter drills, the statute here in Minnesota was written in response at Columbine, which was 20 years ago, and it hasn't been updated. Despite some more recent attempts to modernize that, it has not been changed. So it still says lockdown drills, which that's what's most schools are doing.

Bryan Strawser: But the current guidance on active shooter that seems to be most broadly accepted is the FBI, DHS guidance, and that is run, hide, fight. But Minnesota schools are using lockdown. So there's a challenge with that in and of itself. But who's the intended audience of a drill like this?

Bray Wheeler: One, if we're talking about the K-12 audience, which is probably where we'll center most of the discussion on, I mean, really, that audience is not, you're not prepping that audience to address the shooter kind of directly like you're asking law enforcement to do. So the drills and the exercises that you're asking law enforcement to do should be very different from what you're asking K-12 students to do. And a lot of that is around making them feel kind of confident and empowered in terms of knowing what to do when a situation necessitates in a swift evacuation, a kind of locked down of a facility of whatever that circumstance is. And I think, we teach stop, drop and roll, we teach a lot of these different things for different incidents and issues, this happens to be kind of reality today that this type of drill, this type of exercise is necessary, but it doesn't always, and I think, kind of my train of thought around it is, yes, it's spurred off of kind of these active shooters, but really, this applies to any incident.

Bray Wheeler: You could have a situation in which toxic gases released from a poor science experiment or something breaks in the chemistry department and it's wafting through the school, you got to get people out, and that's just as confusing, that's just as nerve wracking. There could be a fire, there could be all sorts of different situations that's not necessarily an active shooter that you want that student audience, that staff audience to know this is what happens when we're given this direction and we know that we're doing these three, four, five basic things and we're going to prepare, position ourselves to be as safe as possible.

Bryan Strawser: Yeah. I mean, I think, one of the points that kind of stood out in some discussion that was happening towards the tail end of last week about the intended audience of a drill in the K-12 education environment is not someone who's engaged in a tactical response, right? We're not testing armed staff, we're not drilling the law enforcement response. The purpose of an active shooter drill where students are involved is to give the students the muscle memory to do the things that we need them to do if this actually happens. And we were talking about this prior to the coming in the studio and doing the show today, you brought up that sometimes, that response isn't necessarily just for active shooter, it's because we have to be evacuated, it's because there's a chemical spill.

Bryan Strawser: So those are, I think, are, we lose the fact, we lose who the audience is sometimes when we start talking about this. I would argue, if that's our focus, I want to help 500 students get out of the school in a run, hide, fight situation because of an active shooter, then bringing in screaming sounds and gunshots and shooting people with airsoft guns, that is not the intent of the exercise. The intent of the exercise is to teach them how to run, hide, fight.

Bray Wheeler: Because you're all doing in that situation is, it's a desensitization or desensitizing them, objective. And I think that's where, politically, that's where the conversation gets a little kind of tough with folks and there's that debate. But that place there is not, to your point, to do those things. We're not trying to desensitize them to that environment that they would have to operate in. That's the tactical environment. That's what you expect law enforcement or school security teams or something like that, that's where they're... that's what you're putting them through so that they can accomplish their objective in the face of those things for students and probably majority of staff. It's to prepare them to keep themselves safe, whether that's get out, barricade, fight back if they have to. Really, what you're trying to get them to do probably first is to get out or barricade, and that's fight being last resort or direct confrontation.

Bray Wheeler: Probably don't have to spend as much resources there because hopefully, natural instinct takes over just a little bit, but if you're focused on getting as many people out as possible, then that's really what that objective of these drills and exercises should be is to get folks out or get themselves in a position to barricade. That it's not just simply hide or lay on the floor. Because I think you brought up in some conversation that kind of some dialogue that you were seeing online with some different folks that even law enforcement was weighing in that statistically, or the details of many of these incidents, folks who were just simply hiding or laying on the floor

Bryan Strawser: Not survivable.

Bray Wheeler: ... were at greater risk than those that had felt empowered to take some sort of defensive action, whether that was [inaudible] or barricade, fight back. Correct?

Bryan Strawser: Totally. Yeah, I mean, the discussion, this was in a private discussion in the online forum where there were several law enforcement leaders and others kind of debating this topic, the studies are pretty clear, and there's a really good one. There's a group out of Purdue, Purdue University, that does computer modeling of previous incidents based upon run, hide, fight, some other things. They've got a using game theory, they got a pretty detailed setup here. And they had a pretty good study that came out last year about run, hide, fight versus hide. And run, hide, fight comes out way ahead because if you can evacuate, if you can get out, run away from the risk, that's survivable. Hiding when you're in a confined space with an active shooter, there's just too much likelihood that they're going to find you or be able to gain access to the area. So statistically, it's better to execute, run, hide, fight than it is to just execute hiding. And that was kind of the point of the online discussion.

Bryan Strawser: And again, I think this goes back to what's the intent of an active shooter drill or exercise and what methodology are you following here. I think the point that we want to emphasize is if you're testing a tactical response, that's a different kind of exercise and one where you should really only do that with volunteers who are willing to be subjected to what that exercise might involve as opposed to a general active shooter drill in a K-12 education environment where you're practicing, run, hide, fight, but how do we get out? How do we hide or barricade ourselves when we have to do that? How do we fight if we must? And we've lost this somewhere in this exercise planning and we're having folks bring in flashbangs and firecrackers and gunfire and firing blanks, and just not a place for that.

Bryan Strawser: It doesn't help improve the outcome that you're seeking. The outcome you're seeking is, I want to get these folks out of here safely if the unthinkable thing happens. And that we do that by giving them the muscle memory on what we want them to do, which is run, hide, fight. They know how to do it because they've practiced it.

