Page 70 - Security Today, January/February 2021
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"With the number of schools across the United States implementing active assailant response training growing substantially, so, too, has the debate surrounding their effectiveness and psychological impact."
By Cheryl Lero Jonson, Melissa M. Moon, and Brooke Miller Gialopsos
Campus Protocols
As schools reopen this fall, districts not only have to navigate the chal- lenges of COVID-19, but also have to resume regular emergency drills, including active assailant response trainings. While mass school shootings are exceptionally rare, they elicit strong emo- tional responses.
Target Hardening
In an effort to prevent and mitigate the harm of a shooting, schools have increas- ingly installed target-hardening measures, such as metal detectors and access control measures, and hired school resource officers. However, one of the most controversial responses is the introduction of active assail- ant response training among students.
With the number of schools across the United States implementing active assailant response training growing substantially, so, too has the debate surrounding their effec- tiveness and psychological impact. On one side, advocates argue that training students saves lives by teaching them what to do in an active threat situation and are an unfortu- nate, but necessary, reality in today’s world.
On the other side, opponents argue these trainings are not necessary due to the rarity of mass school shootings and that trainings may provide potential shooters with a blue- print to carry out an attack. Notably, oppo- nents most strongly contend that such train- ings are traumatizing, creating fear and anxiety among students.
Contributing to this debate is the vast dif- ferences in the content and the implementa- tion of active assailant response training with students.
Becoming Certified
After the research team trained and/or became certified in the most popular pro- grams addressing active threats for students Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE); Civilian Response to Active Shoot- er Events (CRASE); Run. Hide. Fight; Stu- dent Attacker Response Course (SARC),
Positive Outcomes of an Active Assailant Protocol
Countering the Media Narrative
SRP/SRM – Standard Response Program/ Standard Reunification Method, researchers were able categorize the prevailing active assailant response trainings into three dis- tinct categories.
The first category, single-option response, requires students to respond to an active assailant by turning off the lights, locking the door and hiding in a corner. The second cat- egory, dual-option response, combines sin- gle-option techniques with evacuating if one is unable to get behind a locked door.
This category includes the PreK-12 stu- dent response found in SRP/SRM. Finally, the third category, multi-option response, provides students with three options. The selection of options is based on the students’ proximity to the assailant and include lock- ing and barricading the door with available environmental objects (e.g., chairs, desks), evacuating the building, and actively resist- ing by throwing items or physically counter- ing the assailant.
ALICE; CRASE; Run. Hide. Fight; and SARC are considered multi-option programs. It is important to note that in dual- and multi- option responses, persons have autonomy to choose which option they feel is best in an
active threat situation. As single-, dual-, and multi-option responses provide students with different strategies to respond to an active threat, the impact on students’ psychological well-being is likely to vary substantially between these three categories.
Different Responses
In addition to teaching different content, the implementation of single-, dual-, and multi-option responses differ significantly across schools. For example, some use dis- cussion-based exercises where teachers talk to students about how to respond; whereas, other schools conduct drills where the stu- dents actually practice the content they have been taught.
Furthermore, some schools hold functional and full-scale exercises with simulated gunfire and actors recreating an active assailant situa- tion, against the best practices suggestions from the National Association of School Psy- chologists, the National Association of School Resource Officers, ALICE and Safe and Sound Schools. Just as the implementation of the training varies widely, so, too, can the psycho- logical impact on students.
While schools grapple with what and how

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