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Active Shooter Response Options and Training

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
Considerations for determining the best approach for your K-12 school

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 37 active shooter incidents occurred at K-12 schools between 2000 and 2017, accounting for 15 % of all active shooter events in the U.S. These tragedies, including several deadly incidents in 2019, means that every K-12 school should prepare for an active shooter situation. But what type of response by teachers and students is best?

Although many jurisdictions now require schools to implement active shooter response training, they rarely dictate the school response plan or training content. Currently, the two primary response options taught are a “lockdown” or “multi-option” approach. Lockdown procedures require those on campus to stay hidden and locked in a fixed location until the emergency is resolved. The multi-option approach, by contrast, allows participants to choose in the moment from a variety of response tactics, such as attempting escape, hiding, or engaging a shooter. To help your school select an appropriate response and training approach, take the following actions and considerations.

Engage Legal Counsel and a Security Expert

As part of your school’s overall security plan, work with both legal counsel and a school security expert. Engage counsel to explain applicable legal requirements, including the standard of care to prevent and respond to school shootings, in your state.

Many security “experts” have rushed in to fill the demand created after school shootings, and some are offering dubious advice. Thoroughly vet the credentials of the security expert you select:

  • Ensure they have prior experience working with K-12 schools.
  • Ask for copies of past security evaluations.
  • Speak with multiple client references.
  • Check with your state department of education or state police for a list of vetted security consultants.

As you work with counsel and an expert to choose the best response option for your school, consider important factors such as its size, location, physical configuration, population, and culture.

Document the thought process and reasons for choosing your response approach. This documentation could be key to showing the school acted reasonably in the event of a claim by the family of a student injured or killed in a shooting. Incorporate your response option choice into your overall school security plan and related documents or policies.

Carefully Consider the Response Approach You Choose


Lockdown is the most commonly known active shooter response approach, but it has drawbacks, such as potentially exposing staff and students to danger by requiring them to lock doors and barricade windows in an emergency. Moreover, “locking down” staff and students who are outdoors or outside a classroom when a shooting incident starts can be challenging. If your institution selects the lockdown approach, discuss with your security expert how your school will deal with these and other issues, including:

  • Who has authority to trigger a lockdown and what language or signals will be used to initiate one
  • Procedures for multiple shooters
  • Securing students or staff with special needs

Multi-Option Approach

Two of the most commonly used multi-option trainings are Run. Hide. Fight. and ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). While a recent study using active shooter simulations found that participants using the multi-option approach apprehended a classroom shooter three minutes faster on average than those using lockdown procedures, the approach raises some concerns. One issue is that staff and students (particularly younger students), who are in the throes of a real active shooter incident, may choose the wrong response option, further endangering themselves and others. Discuss with your security expert and counsel how to handle this concern and whether the multi-option approach is more appropriate for older students.

Train to Prepare, Not Traumatize

Once your institution selects its active shooter response approach, identify a security team to lead training efforts. This team should include representatives from the administration, school security, local law enforcement, and teachers who can shape the training and practice drills to provide maximum preparedness with minimal trauma. Your team may also include parents and students. To help ensure training leaves staff and students feeling prepared and not traumatized, your school should:

  • Confirm that the training method you employ, and any live practice drills, are age appropriate (see p. 142). For example, you may wish to provide one version of training to adults (teachers and staff) and another version to students.
  • Use multiple forms of training. In addition to in-person workshops or online courses, conduct tabletop scenarios and training drills using your chosen active shooter response approach to identify potential problems. Some schools also use additional training videos to reinforce the course content.
  • Avoid using ammunition of any type in active shooter exercises. Drills using airsoft pellets and rubber bullets have severely injured participants. Rather than replicating an actual shooter, use a simulated unarmed intruder to practice the response plan.
  • Train faculty and staff on the school’s response approach before starting student training. Training should cover possible roles participants may need to play during a drill and provide opportunities for participants to ask questions. Explain how to communicate the response plan to students in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Avoid surprise live drills. They can be especially traumatic because the participants will not know it is only a drill.
  • Set out safety standards for your practice drills and follow them, regardless of the type of response approach and training you choose.
  • Evaluate your training and practice drill outcomes. Determine what worked and what did not. Use the information to modify future training exercises.
  • Read after-action reports of other school shooting incidents. Determine whether identified vulnerabilities may also exist at your institution and take steps to correct them.

Remember that creating a safe school environment is an ongoing process. As active shooter events continue, security responses will evolve. Prepare your school to evolve as well. Periodically review its active shooter response choice and conduct effective active shooter response training. Empowering your students and staff helps create a secure campus.


Additional Resources

Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety

Department of Homeland Security: K-12 School Security

FBI Resources on Active Shooters

Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS Commission Report

Montana State Sample After Action Report/Improvement Plan

Sample Training Videos

Boise School District – Lockdown Procedures

Shakopee Public Schools – ALICE

Wichita Public Schools – Run. Hide. Fight.

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