School active shooter drills trigger lawsuit and injury claims

Posted by on September 4, 2014

School active shooters drills are intended to prepare for saving lives, but recent lawsuits and injury claims suggest that some drills may pose a greater risk of harm than good to training participants.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article entitled,” ‘Active Shooter’ Drills Spark Raft of Legal Complaints” tells of a teacher in Boardman, Ohio, who filed a lawsuit against local police and school officials, claiming he was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer during a drill at a high school, seriously injuring his hip and shoulder.

Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, says his organization has received complaints about active-shooter drills. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m ready to help now,’ their reaction has been, ‘I don’t know what I will be able to do in this situation,’ ” Fuller told the Wall Street Journal.

Last March, four teachers in Farmington, Mo., complained to the county prosecutor’s office that they felt uncomfortable with an announced high school drill in which an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets, was used.

Drills to fill emotional security needs lead to reported injuries, minimize child-centered considerations

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my concerns with reported school staff injuries in programs such as the “Counter” component of ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) or the “fight” component of run-hide-fight training. In my blog article entitled, “ALICE training and run-hide-fight: Are students and educators risking injury?,” I shared a disturbing email received from an Ohio school principal in which she indicated that she received a broken shoulder during an ALICE training session.

“I recently broke my shoulder during ALICE training. As an elementary principal, this is not the sort of thing one would expect during professional development,” the principal wrote.

This fad of teaching teachers and children to throw things at, and to attack, heavily armed gunmen, is increasingly driven by well-intended law enforcement officers with heavy tactical experience and mindsets, but limited-to-no real preK-12 school experience and/or insights into how children and schools work. Age and developmental issues, special needs children (autistic, behavioral disorders, etc.) and related factors seem to be irrelevant to some advocates who are more focused on addressing emotional security needs of people to feel “empowered” after the Sandy Hook attacks than they are on the details and risks of implementing what many believe are over-the-top active shooter school trainings.

School active shooter drill lawsuits and insurance claims likely to rise

If these training programs are triggering a “raft of legal complaints,” think of how many complaints school insurance companies across the nation are facing due to such questionable and controversial training. Most established and experienced preK-12 school security experts agree that there are dangers with these questionable programs and that injury and liability risks abound.

Unfortunately, as more incidents like those in the Wall Street Journal article come to light, we are likely to see school insurance carriers pay out more and more limited money on unnecessary injury claims and lawsuits from questionable school active shooter drills. Litigation will likely correct this risky fad, but it will come at a cost to schools.

The good news is that superintendents and school boards have the power to prevent such claims from occurring. They just need to think cognitively and rationally, not emotionally. There are many proven, reliable and research-based school security and emergency preparedness training programs, tabletop exercises and joint police training methods for schools to choose from that are delivered in professional development settings without teachers throwing objects at each other’s heads or piliing up on the floor on top of a hypothetical armed gunman.

Our advice has been that school leaders should engage their school insurance carriers and attorneys on the front-end to get written opinions before implementing these new and questionable active shooter drills. This may help superintendents and boards from being called upon to defend a well-intended, but poorly thought-out, training program that they sanctioned for their staff and/or children.

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

Experts You Can Trust! 

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9 thoughts on “School active shooter drills trigger lawsuit and injury claims

  1. This is bang-on Ken. Tactical training is intended for trained personnel with a certain level of fitness. The mixed bag of adults and children in a school setting are not up to active shooter drills where they are trained to fight back. Injury is inevitable. In law enforcement training, even with a level of fitness, we still experience injuries each year during the in-service training sessions. My position is to lock down and let law enforcement come after an attacker.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks, John. Always good to get your level-headed, well-balanced professional advice.

  2. Pat Lamb says:

    Ken,

    Thank you for this insightful guidance concerning drills…a solid voice of reasoning.

    Pat

  3. Laura says:

    Mr. Trump, The face of violence in schools is changing, and if people like yourself continue to support outdated techniques, children will continue to die at the hands of shooters. Children are shooting children. We can no longer depend on your ‘do as they say’ techniques and should not suggest teachers simply sit like ducks and wait for law enforcement while the gun continues to go off killing innocent children in their care. These teenage or sometimes younger aggressors don’t have a ‘master plan’ and won’t be giving calm and deliberate instructions. Training that saves lives in the face of a new generation of violence is not a ‘fad’. What will come and go is your antiquated hands-off approach.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion, “Laura.” There is a difference between “outdated techniques” and those that are proven, reliable best practices that have been demonstrated to work over time. The “sitting ducks” language is great for marketing to the emotions to promote the latest fads. Even in Sandy Hook, lockdowns saved lives for those who were able to do so. And nobody there threw soup cans, books, tennis balls, water bottles or nerf balls at the heavily armed gunman and stopped him, not would they have done so if the little children tried as some supporting these latest fads want to train them in a 40 minute assembly to do.

