Police Psychology | Active School Shooter Drills: A Reflection; A Request

Posted: October 6, 2016 in Mastering Effort
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Police Psychology | Active School Shooter Drills:  A Reflection; A Request

By Paul Cech


When I first heard about active school shooter training from a colleague who had attended a training session, I quickly formed a cautious opinion.

In the year since then, I have been sorting through journal articles, books, and other resources to formulate an informed opinion with a plan to synthesize the information and write a literature review.

Active-shooter training is about practicing response mechanisms to remain calm and safe while following a protocol.  The mechanisms are to run away and bring nothing along with you.  Second, it is to hide in an area out of the shooter’s view.  Block the entry to your hiding place, block the doors and silence the cell phones.  Third, is to fight as a last resort and only when your life is in danger.  Attempt to incapacitate the shooter and throw items at the shooter.  The reasoning behind the protocol is that an active-shooter is running wild without any direction, only desiring to kill as many people in a short period of time that he can.  But is that all there is?

Show Me the Data

Some months ago, I contacted members of the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology and asked them a simple, informal question about their knowledge of the training behind Active School Shooter programs.  I discovered that very little if anything is known about these training programs. I ask the same question to my former advisor and criminology teacher; again, very little was known.

I began to suspect that I would have some trouble finding specific information about Active School Shooter training. I would have even more difficulty finding scientific research about the topic.  It is mostly an intuitive approach and although it may work if trained right, we need to know more about how we get people to take the right steps in these situations.

The writer/independent researcher within wanted to produce something about the topic, but I could not put my finger on what I was trying to say. 

I labored on. A week or so ago, I received an email message from a former Penn State –Fayette Campus English professor. Her message included a comment about modern journalism. To make her point she talked about journalism during the Viet Nam war. My former teacher wrote: “Instant reporting without proper research has not moved the United States ahead.”  Her statement fit nicely with something that I include as part of my gmail messages, it is a quote from A. Conan Doyle’s Scandal in Bohemia: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” There was the inspiration that I needed to figure out what I wanted to say to the readers of Inside Police Psychology about Active School Shooter training.

In a nutshell, there is very little information on the topic. At this time, it appears that no scientific research about Active School Shooter training exists.  We need more information and more testing of the process.

As an independent researcher, I am limited by a lack of resources and limited working space. So, I have found that I can make scholarly contributions by doing literature reviews and synthesizing data bout various topics. But, in this case, the literature is sparse.

This brings me, finally, to the focus of this article: This is a call for criminologists, educators, social workers, and many others to consider doing research about Active School Shooter training programs and even some of the assumptions behind active shooter models.

How Do We Know What Works Best

I would not be surprised to learn that somewhere between the warrior culture, which appears to be dominate within law enforcement, the concepts of “to protect and to serve” and community oriented policing that facts about Active School Shooter training will provide a clearer picture of what works best when dealing with this specific type of violence in our schools and in our communities.  For example, are schools that only have one type of lockdown procedure more likely to have failures.  There are a variety of codes used in school and under pressure codes can be misconstrued.  So they may go into an active shooter lockdown when a tornado code is called and that may cause problems.  There has to be a way to moderate that.  Who should initiate a lockdown and what problems can that cause if someone is not there that day they are need?  Also, what areas can a lockdown be called from?  MANY OF THE LOCKDOWNS DON”T HAPPEN AT THE FRONT OFFICE NEAR THE LOUDSPEAKER.  What is the most effective communication pattern in these types of situations.  What happens if the loudspeaker is taken out of the picture.  These are all examples of things that need to be researched and not rely on intuitive assumption.

School shooters don’t fit a profile and don’t kill in a pattern that is why is is difficult to research.  How do you research when someone is totally irrational and not likely to follow a pattern in their killing?  That and many questions need to be looked into before we say we have something definitive.  Right now the intuitive is the best we have, but that shouldn’t keep people from looking into it and this is a call to action.


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  1. Robert Lee says:

    I like the concept of “show me the data.” Police recommendations about tactical responses seem focused on the science of time and perception; to wit, you can’t react to a threat faster than the time it takes to unfold. So training creates comfort that we are safer if we take certain actions in anticipation of danger, but fails to consider the consequences of the preparatory behavior; does it keep us calm, or does it perhaps prepare us to fight when there isn’t actually any danger at all.

    • Paul Cech says:

      Nicely stated. I have a concern about the effect of training on elementary school students or any students who suffer from anxiety or mental illness.

    • Anonymous says:

      Robert, you bring up some excellent points. I have concerns about the effect drills on younger students in general, and specifically about students with various types of anxiety and mental health concerns. I also have these concerns about members of the administration, staff, and faculty.

  2. Josh McIntyre says:

    It is understandable that you may be concerned about those who have fear, anxiety or concern – but at a certain point, facing a reality that a danger can happen and accepting that you can do SOMETHING is better than sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the problem. Most of the drills conducted at an elementary level are pitched as an intruder drill – someone who doesn’t belong in the school. Children and teachers are taught to shelter in place and seek cover – the same thing they teach in tornado and earthquake drills. Neither of these scenarios is likely; and I doubt that a child huddling in the corner covering their head and neck will defend appropriately from an F5 tornado striking the building – but we have to accept the reality that it may happen and give them some type of tool to prepare for it and protect themselves in the event it happens.

    We definitely need more research on the case to find out what actually works. Sadly, the only way we will get this research is when a shooting happens and we interview the survivors about what works. Even then, every situation will be different with new and different circumstances.

    What this training is about is teaching people that they are not helpless – they can take some steps to preserve their life. Giving someone with fear and anxiety that power back can help them and make them rather than accepting the irrational fear that this incident may occur at their school or workplace and there is nothing they can do.

  3. Paul Cech says:

    Thanks for your input Josh. You make excellent points. I am learning that there are multiple points of view about procedures and the need for research.

    You might find tis article to be of some interest:


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