Bray Wheeler: One of my, and I think a lot of what's happening too is kind of an overthinking of some of that stuff that really, there are schools already practiced, I mean, I remember doing it in elementary school of evacuations...

Bryan Strawser: Fire drills.

Bray Wheeler: Fire drills. So really, it's trying to create alignment around some of those components that if it's the run portion of it, create alignment around how you're running regardless of the incident. So if you're already doing that for a fire drill, your run, hide, fight drill, the run portion of that should look very similar to a fire drill. Your evacuation drill should be agnostic of probably the incident with further direction to the staff of saying, hey, in this situation, when we know it's this kind of incident or we believe it to be this kind of incident, we're going farther or we're going to another setup. Whereas fire, it's, we're only going to the outskirts of the parking lot kind of thing and just moving away, whatever the case is, but leaving that to staff to know we're going to continue to move based on whatever the threat or the incident is. But that mechanics of getting kid in the classroom in a desk to the outside of the building into a position of gaining safety should look largely the same.

Bray Wheeler: And so you don't have to overthink how you go about doing that. Barricading might be a little bit different. Barricading might be customizing it to the age of the students too a little bit that what you're asking kindergarteners to do probably isn't what you're asking an 11th grader to do-

Bryan Strawser: I hope not.

Bray Wheeler: ... in terms of those things or how it's being messaged as well because I always go back to, you don't want this to be a situation where your drill ends up looking like the nuclear drill in the cold war area where hide under your desk because it makes you feel better even though it's going to have no impact on whether or not you're going to survive that thing or not. So it needs to be purposeful in terms of what, how you're laying those things out. Exercises are really more for maybe staff in some situations, more for your security teams, your local law enforcement, inviting them into kind of go through a situation in which they're practicing in the school versus, or business, but you have just that minimum kind of security teams or other teams that are in there practicing and you're not subjecting students or broad staff to some of those because that's not their role in those situations. To go back to the kind of the tactical piece, really, what you're looking at is more drill wise. You're trying to build that muscle memory.

Bray Wheeler: It's the practice of we're just going to keep repeating the same thing over and over again so that when they get older or move on to other organizations and things like that, it becomes the stop, drop and roll type mindset of I know the fundamentals of what to do in these situations.

Bryan Strawser: So that's kind of the, I think we've beaten the drill exercise piece to death here. Again, our point is just knowing your audience, craft exercise the audience, don't deliberately traumatize folks. That doesn't help you achieve the outcomes that we're after in an active shooter drill or exercise. But these are important. They're important because when these things happen, as rare as they are, we need people to act into certain things that we know save lives. And practicing these in a way that builds muscle memory and helps them know what to do when that alert is called for them to take action helps save lives. And those are valuable steps to take without traumatizing folks just by doing exercises.

Bray Wheeler: You want them to feel empowered, to be safe rather than fearful of what's happening. You're trying to move them to that empower phase.

Bryan Strawser: The other area we wanted to touch on briefly just around other active shooter preparedness is whether you do it for active shooter reasons or not. The shooting tragedy last week in California at Santa Clarita at the school did highlight one I think important thing, and this may have gotten missed in some of the other coverage, but one of the students that was wounded, their life was saved by their teacher because she had taken training for Stop The Bleed and had the Stop The Bleed tools available to her, bandage for pressure, tourniquet, she may have used other things that the story didn't get in a lot of tactical detail, but if you think about lifesaving training that you can provide to your staff or your employees or your community, it's hard to beat the basics of Stop The Bleed about trying to help people survive traumatic bleeding by giving them, there's a training course that they can go to and then they can get a little Stop The Bleed kit that has some of the basic things in there.

Bryan Strawser: And, I mean, some businesses even put a big Stop The Bleed kits that have multiple little kits inside them. We use the Stop The Bleed kits here at Bryghtpath. We have one here in the office next to our general first aid kit because we do have storage and we do have places here. We have knives and things where accidental traumatic bleeding can happen. And that and CPR training are two of the best things you can do to empower your staff to survive any type of kind of traumatic or medical issue that comes up. I know there's been some criticism of Stop The Bleed being offered in schools over political reasons, but I think that this is great training and as we saw last week, it saved a student's life.

Bray Wheeler: Wait. I think there's, I mean, there's certainly the political debate around it. I mean, at least my take, and I don't know if I'm speaking for you, Bryan, but at a minimum, why wouldn't it be a good idea to armor people with that kind of training? We do first aid training, we do CPR training, we encourage all those different things. Stop The Bleed is just a build on to that because again, if you're thinking about corporate office probably, that would be probably what you're probably using that training for in that environment, but if we're talking a school environment, it's not out of the realm of possibility that you have industrial shops, you have welding and woodworking, you have all sorts of different equipment that there is that chance that there are other things happening that cause those things, so why aren't you preparing yourself to combat that as well in addition to this kind of external, internal slash threat that unfortunately, schools are facing as well?

Bryan Strawser: I feel like we have a lot of conversation. I have a lot of conversations with friends about how they defend themselves, how they protect themselves. They might have permits and carry a firearm. They may carry a knife that they use for cutting things they think they're going to defend themselves with. We have a lot of debate and discussion in this country about do we arm teachers, do we arm staff at schools? I'd argue that one of the most valuable things you could do is learn first aid and CPR and how to stop traumatic bleeding or some combination of that, and you will have already learned more than what the average person does to take ownership for your safety and the safety of those around you. I just think it's great that it was used by this teacher who was obviously well prepared for that very tragic situation in the school last week.

Bryan Strawser: So you can learn more. It's stopthebleed.org. The folks that started this were actually a cohort behind me at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, NPLI. The idea came from that cohort and has turned into quite a thing, and I think we want to encourage that.

Bryan Strawser: That's it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. We'll be back next week with another new episode. Be well.