      The active shooter drill lawsuits and injury claims are already starting to draw out what those with actual preK-12 school security experience consistently know: These fad tactics are high-risk, high-liability propositions.

      Thanks again for sharing your opinions.

      Ken

  4. Chris Matai says:

    Mr. Trump, I am assuming that the proven, reliable best practices that you are referring to are aimed at prevention and passive engaging techniques such as lockdowns, hiding, running, etc. I would agree that these techniques are extremely valuable. Stopping or avoiding a violent encounter is by far the best option. However, once a heavily armed gunman enters the school and into the classrooms, those who weren’t able to lockdown, hide, or run, must use active aggressive techniques to survive. From my 14 years of law enforcement, I’ve learned that you must be more aggressive than the assailant to increase your odds of winning. Most active shooter drills are aggressive and will likely lead to occasional injuries. If you want any chance of surviving a violent encounter, you better fight like hell and prepared to be injured. Just don’t give up. You can live with disabilities and injuries, just live. I wish that these were fad tactics and that one could be passive and increase their odds of survival. Unfortunately, I have yet to see or even hear of such stories. However, I am still learning and look forward to your response.

    Comment on ALICE training: I’ve heard that ALICE training teaches students and teachers to throw objects like soup cans, books, tennis ball, water bottles or nerf balls at a heavily armed assailant. If you are going to engage a heavily armed assailant, you better use something a lot more effective at causing disabling injuries. However, I do like the concept. Fight with whatever you got. Hopefully, you’ve got more than a tennis ball.

    Chris

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris. I agree that teaching children to throw cans of soups, books, tennis balls, water bottles or nerf balls at heavily armed gunmen is a high-risk proposition. People seem to forget that there is a difference between a trained, career law enforcement officer and a child in many ways; i.e., age and developmental factors, special needs children, training delivery, etc. Ken

  5. Chase Grimm says:

    Mr. Trump,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your continued service to protecting students and school staff members. I am not affiliated with the ALICE training program or any other safety/security consultant. I am a teacher with a M.S. in Safety, Security & Emergency Mgmt. (w/ a school safety concentration) and have military experience.

    I understand your position on active shooter response and appreciate that your ideas are derived from “proven strategies.” I do, however, feel that your criticism of the “counter” component is over-emphasized and exaggerated. The blog posts I have read focus solely on one small aspect of their program and fail to acknowledge the need for an options-based response plan.

    I do not feel that training students to confront an aggressor is necessary. I, myself, have not completed the ALICE training program so I cannot speak on the appropriateness of their training methods. Teachers, however, need to understand that multiple responses may need to be deployed as a situation develops. They will likely be the first responders in an active shooter event; therefore, teachers need to be taught how to make threat assessments and respond in a way that will result in the fewest injuries/casualties.

    The “run, hide, fight” approach is not a “new fad” that is gaining attention simply because it is different. Federal agencies are supporting this strategy because it is a common sense approach to active shooter response.

    Options-based response programs (such as ALICE) must be adopted so that teachers are trained to develop an awareness of potential (or direct) threats and act accordingly. Every situation is different and every school is different. Teachers care deeply for their students and (most) are willing to do anything to protect them.

    Do you think that teachers are capable (if properly trained) of making individual decisions during an active shooter situation (i.e., whether to evacuate or shelter in place)?

    Chase Grimm

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinions in a professional manner, Chase. I respectfully disagree with your position but appreciate your method of communicating.

      Just FYI, a spokesperson for the Houston Mayor’s Office that created the very popular “run-hide-fight” video for adult settings, such as the business community, has actually gone on record saying that they never intended the “fight” part to apply to schools.

      Re: my position on various ALICE, run-hide-fight and related programs, see:

      http://www.schoolsecurity.org/trends/alice-training/

      and

      http://www.schoolsecurity.org/tag/attacking-armed-intruders/

      Regards,

      Ken

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