Military and Police

Hardening Our Schools from Active Shooters – (Course of Action #1)

In my last article, I discussed the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) in reference to the schools/guns debate. As stated in my article, I identified three realistic solutions for this issue. If we start with anything other than a gunman getting into the school, then we live in a world of wishes and hopes. Neither of these ever lead to a single solution. In fact, I recently saw a video that helped to spell this out very clearly.

It was an anti-gun video where they were interviewing teachers about their thoughts on protecting the children in school with their lives. One teacher they highlighted looked at the camera and stated quite clearly that she did not want to think about it or discuss it because the thought was simply too horrific. That is the problem with these discussions. It is easier to simply avoid the reality of the issue than it is to confront the potential horrors our species is capable of.

In the wargaming process, we will look at two Course Of Action (COA) plans regarding active shooters (AS). These consist of the most likely action and most dangerous action. We will look to incorporate three moves into the process with action, reaction, counteraction.

In order to determine the success of these COAs, we will evaluate each based upon the following measures: fiscal cost, training requirements, cost of life by AS, fratricide, ability to neutralize the threat, and the speed of neutralizing the threat. Each factor will be evaluated (rated) one through five as none, minimal, neutral, high, or very high, respectively.

All the COAs will work off the following facts and assumptions:

-An AS enters a school with the intent to kill as many students as possible.

-Since 1999 (Columbine shooting), the top ten highest death counts from school shootings have averaged at 13 (with the highest being 33 at Virginia Tech and the lowest being 4 at the University of Arizona [Axios, “122 killed in mass school shootings since Columbine”]).

-Average length of time for an AS incident is 12.5 minutes and the average law enforcement (LE) response time to AS is 18 minutes, according to “Quicker Response to Active Shooters” published in Policemag.com.

-Per the Department of Education, there are 98,817 public schools in the US with an average of 446 students per school.

-There is no LE officer on site.

COA #2: Hardening School Interior

The premise of this COA is that the school would put in place multiple defenses which would hinge upon non-lethal deterrents and protective measures for students. One school in Indiana put in such a system in 2015 (USA Today‘s “How an Indiana school protects against mass shootings as the ‘safest school in America'”). They upgraded the classrooms themselves so that each room had bulletproof doors to keep the students in the classes safe. In addition, in order to assist LE as they moved throughout the school, the teachers have FOBs that alert LE to the status of each classroom. By activating the FOB, the teacher can quickly let LE know if the room was secure or if there were injured students inside. The school also has the ability to monitor live feeds from the school to direct law enforcement throughout the building. If needed, the school can launch smoke canisters at key locations to disorient.

The cost for this system ran approximately $400K for the school and that does not include the maintenance cost for the system (batteries, replacement FOBs, maintenance to the smoke system, etc.). Shelter-in-Place (separate company) builds bulletproof pods in the classrooms that students and teachers can shelter in during an AS situation. The cost of these shelters is $1000 per student, at an average cost of $446K per school across the country. Proponents argue that this provides protection to students without having to introduce firearms into the school.

Wargaming: Most Dangerous COA

Action – If the AS timed their attack at the beginning/end of school or at lunchtime they would have a target-rich environment. Upon engaging the students, there would be mass pandemonium. Given the number of students in proximity to the shooter, it would be difficult to determine the best route for escape and this would lead to students running directly into the line of fire.

Reaction – Upon realizing there was an AS event, the school would immediately begin lockdown procedures. Nearby students would attempt to access the nearest classrooms which would create bottlenecks and allow AS even better target pool as shooting into the crowd would lead to more injuries as bullets passed from person to person. An even worse possibility is that teachers would, in their panic, lock the children out of the classrooms or safety structure. Police would be notified and rush to the school while beginning to monitor the AS. The school would utilize passive sensory attacks (smoke, lights, noise) to disrupt the shooter and move him to less congested zones.

Counter Action – AS would continue to search for viable targets until police finally arrived or AS was subdued by students/teachers (least likely scenario). Given an average response time of 18 minutes, this would allow substantial time for AS to wreak havoc. At this point AS could confront LE, commit suicide, or attempt to flee.

Wargaming: Most Likely COA

Action – AS would assault the school at a random time with just as much likelihood that students would be in a classroom. Upon gaining access, the AS would still seek out the most target-rich environment to maximize damage done. Upon engaging, the initial reaction would be the same as the most dangerous COA.

Reaction – Schools would again initiate lockdown procedures; however, students would be mostly located in the classrooms offering them the highest level of protection.

Counter Action – No difference from most dangerous COA except that there would likely be fewer students outside of class thus decreasing the likelihood for students to be shot.

Evaluation/Ratings

Fiscal cost: (5) This COA requires massive spending in order to put these options into place. Averaging the cost across all public K-12 schools in the US brings the cost to over $400,000 per school. This does not include the cost of upkeep, testing, repairs, etc.

Training requirements: (2) The training required for implementation of this COA is exceptionally low on the school’s part. Once the alarm is sounded, the only actions required by teachers are to secure the classrooms or structure.

Cost of life by AS: (4) This option does very little to stop the AS from their assault on the students that are outside of the classroom. The cost associated with the AS choosing a time when students would be furthest from the classrooms is high enough to give this a high rating. The fact that the shooter, minus passive obstructions, would have no barriers to attacking students also factors into this rating.

Fratricide: (1) There is no threat of fratricide as there are no lethal countermeasures put into place in this plan.

Ability to neutralize the threat: (1) This plan relies entirely on the police to intercede, which means it is based upon the response time. Given that the average response time is 18 minutes, this plan offers virtually no assistance with regard to expediently downing the AS.

The speed of neutralizing the threat: (2) This COA does utilize passive obstructions to include hardened classrooms and other tools utilized to distract and disorient the AS. As such, this is being factored into the speed of neutralizing the AS, since it slows down their movement and ability to engage students.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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